Star Fox Zero

Wii U

EDGE - - CONTENTS - Pub­lisher Devel­oper For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Nintendo In-house, Plat­inum-Games Wii U Ja­pan 2015

The last time we squeezed into an Ar­wing cock­pit, it was far less com­pli­cated than this. It takes a few flights in Star Fox Zero just to feel like a bor­der­line com­pe­tent pi­lot again, and we scrape our fuse­lage across plenty of scenery in the process. Partly, that’s down to Zero’s es­o­teric split-view ap­proach, the GamePad dis­play­ing Fox’s in-cock­pit per­spec­tive, while your TV is re­served for a more tra­di­tional chase-cam setup. Aim­ing is han­dled by tilt­ing the GamePad, and you’ll need to make ef­fec­tive use of both of your view­points in or­der for Fox McCloud to live up to his for­mi­da­ble rep­u­ta­tion as a fighter pi­lot, flip­ping be­tween the small screen for pin­point tar­get­ing and the main one for tac­ti­cal aware­ness. It’s ex­haust­ing at first.

“We were ex­per­i­ment­ing with ways of play­ing us­ing two screens, and we re­ally liked the ex­pe­ri­ence when we tried hav­ing a cin­e­matic view on the TV with the other screen show­ing the view from the cock­pit,” ex­plains Yugo Hayashi, the game’s Nin­ten­do­side di­rec­tor, when we ask how the setup came about. “We also re­ally liked be­ing able to aim us­ing mo­tion con­trols at the same time. Once we had cre­ated this sys­tem of aim­ing us­ing the GamePad mo­tion con­trols, we started com­ing up with lots of new ideas for how we can make the most of this sys­tem.”

One such idea is a gi­ant, spi­der-like en­emy called the Strider. This me­chan­i­cal arach­nid creeps along the ground and up build­ings, but the engi­neers who de­signed it for­got to shield the glow­ing red weakspot on its back. It may be a less than strate­gi­cally sound cre­ation, but it adds a well-thought-out risk-re­ward choice to our cur­rent tower-de­fence ob­jec­tive, since that glow­ing weak­ness is a pain to hit while the Strider’s on the ground – re­quir­ing you to ei­ther dive at your tar­get or fly over it and aim down from within the cock­pit – and a much eas­ier tar­get while the ro­bot is climb­ing. And once we’ve ac­cli­ma­tised to the busy con­trol scheme, swat­ting bugs away goes well. But we won­der if Hayashi is con­cerned that the leap from Star Fox’s tra­di­tion­ally ac­ces­si­ble con­trols might prove over­whelm­ing for some.

“The game’s de­signed so you can play us­ing just one of the two screens,” he tells us. “As you do this, you’ll grad­u­ally get more used to it, and start to un­der­stand how you could in­crease your score by look­ing at a cer­tain screen at a cer­tain time. Even the mo­tion con­trols will start to feel nat­u­ral as you get the hang of the game and start ex­per­i­ment­ing with ways to in­crease your score, like turn­ing back to pick off en­e­mies that you missed. Part of the fun of the game is find­ing all kinds of new strate­gies based on how you use the two screens.”

The game ref­er­ences its pre­de­ces­sors to such an ex­tent that it can feel un­der­whelm­ing

Zero dou­bles up in other ways, too. There are two main game­play types in the cur­rent build, both of which are fa­mil­iar: Cor­ri­dor Mode, in which you fly into the screen, and All-Range Mode, which first ap­peared in Ly­lat Wars (AKA Star Fox 64) and frees you to zip about in any di­rec­tion you choose. But the new aim­ing sys­tem, which al­lows you to train your guns on tar­gets not di­rectly ahead of the Ar­wing’s nose, adds greater flex­i­bil­ity to both.

“In pre­vi­ous Star Fox games, you could only at­tack in the di­rec­tion you were fly­ing in,” notes Plat­inum-Games’ di­rec­tor on Zero, Yusuke Hashimoto. “But this time, us­ing the full view on the TV screen and the cock­pit view on the GamePad, you can also fire in di­rec­tions other than the one you’re fly­ing in. The lev­els have been de­signed in such a way that you’ll re­ally need to make use of the GamePad’s gyro sen­sor.”

