Cooperative play in Star Fox Zero isn’t a feature I was entirely excited about going into my experience. Rather than offering unique cooperative content or letting players take control of different squad members, it’s just a control split. One player steers using a Wii Remote and Nunchuck, the other player shoots using the Gamepad and gyro controls. Compared to online multiplayer in Star Fox Command or the more fully fleshed out local multiplayer suite in Star Fox Assault this seemed like a lazy afterthought.
I’m pleased to report I was hasty to judge. It turns out that cooperative play in Star Fox Zero is really fun! As previously discussed, the real challenge to this game is in mastering the dual screen display and controls. Effective play demands constant switching between the two screens to keep up with flying and shooting. When you split those two up the game becomes infinitely more manageable and accessible.
I try to avoid just comparing one game to another because that isn’t useful for anyone lacking the same game experiences as I have, but I think this one is apt enough that I’ll let it slide: Think of this mode like Mario Kart Double Dash. The game can be played by one person without trouble, but playing with two people not only opens up the doors for less skilled players to participate but it also turns the game into a fun experience communicating with friends.
What is there to communicate about? The cooperative play completely splits the offense and defense between the two people. The pilot’s only job is to navigate through the levels without getting blasted out of the sky and the gunner’s only job is to rack up those kills and go for a high score. So the incentives are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One guy wants to get a nice clean strafing run on the enemy, the other guy wants to skip out ASAP as soon as it gets hot. It’s a great push/pull that keeps you constantly chattering and bickering as you go.
Playing cooperatively also made me realize that just playing the flying or just playing the shooting is still plenty engaging as far as a gameplay experience. There’s no sense of playing half of a game even though that’s literally what you’re doing. You’ve got to stay sharp. No wonder I had so much trouble adjusting to playing Star Fox Zero in single player, there are two whole games running concurrently and you’re responsible for both of them.
That does bring me to one really weird annoyance with cooperative play though. You can’t just pick up your copy of Star Fox Zero and jump in with a friend. You only get the option to play through a level cooperatively from the mission select. So if you haven’t previously played a mission on an account what you end up having to do is every time you go to a new system you have to pause, exit, and then re select the level from the map to activate cooperative play. Even if you just cleared the last level in two player. It’s hardly game breaking, but this is the sort of annoyance that I expect to be caught and ironed out of first party Nintendo titles.
And that oversight is even more of a shame because for a game with such a considerable learning curve the cooperative mode is the perfect way to get your feet wet. For many people who struggle with motion controls or multi tasking or both I suspect that cooperative play will be the only way they really enjoy Star Fox Zero. Far from being the throw away extra mode I had imagined, now I think it’s essential.