Star Fox is a type of game that doesn't exist anymore. There are flight sims and shmups, but none have mesh the two together like Star Fox. The franchise is so sought after fans want nothing more than for Nintendo to get its shit together and give the franchise its due with more guaranteed entries in the series.
That's...probably not going to happen with Star Fox Zero but that doesn't stop the game from being as enjoyable as the original N64 classic, if not more so.
The motion controls takes some getting used to (stop me if you've heard that before about this game) but here's the thing: this game's control are not the confusing, frustrating gimmick that other critics make it out to be; they are actually fairly intuitive and accommodating. Don't want motion controls all the time? Pause the game and touch the upper right corner of the GamePad for motion controls only when you hold down the ZR button. Don't want to constantly switching from the television screen to the GamePad? Simply press the "-" button on the GamePad and the television and cockpit view with switch places. Target reticle recalibration is as simple as pressing the "y" button or clicking the left control stick. If this were a lesser game by a lesser developer, this would be a clunky mess but Nintendo has made a control scheme that works well with the game.
But this game does require effort on the player to master the controls. Halfway through my playthrough, I began to notice scenarios that suited certain viewpoints: the classic Star Fox view is best for all-range mode and Star Wolf battles; the cockpit is ideal for shooting the weak points of boss monsters that tower over the player (and for getting accurate charge shots off normal enemies for if you're going for a high score run). The game rewards those willing to learn with the fast, twitch-fingered fun of the original games.
The game is more remix than remake with the old levels given a new coat of paint and a larger sense of scale. Levels are familiar but are otherwise retooled for more variety. The otherwise flat and lifeless Titania has been expanded to a harrowing and layered desert storm (to rescue Peppy instead of Slippy), Fortuna is a giant, metallic bug-ridden swamp. Each level looks distinct from one another with there own set pieces and vehicles sections, which themselves have been expanded upon. The new walker mode for the Arwing, the Gravmaster for the Landmaster, and the new Gyrowing vehicle, all play there own way but are otherwise familiar tools from previous games that add layers to the gameplay. Completing certain missions in the main quest unlocks abilities for the vehicles that encourage playing levels over to unlock hidden paths to different scenarios of levels. In the very first mission there's a walled off path that can't be accessed unless the Arwing transforms in its walker mode to press a button to reveal a new, harder, path that sends you on a different route in the Lylat system. It's admittedly not as fluid and seamless as how 64 let you unlock the alternative route but nevertheless adds replay value to the otherwise brief single player campaign. Brief for modern gaming times where a 10 hour run is at least expectant; at 50 to 60 dollars, a game you can finish in less than a weekend is a hard sell but I guess that's what Star Fox Guard.
The graphics? It looks like Star Fox but in HD. The Wii U is notorious for not being a powerhouse like its home console rivals but the game moves at 60 frames per second save for the occasional, and oftentimes unnoticeable, slowdown when things get hectic.
The dialogue is near a word for word rehearse of 64, complete with most the original cast members and it's nice to see the quality of the voice acting improve, though it's still hooky and cliche (because everyone's reciting a script from 1997). This game isn't winning any awards for writing but it's to the point and lets the characters' have their moments of personality and humor. There's even a hidden level where you play as Peppy and he says barrel roll every you perform a barrel roll. Well done.
Star Fox Zero is the Star Fox game I wasn't expecting but have been waiting for though I'm not sure the feelings mutual for everyone else. The diehard Star Fox fans will suck it up to either genuinely enjoy the game or vicariously relive the glory days and reminiscence of simpler times (provided their copy of Star Fox 64 3D is lost somewhere). As for the rest? I doubt it. This game couldn't have come at a better time, as the Wii U console presumably winds down for a newer more powerful console -- and presumably all of Nintendo's main resources with it -- I doubt the critical and financial fate of Star Fox Zero is what's keeping the company up at night in a cold sweat. Regardless, time and effort was put into a solid space shooter that pushes the series forward into the spotlight once again, hopefully for good this time.
Good job, Nintendo. But don't do it again.