Launching alongside Star Fox Zero, Star Fox Guard is a new take on the tower defense genre. It was a game that no one was expecting, and honestly, I never thought it was a game I wanted. Come, sit closer to the camera and I’ll tell you about it.
In Star Fox Guard, you play as your Mii who has been hired by Grippy Toad, Slippy’s uncle. Despite the Lylat system being engulfed by war, business goes on, and the one business that is doing better than others is the mining industry. Grippy’s business is doing so well that other mining corps have started sending sabotage robots to the mining operations. You’ve been hired to watch the depot and protect things. Each depot is protected by a series of 12 cameras kitted out with laser turrets, but don’t worry: you’re sitting safely in your control room. Hopefully, miles from the depot. Your job is simply to blast the saboteur robots that teleport in and invade the depot.
The game itself presents the twelve camera views to you on your TV, with the central view being taken up by the active camera. Any button will fire the lasers, and you can look around with the analog sticks. The Wii U GamePad offers a top-down schematic view of the depot, and you select the active camera from here. Your enemies will send two different classes of robot at you: the first type is known as a distraction robot, and these ones will mess with the camera systems. The other type, the saboteurs proper, will head straight for the mining core and try to destroy the operation. Your job is actually quite simple: destroy the destruction robots only. The distraction robots don’t count towards the level’s completion, and will flee if you manage to destroy all the saboteurs. Destroying robots nets you metal scrap which you use to level up, offering you more cameras, bonus levels, and so on. Destroying all the robots in a level nets you bonus scrap.
My first thought when playing this game: how hard can this be? I was so wrong. So, so very wrong. The difficulty ramps up with dizzying rapidity, and you’ll soon start facing off against multiple different types of robot. The first stage shows you one of each type. One distractor, one destroyer. And then the distractors start exploding into clouds of smoke, hiding the destroyers. And then destroyers start coming in with shielded fronts, meaning you have to use a separate camera to attack from behind. And they come thick and fast and which camera do you concentrate on and why are there three at once and why is camera five suddenly offline I didn’t see a robot coming and oh sweet lord one’s already at the mining core and you just lost the level.
It’s awesome. If it was professional to put emoticons into reviews, you’d see a giant grin here.
At the end of each level, whether you won on lost, you’ll be able to review how the stage played out, showing you the weaknesses in your defenses and allowing you to move the cameras to more opportune positions, or see exactly when you should be paying attention to which camera. You don’t have to perform this stage review, but it does make things easier the next time around. Or you can use to see what a jolly clever clogs you happened to be, if you’re into patting yourself on the back a lot.
In addition to the main story missions, the game allows you create an attack pattern of robots to send against others online. Creating this pattern is simple: you drag and drop robots into a timeline, with each of the numbered lines denoting a doorway to attack. You then send your robot attack out onto the internet and wait while people try to defeat your saboteurs. If your robots are destroyed, you lose rank, but if they destroy an opponent’s depot, you get the rank points. When someone has played your level, you get a chance to see how it played out, allowing you the chance to adjust your attack patterns. In truth, it was more fun to take on other people’s attacks than send mine out, but other people’s mileage may vary.
I found Star Fox Guard a brilliant innovation on the tower defense genre. Somehow, it just works, and I think this is one case where it’d be difficult to pull off the game on another console. The two screens mechanic is what makes Star Fox Guard the gem that it is, and even though it bears the Star Fox name, it stands up strongly on its own, and then some.