It's been a long time since gamers were treated to a brand new entry in the Star Fox franchise, but Nintendo finally pulled the curtain off of the next iteration during the company's Digital Event. Going under the title of Star Fox Zero, the new game is set to utilize the GamePad in ways that the series has never seen, and we were able to get our hands on it during the big event.
Starring none other than the bipedal canine pilot, Fox McCloud, and his longstanding crew, Star Fox Zero brings back familiar faces with some additional high definition paint and motion controls. What follows is familiar but distinct, and that's the perfect launch point for the "retelling" that series creator Shigeru Miyamoto is billing this game as.
To kick things off, I was given a brief tutorial that instructed me on how to go about controlling the infamous Arwing, which admittedly took some getting used to in later sections. The on-rails portions I played through required me to utilize the gyroscopic capabilities of the Wii U GamePad in order to aim, and this felt like second nature after playing an ample amount of Nintendo's latest third-person shooter, Splatoon.
Cruising through these areas felt like a return to form for the series, as I dashed around the screen shooting down baddies and doing barrel rolls on a whim. The Corneria stage featured in the demo particularly felt so familiar as a result of the layout being nearly identical to the Star Fox 64 level of the same name, and it made transitioning to the shinier landscape of Star Fox Zero a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
After completing this section, however, I was given full control around a 3D area to combat flying foes and spider-like robots – all trying to destroy the command centre of Corneria. The aforementioned spider bots helped to demonstrate unique mechanics about the game in the form of aiming through the GamePad's screen rather than the TV, as the only vulnerable position of these enemies was located on top of them – meaning I had to fly over, look straight down, and open fire to dismantle them.
After shooting a few of them, I was instructed to tap the 'A' button. As soon as I did, my Arwing transformed into a new ground-based vehicle know as the Walker. This contraption originally made an appearance in the shuttered Star Fox 2 on SNES, but the transforming vehicle never saw the light of day following that game's cancellation. Now it's a prominent new addition to the series that allows for precision aiming and ample tactical options in close-counter situations that require players to stay still rather than continuously fly forward.
Tapping the 'A' button once more transformed the Walker into the series' iconic Arwing, and I set off to deal with the level's final boss. This is where controls changed dramatically, as I had to rely solely on the GamePad screen to aim and traverse the environment. After blowing up a portion of the dastardly villain, I quickly found the first branching path that players can take – which was confirmed to me by several Nintendo reps.
Apparently players can take the more obvious route of slowly blowing up each portion of the big baddie (wherein the villain escapes), or they can blow up a segment and fly into the innards of the malicious villain and end his reign of terror for good. These kinds of scenarios are what adds replayability to the franchise, and it's nice to see that Nintendo will be sticking to that tried and true formula in Zero.
Last, but not least, there are space encounters, which play out much like previous entries have allowed. In my demo, I encountered Star Wolf alum Pigma, and we duked it out with reckless abandon. Once again, the tablet-like controller was the focal point for this battle, with locking on only occurring when I got the gluttonous swine in my crosshairs. The battle ended up feeling like I was just doing circles as we continuously chased one another and clashed rigs though, so the fight never lasted that long.
Star Fox Zero is true to its roots, and fans of the Nintendo 64 classic will love it for that. As a reimagining, it's hard to say where Fox, Falco, Peppy, and Slippy will end up, but after locking down the controls I can safely say that I can't wait to see more.
Star Fox Zero is set to arrive exclusively for Nintendo Wii U in Holiday 2015.