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E3 2015 Hands-On: Star Fox Zero


Jonathan Higgins

Perfecting my high scores on Star Fox 64 was one of my favorite parts of being a kid. It“s one of the few hobbies I still partake in, and often, as an adult. I wanted to love every game that came after, whether we“re talking Star Fox Adventures, Assault, or Command. But nothing beats the game I grew up with.

 

When Nintendo announced Star Fox Zero, my eyes lit up. It definitely seemed to embrace the fact that it was made with Star Fox 64 in mind wholeheartedly. And it borrows more than one concept from the fan favorite, too. But even though Miyamoto“s wording during the Digital Event may have been confusing, it“s definitely not a remake of the Nintendo 64 classic. It differs fundamentally in its sense of design (more on that in a second), and if it does match 64's place in the proverbial canon, it“s definitely taken some liberties with that game“s plot.

 

The demo was a sizable chunk that had three phases. Phase one is the on-rails Star Fox action we all know and love. When Slippy had an enemy on his tail, I thought, “Okay, maybe this is a remake.” But then Falco — instead of being ambushed — suggested we take the back way to reach the tower where General Pepper needed to be protected. That definitely didn“t happen when I was a kid.

 

After that, the game switched to All Range Mode and I was tasked with defeating ten enemies, then stopping a handful more on the ground from reaching the tower. After completing that phase, a boss attacked me. The boss could be defeated in one of two ways: either blast apart all four of its major components (this looked very satisfying, by the way), or fly inside the boss after destroying one of its components, then using your Walker mode to shoot the boss from inside the core.

 

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Here“s the thing about that, before I even go in-depth. One way, which I saw someone in front of me do, featured the words 'Mission Complete.' The other, core-destroying one, featured the words 'Mission Accomplished.' As fans of Star Fox 64 know, that word choice is most definitely indicative of branching paths, in terms of new levels that can be accessed each time you play the game.

 

The game controls like a dream... mostly. You control the Arwing itself with the left control stick on the Gamepad. And the right control stick does things like brake (pull it back), boost (pull it forwards), and barrel roll (press either direction twice). Delegating those actions to the second stick on the Gamepad feels natural, and is a humongous improvement over any Star Fox air combat I“ve played lately. Laser-fire uses the triggers. You“ll feel super comfortable playing, I can guarantee that.

 

If you press the A button, you can switch to the Walker. It“s kind of reminiscent of Landmaster controls if you do it on rails, insofar as you can hover upwards to shoot enemies that are hard to reach from the ground. In All Range Mode, you can move freely with it. It was fun to experiment with both forms of travel in all range mode, particularly when I was protecting the tower from these enemies that stuck to the ground. Sometimes it was easier to pick them off from the air, other times it felt beneficial to hit the ground as the Walker first, then hover slightly above them and snipe them with a lock-on shot.

 

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Just a few cautionary notes. One: Since the Gamepad is heavily involved for precise shooting (some enemies or parts of enemies are tiny and require precision), there is no map in All Range Mode... at least in the demo. I foresee things becoming slightly problematic if you“re trying to protect something or someone from enemies, and you have no clue where they are. I saw more than one person fail the “Protect General Pepper” phase because they genuinely couldn“t tell where an enemy was.

 

The other grievance: gyroscopic controls sometimes messed me up. The woman demoing the game could tell this wasn“t my first rodeo. When the Arwing would face the opposite direction I wanted it to, or get all screwed up directions-wise, she told me I could correct the gyro on the Gamepad by pushing in the left stick. The fact that gyro needs to be consistently calibrated or corrected could lead to gameplay flaws if it“s not fine-tuned by the time the final game releases. Hopefully it will be though.

 

It has everything you want, as a Star Fox diehard. The hit screen is exactly like the Nintendo 64 game, so I can only assume there will be medals. Some characters say the same lines as they did in that game. In terms of the game“s identity, I am wildly confused and need to see and hear more beyond Miyamoto“s words that it“s “not quite the fifth game in the series, and not quite a remake of Star Fox 64”. But in terms of gameplay, visuals, music and more... it“s everything you“ve wanted Star Fox to be since the 64 days. It could use some fixing up, but I guarantee it“s going to be one of those must-own titles this holiday. You can check here to see even more about the game.

 

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