Last week, I was invited to a preview event in Toronto where Nintendo was showcasing some of their upcoming Wii U and Nintendo 3DS titles. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and impressions of these games in preview pieces throughout the week. We started with Yoshi’s Woolly World, continued with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, snuck a look at Metroid Prime Blast Ball and take a look at Star Fox Zero today. I saved my favorite for last, so make sure to check it out later this afternoon!
Heading into this year, the two biggest saving graces for Wii U owners were the inevitable releases of what would end up being titled Star Fox Zero and the yet-to-be-titled Zelda Wii U game. Miyamoto was right in suggesting his game would come out before Zelda, but after spending some time with it and trying to adjust to the new control scheme that comes with the Wii U GamePad, I’m starting to wonder if that is a good thing. There’s enough here in this preview build to show hints of what we’ve known to love of the series, yet it’s in some of the new changes that have me a bit worried.
Bae Caught Me Slippy
As is custom for the series, I started out the Star Fox Zero campaign playing on the Corneria map. Your task is standard; defeat the oncoming ships, turrets and swarms of alien-like craft while protecting the planet from a centralized force. All the game’s controls and mechanics are taught right off the bat, including how to barrel roll, somersault and attack. However, with the advent of the GamePad comes a completely new means of aiming your shots.
Introducing the cockpit view! The GamePad is used as a means of focusing your shots by moving it around in the X, Y and Z axis’ to aim a crosshair reticle. Meanwhile, your TV screen shows the player the normal behind-the-ship perspective the series has enjoyed for decades, meaning now you have to focus on two different screens at once in order to properly play the game. Pressing down on the left analog stick re-focuses the aiming reticle into the center, in case you get lost in the game’s spacial 3D.
Which, unfortunately, will seem to happen a lot. I’m not sure if after playing Star Fox Zero for more than an hour will get you accustomed to the new control scheme, but as someone going in fresh for the first time, the mechanics seem overly complicated. I understand the goal here being that the TV is reserved for more of a cinematic view (especially during free-roam areas, where you can focus it on the major points of interest), but you cannot give a player two means of observing gameplay without them taking a hit on their natural playing abilities.
Focusing on just one while peripherally looking at the other causes problems in its own right. Staring at just cockpit view may make it easier to see enemies ahead of you, but when the area is opened up, you are way more susceptible to attacks from all angles. Using the TV’s view and flailing your arms about to aim the crosshairs makes it difficult to aim, further putting your allies and yourself at risk of taking damage. I hope that Nintendo makes this style of play optional when Star Fox Zero is released, as the gyroscopic controls might be perhaps the worst utilization of the GamePad the Wii U has seen so far.
More Ways To Traverse
You’re not just flying in Star Fox Zero; you’re also walking. In addition to the Landmaster Tank that we’ve seen before, you can press a button to transform into a baby chick-like walking structure. Doing so allows you to walk around on the ground in the big open areas, opening up hidden treasures and allowing you to better focus attacks on ground creatures. This mode is preferable for Corneria’s Phase 2, which sees you protect General Pepper in the town’s central tower from oncoming swarms of ships and spider-like robotic creatures.
Interestingly enough, dropping into walkabout mode temporarily drops your character to the ground, allowing to dip in altitude better than you could otherwise. For all the maneuverability opened up in Star Fox Zero, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that turning feels sluggish. Yes, you can press a button or flick an analog stick to do things like U-turns, but turning your craft manually feels slow. It doesn’t help when the level’s boss, Androssa, is a ship that requires you to shoot at 4 different attacking targets on a ship tens (if not hundreds) of times bigger than you, on multiple layers and altitudes.
The biggest fear I have with my time playing Star Fox Zero is that it just doesn’t demo well. I’ve come to love the series over the years, and am more than willing to appreciate it for its story and branching gameplay options. However, maneuvering the game with the GamePad is fairly jarring, plus the rather mundane and relatively barren design of Corneria is not impressive at a first glance. That said, I’m looking at the press materials for other levels and I see something else; variety.
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Variety in monsters, variety in level designs, variety even in colorization. Star Fox Zero is put in an awful predicament because of logistics; players need to learn how to utilize the game’s mechanics in a familiar, comfortable location. That said, because it is more of the same while adding a seemingly unnecessary amount of difficulty with handling its controls, I’m set in a position of frustration. Perhaps a longer amount of time with the game will turn that frustration into joy like a “eureka” moment, but going into a full release of a new Star Fox game on Wii U, I’m left fearing for the worst for the tales of Fox McCloud.
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