Blurred from the world’s prying eyes, a year has passed since Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that Star Fox would once again return to our screens. However, having long defended the Lylat system, Nintendo’s intrepid team of intergalactic mercenaries are now faced with a new challenge in being positioned as Wii U’s blockbuster release for the festive season.
It’s clear as day that Star Fox Zero has had a productive year, not least by the fact that Nintendo have since recruited PlatinumGames to collaborate on the game’s development. The developer has not only been able to leverage their proficiency in the action genre to deliver a high-octane experience, but also draw on having already busily worked on Wii U titles Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101.
Transformation had been a key message in E3 2015’s Nintendo Digital Event, and such word can readily be associated with the evolution of the Star Fox series over the years. Whether that’s in its early days as Nintendo’s first game to use 3D polygon graphics or introducing us to the force feedback of Nintendo 64’s Rumble Pak, it now serves to explore the Wii U GamePad’s multifaceted innards.
Most will have already heard Shigeru Miyamoto speak about the development team’s desire for players to feel as if they are flying a real plane. To do so, the TV screen presents a more traditional and cinematic viewpoint whereas the GamePad offers a cockpit view.
Early impressions from the show floor had been marred with scepticism, but any preconceived concern was immediately eliminated when I had chance to hop behind an Arwing myself. However, it can feel disorientating at first with the player not understanding which screen to direct their attention toward. But, as we all discovered with Splatoon, those that endure will soon become accustomed to Star Fox Zero’s dual-screen adventure.
Explained at it’s most basic level, players can freely cast their gaze at whichever screen they prefer – their preference able to be displayed on the TV screen at the mere press of a button. The cockpit view allows for precision aiming, with Nintendo’s E3 build keen to portray how the GamePad’s built-in accelerometer and gyroscope can more easily help you trace an enemy’s flight path to then gun them down.
But that doesn’t necessarily force you to every rely on it, with players free to permanently fixate on the traditional viewpoint where the reticule still responds to your movements. At this point, it’s important to mention that those with an aversion for motion controls will have the option to deactivate them.
It works particularly well in Star Fox Zero’s pre-determined corridors, but requires more adjustment when the game switches to All-Range Mode. As Slippy, Peppy and Falco break formation, the player is free to chase their prey. These phases have clearer goals away from point scoring and neutralising enemies hounding your comrades, with the Corneria stage tasking you with clearing the skies of fighters surrounding General Pepper’s control tower – Falco competing with you to see who can destroy 10 fighters first.
When cleared, ground units emerge inviting the player to transform their Arwing into a Walker. With its birdlike appearance the vehicle had previously been implemented in Star Fox 2, although that game ultimately never saw release.
This change in dynamic has more importance than has so far revealed, with players able to open up interior sections that expose a significant weak point on a boss. That’s evident at the close of the Corneria stage, where blasting away at the invading mothership will reveal a passage that leads straight to its power core.
With Landmaster and Gyrowing vehicles to also appear, Star Fox Zero looks set to be incredibly varied. The E3 2015 trailer revealed how the lumbering tank can itself transform and hover for short distances, whereas the Gyrowing appears as if it will be used in stealth scenarios where it will deploy a tethered robot. We’ll presumably learn more in an upcoming Nintendo Direct, but that breadth is pleasing to see.
My only concern is that Nintendo don’t rely too much on what’s come before, with Corneria’s first phase feeling overbearingly familiar to Star Fox 64. Perhaps it was to help ease us in to what the Star Fox team’s new adventure holds, but even Miyamoto’s wondrous mind hasn’t helped in positioning this next outing.
“We’ve rebuilt the game using ideas from the past but it’s not a part four or part five. It’s not a remake either, so we named it Star Fox Zero this time,” he had explained in the Nintendo Digital Event.
The visuals too have proved divisive, sumptuous vistas somewhat at odds with the minimalist cartoon sheen given to your more immediate surroundings. In motion it’s entirely forgivable, and I would rather the developer’s work toward a consistent 60 frames per second rather than seek to appease a minority of dissenting voices.
But largely, I came away impressed by Star Fox Zero. In an industry being increasingly driven by nostalgia, Nintendo, with Platinum’s assistance, have driven this promising experience beyond even my own lofty expectation. It’s undeniably great to see the Star Fox team reunite, and you can surely be excited to see what the whole adventure will hold later in the year.