Star Fox Guard is a strange spinoff of a beloved franchise, taking on an entirely unorthodox gameplay loop for Fox and friends. You can glean as much from a quick peek at screenshots and videos. What you won't see in your fancy screenshots and schmancy videos is just how much Guard is secretly a horror game.
Nintendo Life, we hear you say, Nintendo Life, that's nuts. You say some weird stuff sometimes but this is a bizarre conclusion even for you. Yes, the game takes place in the daylight. Yes, the main characters are space frogs with cowboy attitudes and yeehaw parlance. Yes, the enemies are cutesy robots. Yes, you're armed to the teeth and not remotely defenseless. But hear us out: all signs point to Guard being quite the horror experience.
See, horror is more than a coat of paint and some guttural shrieks. Effective horror gets under your skin, making you feel vulnerable and concerned for your well-being. Star Fox Guard excels by every terrifying metric. Fear is baked into the gameplay in an astonishingly effective way. Guard wouldn't have to change a single mechanic to be counted as among the year's scariest games if Nintendo killed the lights and swapped the cute robots for blood-vomiting monsters. We haven't experienced this much dread in a video game since 4-player ChuChu Rocket! blasted into our hearts and made us fear our Dreamcasts, GBAs, and one another.
Guard puts you in the role of a security operator for various mining sites across the Star Fox galaxy owned by Corneria Precious Metals, Ltd. The facilities are owned by the immaculately named Grippy Toad, fan-favorite Slippy Toad's uncle, who has a pesky robot infestation problem. Apparently, these robots simply cannot stop attacking the labyrinthian mining facilities, and you're in charge of making sure they don't get through to the core. At your disposal are 12 cameras with weapons attached, strategically placed around the facility, to fight them off.
You have to keep track of all 12 cameras at once, which is the source of a lot of Guard's tension. On the TV screen is a large central display surrounded by the twelve camera feeds. These feeds are numbered and correspond to the various cameras placed around the facility. A map of the facility and corresponding camera placements are found on the GamePad — tap a camera on the GamePad to commandeer it in the central display, which then allows you to shoot. Before each mission you can position the cameras and equip them with whatever weapons you may have unlocked to boost your chances of a successful defense.
Guard's tension comes from prolonged periods of anticipation punctuated by sudden rushes of robots. You're never quite sure where the next wave will come from, or what fresh hell it'll bring. Some robots rush towards the center, others will obscure your view, and some require diversionary camera tactics to defeat. Keeping an eye on all 12 monitors is no simple task — not only because there are so many of them to track, but because their screens are small and somewhat difficult to make out. Switching monitors means taking your eyes off the main screen for a split second, and in some cases the robot you want to target may have skedaddled out of that camera's vision, which kicks off a frantic race to locate the right camera and switch to it in time. This may not sound horribly demanding, but as different types of robots get up in your face and cameras start to alert you that one has broken through and you're racing to prioritize what to blow up first, then holy smokes can it get frantic. Luckily, if you feel overwhelmed and need backup, you can scan a Fox or Falco amiibo to call in air support once a day. Take that, robot scum!
We've fought through the first two worlds — Corneria and Titania — and flop sweat like you wouldn't believe. The main missions are tricky enough, and each world's various Extra missions are sure to put the finishing touches on you. For social horrors, an online mode called My Squad allows you to design your own robot attack waves and upload them for all to dread. The editor is dead simple to use and borrows heavily in design from music sequencers — a fitting metaphor for composing your symphonies of destruction.
We're simultaneously excited and terrified to play more Star Fox Guard. Here's hoping we survive long enough to crank out the full review later this month.