E3 2015 Hands-on Preview: Star Fox Zero

The biggest threat to Fox and his crew might be the Wii U GamePad…

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/17/2015 12:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

I really can’t believe it has been nine years since the last time the Star Fox series has seen an original title. Star Fox 64 3D is already four years old and was little more than a cosmetic upgrade, and certainly not a true new game in the franchise. Star Fox Zero, Nintendo and Platinum Games’ upcoming Wii U title, is largely a return to form for Fox McCloud and his team after the polarising Star Fox Command on Nintendo DS. Though combat and flight was largely standard Star Fox fare in that title, using the touch screen as the only option for controlling Fox’s Arwing wasn’t every player’s cup of tea. I personally found the new method of control jarring and alien, never truly acclimating to it nor feeling it came anywhere close to the precision of an analog stick. Flash forward to E3 2015, and Nintendo has finally seen fit to place Fox and company in an adventure that draws from the series’ glory days, but with a couple of caveats that I have some reservations about.

On the show floor, attendees were given two stages to play: one an assault on Corneria, the other a battle for a deep space colony. I played the former, which felt like it was ripped straight from Star Fox 64. Players soar through a cloud pocked blue sky over shimmering waters, until coming upon a Corneria under siege by enemy forces. Buildings are ravaged by Andross’ fleet of ships and robots as they tear through the city, but with the arrival of Fox and his team, the tide of battle begins to shift back in favor of the good guys. Fox and his wingmen exchange quips, Slippy gets a bogey on his tail… wait, that actually sounds exactly like Star Fox 64. For about half the mission that is the case, as the beats of the story and action on screen play out with little variation between that Nintendo 64 classic and Zero. It was here that my reservations began to form, because as much as I want a Star Fox game cut from that same cloth, I already got a remake of Star Fox 64. “Isn’t Nintendo going to change things up at least slightly?” I asked myself.

Thankfully, the answer to that last question is a yes, as Zero is not a mere rehash of what’s come before. Though I’ll have to see more of the game to be sure, and the dialogue could definitely use some refreshing, I feel confident in saying that Nintendo likely intentionally sought to make this first demo feel as familiar as it does for the sake of reassuring lapsed players that Star Fox was coming back to its roots, as well as prime new players for what lays ahead. This sentiment seems validated by the last half of the mission, when the assault shifts to a large tower where General Pepper, the longstanding middleman between team Star Fox and the Cornerian military, is being pinned by encroaching enemies. Suddenly with a different threat to handle, the tone of the level changes and new ground is broken. The team’s Arwings enter all-range mode, where the ships have full 360 degree movement. It’s at this point that the game’s dependance on the GamePad’s motion controls becomes most pronounced. Control of Fox’s ship is still mapped to the left analog stick, where players can control its direction moving up and down, left and right. The targeting reticule, however, is tethered to the GamePad itself, much like how it is in Splatoon, and aiming takes place within the cockpit of the ship on the controller’s touch screen. Unlike Splatoon, the motion controls at this point in development can’t be shut off in Zero.

I felt that the gyro controls were most natural during the on-rails segments of the demo. I didn’t have to manipulate the GamePad very aggressively in order to make my shots land where I wanted, and though I would have killed to turn them off, I was able to play mostly the same as I have in previous series’ entries. Going into all-range mode, however, I felt that the motion controls became more of a hindrance than any sort of boost to precision targeting. Moving the Arwing with one stick, controlling speed and barrel rolling with the other (no R and L buttons for barrel rolls during this demo), firing and locking on with the ZR and ZL buttons, and twisting the GamePad around to aim was far less intuitive than I’ve come to expect from Nintendo. Part of the problem was my inability to recenter the GamePad; my targeting reticule was shifted to the left for the duration of the battle, making aiming much more of a headache than it needed to be. Using the left stick to try to correct this was very hit or miss. Whether that’s a quirk of the demo or a control issue that will persist into the final build of the game is unknown. What is known is that Nintendo got the controls right in 1997 and shouldn’t be having any problems with them today.

When my reticule was lining up where I wanted it to go, I found myself becoming more acclimated to the new control setup and enjoying Zero‘s dogfighting a great deal. Unfortunately, during a latter segment of gameplay, the new controls left me feeling completely defenseless as I tried to steer my way into a large enemy warship to attack its core. Being honest, though, I blame the booth attendant for this more than the controls, as she told me I could enter the ship at a point when I couldn’t; I’d seen previous attendees doing more damage to the warship before being able to enter, so that might be the reason I had so much trouble trying to fly inside. Overall, though, my time with Zero was mostly exhilarating. The Arwing’s new transforming capabilities are fluid and compelling. Laser fire is faster and more kinetic than in previous games. The graphics are bright and vibrant, accompanied by the signature tunes the series is known for-though I do hope some of the flatness of the game world is improved before release. Those niggling issues with the controls, though, are enough to make me trepidatious about Zero‘s future. The game has all the makings of becoming a classic in its own right, but if Nintendo doesn’t iron out these wrinkles, the end product will be notably flawed. There’s still time to make Zero the definitive Star Fox experience, and if anyone can do it, it’s Nintendo.

2 Responses to “E3 2015 Hands-on Preview: Star Fox Zero

  • 81 points
    Anthony Pelone says...

    Apparently Iwata confirmed on Twitter that you can turn the gyro controls off.

  • 21 points
    Dreadkong says...

    I don’t think there will be issues with gyro controls. Nintendo is known for doing things like this right. Instead I’m really excited for all the crazy things Nintendo will be able to do with yhis new mechanics. I have a real hype. I wanted a new Star Fox as much as I want a new Metroid, and so Nintendo is not letting die it’s beloved franchises

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