With much yelling and demanding from their fans, Nintendo is finally coughing out a new Star Fox game, dubbed Star Fox Zero. Much to our surprise, it’s a game fully focused on making use of the Wii U’s gamepad. That could be both a good and bad thing, all things considered. After our E3 demo with Nintendo, I’m not too entirely sure about either outcome.
In my section of the three possible levels in the demo, the computer controlled wingmen and I were tasked with dog fighting smaller enemy craft in an open arena much akin to Star Fox 64‘s. Before I even started playing, something felt off. We were directed to hold the WiiU’s gamepad with our arms straight, as we would awkwardly look at mirror in order to aim and shoot enemies. When the demo began, I decided to look at the monitor instead, which proved to be far from precise, but at least I had my eyes on one screen instead of constantly switching my sight from one to the other. It’s a compromise that feels like a huge misstep.
In a game like Star Fox, having tight controls is paramount. For the most part, each new game in the series has kept that idea going, with Star Fox 64 being the best by far in all regards. The inclusion of gamepad controls for Star Fox Zero felt like a step in the wrong direction, mostly because the Wii U’s tablet feels so bulky to play games on from the outset. I’ve owned a Wii U for a couple of years now, and I still haven’t grown accustomed to using that thing for games, mostly because it’s just so far from the great ergonomic design of what came before it. Still, there were games that made fantastic use of its limited capabilities.
From the little I’ve played of it, Star Fox Zero doesn’t feel like one of those examples. I could be proved wrong when the game is out later this year during the holidays, and I’m certainly hoping so. Sadly, aiming and directly flying weren’t the only issues I had playing the limited slice of game at E3. The motion controls for stunts were also a little convoluted, so I was thankful that I was given the option to use flick combinations to throw a loop and ambush enemies, for instance.
This game feels like a little too much like a re-thread of what Star Fox 64 already did so well almost 20 years ago. Transforming my ship into different variations at will instead of having to wait for specific levels that are designed for their special capabilities is cool enough, I guess, but even then there are moments when changing to a bipedal mech doesn’t do squat, like in the deep space section I was playing, as much as it was funny to be mocked by the Nintendo rep watching me play.
Still, I’m quite hopeful for what Platinum Games can do with a beloved franchise like Star Fox. Maybe what they showed us at E3 a couple weeks back was only a mere taste of something amazing? Only Fox McCloud would know at this point; and the last time I saw him, he was busy fiddling with that darned gamepad.