Star Fox Zero
I’ve had a soft spot for the Star Fox franchise since 1993, when I went to K-Mart and purchased the first game in the series. I remember playing on a tiny 11-inch color television, leaning into the screen, and nearly falling off the chair as I dodged asteroids with my whole body.
I don’t know how many times I defeated Andross’ debris-spitting, glowing, polygonal face. But I can tell you that I did it on every difficulty level multiple times. Sometimes I took shortcuts. Sometimes I played through every stage.
So when I tell you that the Star Fox Zero E3 demo left me feeling a bit flat and the subsequent interview with Platinum and Shigeru Miyamoto had me concerned about the game’s depth, know that it comes from love. Know also that after playing it a couple of weeks ago, I’m feeling worlds better about Star Fox Zero.
The reason why is simple: Nintendo listened. The delay that moved the game from fall 2015 to April 2016 wasn’t just to complete development. It was to overhaul it. This is not the same Star Fox Zero I played at E3 2015, and that’s great news.
“The biggest reason [for the delay] is that we didn’t set out to create a Star Fox game to begin with,” Miyamoto told me. “We started creating a bunch of different experiments that use the GamePad and the TV with two-screen gameplay. We started with those and introduced some of those different games.”
As we reported from E3, Star Fox Zero was originally designed with a single difficulty level in mind. There was no galaxy map or branching paths from Corneria through to the end. There would be missions encapsulated on planets to bring you back and give you more to do, but no thread to connect them.
“What we found in making [levels] compact, the Star Fox fan really wanted something that felt more like a Star Fox game,” Miyamoto says. “They, in particular, were interested in having the map and those junction points and a game where your strategic approach through the map was really important to them. We spent a lot of time rearranging the content and building the levels in a way that took advantage of the map. We made a lot of smaller changes, as well. We changed some of the icons on the screen. We changed enemy placement and balance. We made changes for people who are maybe new to Star Fox to make the game play a little bit easier for them to understand with the heads-up display and things like that.”
There are also features that make the game far more accessible for newer players. You can make the Arwing invincible. You can also take on the game in a cooperative style.
In that two-player mode, the player with the GamePad handles targeting. Another player with a pro controller or Wii remote and nunchuk handles flight.
As of E3 2015, your Arwing wasn’t going to be equipped with smart bombs. The familiar weapons of mass destruction are back in the arsenal now.
One thing that has not changed is the motion-control targeting. When we saw the game in June, Nintendo recommended we hold the GamePad out in front of us. This was designed to essentially put both of the views in our line of sight at the same time.
That approach has been altered, and the targeting feels a bit more forgiving now. I played with GamePad closer to my lap. If the targeting started to sway, a quick press of the Y button re-centered it. This enabled me to keep my focus on the traditional third-person view on the TV.
For those that want to quickly jump into cockpit view, the minus button serves as toggle. You can move between both views on the TV, which means you’ll never need to look down at the GamePad if you don’t want to.
I suspect that the motion controls are going to be a turn-off for some, but I quickly adapted. While it won’t be until I have an extended play session that I’ll be able to solidify my feelings, that scheme worked well enough that I’m still interested in the game.I asked about whether they can be turned off, and the short answer is, "no."
Nintendo threw me in the deep end, apparently on a mission to convince me that Star Fox Zero does get challenging. I crashed and burned more than once, but each time through I became more comfortable with the controls, the enemy patterns, and the obstacles. Platinum’s influence comes in these areas.
I also saw how the branching paths work in practice. Returning to Corneria after acquiring the walker transformation allowed me to step on a button and open a gate. After a brief time, I reached the ocean and took on a different boss. Following that encounter, I entered a teleporter and was taken to a distant planet. It flowed well and definitely tugged at my nostalgia for the older games in the series while still feeling fresh.
I’m not sure yet whether Star Fox Zero is the game fans have been waiting for in the series. Until I have more time with the motion controls, it’s hard to know if the latest entry soars or splashes down. But what I can say is that I’m feeling far more hopeful that Miyamoto and Platinum will pull a rabbit (or frog or falcon or fox) from the hat.