The first time I played Star Fox Guard was a couple of years ago at a Nintendo press event held in a basement in London. Back then, it was a simply known as Project Guard – a prototype tower defence game that Miyamoto had been tinkering with. The brief demo was simple, but strangely compelling. I remember frantically trying to stop a group of angry bots from getting the middle of a maze-like compound, though I don’t quite remember why. I wondered what would become of the project, how it would evolve and change before its launch, and in what way it would inevitably be shoehorned into an established franchise.
Now, several years later, Project Guard has become Star Fox Guard. Promoted as an odd counterpart to Star Fox Zero (reviewed here a few days ago), it really hasn’t changed all that much. It retains the same simple (but compelling) tower defense gameplay, except now you have a reason to protect that compound from those angry, yet adorable bots. It’s full of scrap, and Slippy Toad’s uncle, Grippy, will fire you if you don’t.
The hook, and a large part of what makes the game so compelling, is in the presentation. The action is split between the feeds of 12 remote laser turrets, hooked up to a CCTV system. The one you are currently controlling takes up more real estate in the center of the screen presented on the TV, while the gamepad displays a map that shows you how much of the area your cameras are covering. It also helps you keep track of where those pesky robots are currently loitering while not looking at the feeds (so long as a camera can see them).
The Wii U Gamepad is at its best when used to complement gameplay, rather than completely ruling over it, and Star Fox Guard is a brilliant example of this. The pad essentially becomes a handy tool to handle the oncoming robotic onslaught without being the be-all, end-all. Relocating turrets at the start of a level and keeping an eye on your defenses while switching between active turrets during play is an absolute breeze.
Star Fox Guard’s somewhat chipper exterior belies a game that actually has more in common with Fatal Frame and Five Nights at Freddy’s than it does Star Fox or Super Mario, and the varied assortment of bots invading your base look more like the descendants of ROB and the adorable little machines from Batteries not Included. You will very quickly begin to dread the whirling and waddling of these cute terror-death-bots. The AI works surprisingly well, and they slowly pour in from all sides, the various calamitous collection of cogs and camshafts all working together to run interference, circumvent your defences, ruin your turrets, and destroy the base.
Star Fox Guard’s invading robot army features 26 different bots divided into two classes: chaos, which wreck your cameras, and combat, which destroy the place and ultimately cause a game over if they get to the middle of the compound. Favorites (and while I say “favorites,” I hate all of them, but I admire their wits) include the feed-scrambling Dishruptor (which replaces your feed with static if they get close enough), Pausmo (who hijacks your cameras, making them play false footage) and the F.L.I., which does a brilliant Major Kong impersonation by riding a rocket straight into the middle of your base.
In order to thwart the robotic rabble’s attempts to trash your base, you are eventually granted access to seven different bot-blasting weapon types, and though none are particularly revolutionary, correctly deploying each and using the right tool for the job is essential if you want to get through all of Guard’s 40 campaign missions. The standard turret gets old fast and is basically pointless once you have unlocked any of the other types, like the slow mam, which (you’ll be surprised to hear) damages and slows bots down. The charge cam, at full power, can destroy several bots at once, and the Freeze Cam stops bots altogether, letting you blow the buggers up with another turret with the minimum amount of fuss.
Before each encounter, Star Fox Guard tells you how many Combat-class bots are inbound, but doesn’t reveal how many chaos class bots are likely to turn up, or you could very easily set up your defenses to effectively beat them all back. Instead, you merely know where the main threat is coming from, creating a foreboding air of uncertainty, even if you think you have put everything in the right place. There’s always a chance something new and unexpected can sneak in and wreck all your best laid plans. And though I say chance, it’s a rare event that a level doesn’t end with a desperate push to kill the last remaining bots that are inches away from destroying your base’s core.
The main missions play out pretty much identically, simply having to survive until there are no more combat robots left. However, the game becomes a lot more interesting once you get into the dozens of optional side missions, which changes up the formula in a myriad of interesting ways, such as giving you additional personnel to protect, or limiting your turret’s ammo supplies. Though they are interesting, they don’t change all that much, and the basics of the game never really stray from tower defense, of course.
If you can’t beat the bots, you can always join them instead, utilizing robots that you unlock as you complete the campaign to ruin another player’s day in guard’s challenge mode. This has you organised your own squad of bots, and infiltrate other player bases, or alternatively fending off waves of other player’s forces. Your wins in challenge mode also count towards unlocking various upgrades in the main game, which is pleasing.
On the whole, Star Fox Guard is a decent tower defense game with a solid hook that manages to capture the ‘just one more time” mentality that results in having bizarre dreams about trying to defend your house from cute looking robots. Or…you know…not sleeping at all, because you’ve been up all night defending Grippy’s scrap from them. Its relation to the rest of the Star Fox series may only be skin deep, but it’s still a solid game in its’s own right, and one that makes brilliant use of the Wii U gamepad.
Star Fox Guard was reviewed on WiiU with a copy provided by the publisher
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Platinum Games/Nintendo | Genre: Tower Defence | Platforms: Wii U | PEGI/ESRB: 7+, E10 | Release Date: April 22, 2016 | Controls: WiiU Gamepad