Fo­cus­ing on the main screen while try­ing to aim and steer through ob­sta­cles feels woolly at times, lack­ing the pre­ci­sion you’ll want in a fire­fight, whereas con­cen­trat­ing on the GamePad al­lows for ex­act­ing shots at the cost of some de­gree of en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness. Yet as Zero stands, its re­liance on Wii U’s con­troller isn’t quite nat­u­ral enough: we con­tin­u­ally re-cen­tre the GamePad by click­ing the left stick, since the con­stant need to move the bulky pad around has us drift­ing out of align­ment as we play.

Some of that heft is given over to speak­ers, of course, and Zero uses these for 3D au­dio. Although two noisy con­fer­ence show-floor demos hardly show­case this ideally, Hayashi prom­ises that the ef­fect will be like hav­ing Falco and co right in your ear. “I hope you’ll turn up the vol­ume and make the most of this new au­dio ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

Zero’s vis­ual style, how­ever, seems far less am­bi­tious. There are some fan­tas­tic touches – such as the mo­ment when the cam­era zooms in and the ac­tion en­ters a short slow-mo­tion phase as we buzz Pigma Den­gar’s ship dur­ing a dog­fight – but the game ref­er­ences its pre­de­ces­sors to such an ex­tent that it can feel un­der­whelm­ing. It’s hard not to com­pare Zero to the as­ton­ish­ing Wii U makeover that Mario Kart re­ceived, and in that sense it comes up short.

“We de­cided to have two screens dis­play­ing 3D graph­ics at 60 frames per sec­ond,” Hayashi ex­plains. “It was this and da a few other fac­tors, in­clud­ing it be­ing the firsti time play­ers will be us­ing two screens like this on the Wii U, that led us to de­cide to base the graph­i­cal de­sign on Ly­lat Wars. But I’m sure that see­ing the Ar­wing, which ev­ery­one is so fa­mil­iar with, trans­form nat­u­rally into a land-based Walker will be a fun and ex­cit­ing new ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Taken from the never-re­leased Star Fox 2, the abil­ity to morph at the press of a but­ton into bipedal, chicken-legged form al­lows for shifts in ap­proach and grants the abil­ity to stay still – though it would be un­wise to hang about for long, given the amount of en­emy guns nor­mally trained on you at any one time. Con­trol­ling the Walker is re­spon­sive, and gy­ro­scopic aim­ing a clearer fit for its more re­strained mode of lo­co­mo­tion, but the main ben­e­fit is the new paths it opens up. While Zero’s pro­gres­sion is mostly lin­ear, with­out branch­ing routes as such, a boss bat­tle with a heav­ily for­ti­fied con­struc­tion can be bested by ei­ther shoot­ing out its guns from the air or zip­ping in­side via a con­cealed en­trance and bom­bard­ing the core with the Walker.

Given the nos­tal­gia at­tached to the se­ries, per­haps it’s in­evitable that Zero dis­ap­points on first con­tact. Nintendo and Plat­inum have in­cluded all the right beats and a sprin­kling of novel ideas, yet much here is fa­mil­iar from 1997. It’s not just about aes­thet­ics – be­sides, Hashimoto tells us that a newer build of the game fea­tures en­hanced vi­su­als – but hav­ing waited so long for a se­quel, there’s a nag­ging sense that Zero’s mo­ment may have passed al­ready. Like Spla­toon be­fore it, per­haps the game will come into fo­cus once we’ve had enough time to prop­erly ad­just to its unique con­trol scheme. We’ve yet to log enough hours in the cock­pit to know for cer­tain, but since Zero is due be­fore the end of the year, it won’t be long be­fore we do.

FROM TOP The two di­rec­tors, Nintendo’s Yugo Hayashi and Plat­inumGames’ Yusuke Hashimoto

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