E3 2015 Hands-On: ‘Star Fox Zero’

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The game that headlined Nintendo’s E3 Direct, Star Fox Zero, was on full display at the E3 show floor with over seven demo kiosks stationed under a replica model Arwing hanging from the ceiling as well as four kiosks stationed within actual Arwings.

The game, neither a sequel nor a reboot, reimagines the brave and loyal Fox, Falco, Peppy and Slippy as they head out to defend the Lylat System from evil space fleets that threaten the civility of the planets within.

Battling through the base planet of Corneria starts the player off on-rails similar to how Star Fox 64 guided the players through the same pillaged world in the beginning.

Heading toward the city gives the perfect opportunity to test out the controls. The first thing to notice is how shooting has been remapped to zR instead of A. With the team’s desire to make flying more realistic, shooting with a trigger button seems like an understandable change.

WiiU_StarFoxZero_scrn01.0Barrel rolling is no longer mapped to the shoulder buttons. Instead, flicking the right stick left or right twice will execute the iconic maneuver. This is one of the more unnaturally feeling changes which will definitely take time for veteran players to get used to.

All basic Arwing maneuvers are mapped to the right control stick including the somersault and the u-turn. To execute these maneuvers simply flick up or down on the right stick but if you want to feel like a real pilot combine both control sticks for some authentic space fighting action.

Basic flying areas play almost identically to Star Fox 64 which should be a relief to fans afraid the game might stray too far way from its original play style.

After flying through the city, Fox is told to protect the central command tower from robot spiders in an arena like area. This is where all-range mode comes into play and glaring changes to the Star Fox formula are most apparent.

Looking on the television screen will give the player a third person view of the battlefield but looking down on the gamepad offers the player a first person perspective. It might seem like an arbirary addition to the game at first glance but playing through all-range mode will make you realize how vital it will be to alternate your view between screens.

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Star Fox Zero adds a new targeting system which allows the player to focus the camera on the mission objective by pressing the zL button while still piloting the arwing. You will have all eyes on the central tower but Fox will still be moving right or left making targeting enemies impossible without looking at the gamepad. The same thing goes for cinematic cutscenes as well. The game will focus on an incoming boss but Fox will still require you to pilot him on the gamepad. The constant shifting of your eyes adds certain urgency to the game but at times can render the player confused as navigating isn’t exactly precise and should mainly be used for targeting enemies.

The Arwing had many changes but the biggest is being able to transform into the bipedal assault vehicle, the walker. By pressing A, the Arwing will transform itself into the ground unit first introduced in the canceled Star Fox 2 for Super Nintendo. It’s perfectly designed to attack hard to target enemies in the sky and to access certain areas that Arwings cannot. For example, the boss of Corneria has two ways to defeat it: destroy every laser cannon on the floating fortress with the Arwing, or destroy its shield and enter it using the walker to destroy the central core within.

In fact a main focus of Star Fox Zero is transforming. The ground roaming tank, The Landmaster, is a powerhouse in its own respects but can also turn into a flying carrier to float over large crevasses which the Landmaster’s hovering just can’t accomplish. The Star Fox team can also send out a drone to infiltrate certain tunnels or buildings which can be controlled using the gamepad, while the TV screen shows how the battle is faring on the outside.

Star Fox Zero is an ambitious title. The game wants to take the series to new heights by adding so many new features and vehicles as well as new ways to look at the series as a whole. While the camera and controls could use some tweaking, the game’s changes are certainly welcome additions. Star Fox Zero will certainly be the most expansive inclusion of an already beloved series.

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