One of the biggest attractions at this year’s E3 was the playable demo of Star Fox Zero for Nintendo’s Wii U console. This season there was a dearth of new, quality games that were actually available to play on the floor. So, the fact that an actual demo was available to play for Star Fox Zero on the show floor was pretty exciting. Star Fox is one of the classic, marquee franchises for Nintendo, so I am happy to see the series finally make its return for a traditional update on the Wii U. Star Fox 64 is one of my favorite video game experiences of all time, so I was anxious to see how a new version of Star Fox would stack up against its predecessors.
The Wii U demo at E3 featured three different missions: a Training stage; a mission in familiar Corneria; and a Space Battle stage. The Training mission allows players to get acclimated to the new gameplay and controls. Star Fox Zero heavily utilizes the Wii U GamePad for its controls. Basically, players will have to use the GamePad to aim and steer Arwing. The controls with the GamePad definitely require a bit of a learning curve and some getting used to. Thankfully, I was able to observe players who were ahead of me at the Expo; so by the time it was my turn, I pretty much had it figured out. There were still issues, but the training mission did help a bit in getting used to the somewhat janky controls. My hope is that the final game will have option to play without the GamePad and use a more traditional controller and control scheme for the game. I do not consider Star Fox Zero to be a game series conducive to motion controls.
I was finally able to dive into the action with the Corneria mission, a classic stage reminiscent of the original Star Fox and Star Fox 64 installments. Fox and his team are blasting through the area and taking out enemy combatants. The rings are back, including the three special golden rings. While I am not crazy about the GamePad controls, there is a target lock feature which definitely helps for the dog fight battles. In addition, there is a charged homing blast for the Arwing, which can take out multiple sets of enemies at once. Over the course of the demo, it was quite satisfying to unleash the homing blast to take out scores of enemies.
The Corneria mission climaxes as General Pepper is under attack at his base. Fox and the Star Fox crew have to defend the base from these spider-like robots which crawl up to Pepper’s tower to tear it apart. Fox has to destroy each of these robots before time runs out and the base is completely leveled. After the Spider robots are destroyed, an evil space ship attacks the base, and Fox must take it out. Here, the Fox’s Arwing has to destroy the ship’s shield generators. After that, the Arwing can enter its All-Range and literally enter this ship. The All-Range walker mode can then destroy the innards of the ship from the inside out before bidding a hasty retreat to pass the stage.
The next playable stage is a space battle. The stage was considerably shorter and sees the return of Pigma Dengar. This stage sees a return of those classic aerial dog fights that made Star Fox 64 such an awesome and special game. The loop and u-turn control features are back to really drive that element home. After chipping away at Pigma, he eventually blasts away like the cowardly munchkin that he is.
I have read some negative critiques about the graphics and overall look of Star Fox Zero. Some of those complaints are valid. At first glance, Star Fox Zero does not look like a next-gen game or a game that belongs on a next-gen console. The textures and environments look very flat. In terms of graphical power and the overall look, it looks more like a Gamecube game. However, that is not necessarily a deal- breaker for me, especially when it comes to Star Fox. In recent years, players have become too fixated on graphical breakthroughs, the number of pixels and a game’s framerate. In my view, none of these elements truly matter as much as actual gameplay. The gameplay here was definitely fun and reminiscent of the classic Star Fox games, barring some of the issues with the janky GamePad controls. Honestly, I do not think the world of Star Fox Zero really needs to look really 3D and realistic. The original Star Fox, with its look based on Polygon shapes, was really endearing. Some of those elements and classic shapes are maintained all the way up to its current era. I would prefer for the staff of Star Fox Zero to focus on creating fun, unique and exciting gameplay stages that are faithful to the Star Fox style, rather than pretty visuals and special effects.
Based on the gameplay, the whole Star Fox team is back for some support, and the team is fully voiced and interacts with the player just like in Star Fox 64. I am not 100 percent certain all the other pilots have fully voiced dialogue because the sound could not really be heard in the crowded convention hall, and there were no headphones. Slippy, Falco, and even Peppy Hare are back. There was absolutely no Krystal to be found in this demo. In fact, there was very little actual story to grasp onto. I am not sure if Nintendo and Platinum games are planning a deeper story, but I hope that is the case. Some of my favorite elements for Star Fox 64 include the branching levels and mission pathways. In addition, the game had multiple endings. I hope that will once again be the case Star Fox Zero.
Star Fox Zero is scheduled for a holiday release for the Nintendo Wii U. As a huge Amiibo fan, I am also hoping there will be a separate line of Amiibos for the game. An Arwing Amiibo made for this game would be incredible.