As much as the Wii U has received its fair share of abuse, it houses some of Nintendo’s finest titles that are scientifically proven to be impossible to dislike*. Ok, so we made up the scientific part, but with Star Fox making its return we reserve the right to be excited.
Having played Star Fox Zero at the E3 gaming expo, however, we’re a little perplexed by certain features of the game: the Corneria level is almost identical to the level found in the N64 version from over a decade ago (until, that is, the boss section, which is all new), while the use of the Wii U second screen is a questionable must-use feature.
But Corneria is Fox’s home, so the familiarity is hardly an issue - and good level design is good level design after all (even if Star Fox Zero was distinctly described as “not a remake” via the Nintendo Direct E3 2015 broadcast). Besides, it brought a smile to the face to relive a classic level, now bathed in goodness of Wii U high-definition.
Those unfamiliar with the rail shooter format will find it instantly engaging and easy to pick up. As Fox you command your Arwing, shooting down enemies, dodging incoming fire, boosting and braking to fly through (eventually) weapon-enhancing hoops, barrel rolling to deflect attacks, and performing strategic flips to avoid enemies coming from the rear.
Each of those main controls is handled by a single button or directional thumbstick on the Wii U Gamepad, the giant screen-laden controller that has to be used due to a required second screen experience for some sections of the game. At first it’s a little tricky to remember which button handles which control - and boost/brake are handled by a forward/backward push of the right thumbstick, for example - but everything falls into place quickly enough.
The concept of the second screen is cunning, but its first person point of view feels alien at first. Trying to aim using the gyroscope response in first person while still commanding the Arwing in third person is like rubbing your stomach and patting your head simultaneously. It takes practice, but we’re sure will be perfected eventually.
For the most part Star Fox Zero is an rail shooter, the camera dictating your direction and, to some degree, position. But as this is 2015 there are some twists this time around: hit B on the Gamepad and the Arwing transforms into a “walker”, which is entirely off rails, providing the freedom to roam around and shoot from ground level. Used in combination with flight it makes for a clever way to outfox certain enemies.
It’s additions like this that give the latest Star Fox Zero its own flavour, and with the promise of Landmaster tank and Gyrowing hovercraft said to be available as a secondary options to play the game (although we weren’t able to test these) there’s added longevity by approaching levels in a new format.
Star Fox Zero is Nintendo doing what it does best: relying on its existing superstar characters and delivering the games that fans want. It’s not quite 100 per cent polished just yet, but for those reliving the 1993 and 1997 classics it’ll be a blast from the past, while newcomers will revel in the rare delight of playing a rail shooter.