As one of the most anticipated Nintendo franchises, combined with the lukewarm reception of this year’s Digital Event, Star Fox Zero had a lot of weight on its wings. After playing the demo at E3 last week, our impressions couldn’t be more divided.
Steve and I had the chance to play the game in a private booth during the first day of the show. We had a chat about the game earlier this week, and we learned that our experiences were quite different, as clear as day and night.
Steve Bowling: So, Nach, we both played the Star Fox Zero demo on the E3 show floor, but we ended up with differing opinions. What’s your take?
Jose “Nach” Acosta: Umm... honestly I didn’t feel alienated by the changes they made to the game. The controls are quite unique and intuitive: You move the Arwing with the left stick, and aim with the gyro controls; the right stick instead tilts the Arwing and if you flick it twice right or left you’ll perform the trademark Barrel Roll. Finally, the somersault is assigned to the X button and the most important function, shooting, is assigned to the ZR button.
For years I’ve refused to use the gyro controls, but the way they were implemented in Star Fox Zero felt... natural. Bear in mind I only got to play one level, which was Area 3, an all range mode battle against Pigma.
Steve, you had the chance to play a new but familiar iteration of Corneria, which was a larger and felt like the whole package.
SB: That’s true, I did, and I felt the cockpit view rendered on the Wii U’s gamepad just doesn’t quite work right. I always felt like I was looking away from the road while driving. There was this immediate sense of, “Oh shit, I need to look where I’m going,” every time I took my eyes of the screen to focus on aiming.
JA: I had that same issue, what you see on the TV is not exactly a good representation of what’s happening on the gamepad. It feels like there’s some sort of disconnect between the two views.
Like they really don’t want you to use one over the other… It didn’t take me long before I got used to the gimmick, but I can see a ton of players having problems with this new system.
SB: It’s almost like the system was devised for the walker (a ground variant of the Arwing, it looks and runs like a chicken), where you have better control over your movement. In the Arwing the constant moving made the whole thing disorienting.
The fact that gyro controls are tacked onto the cockpit view doesn’t help, either.
JA: That’s true... not only it feels better on the Walker, but its implementation on a new vehicle they showed in one of their Treehouse Live shows was perfect. If I recall correctly it is called the Gyrowing, a drone-like vehicle that’s much slower than the Arwing.
Regarding the gyro controls... Nintendo just announced that they can be turned off and use a traditional controller scheme.
SB: Wait.. is the cockpit view removable too?
JA: Both views can be swapped between the screens, actually, it was available in the demo shown at E3, but it appears the Nintendo rep failed to let us know about it.
SB: Well, the problem with focusing on the “main” view—it’s really arguable that Nintendo is pushing the cockpit view as the main view—is that aiming is very imprecise. You can’t place shots like you could in, say, Star Fox 64.
JA: I think I saw Hayashi-san swap the screens freely during a demonstration for the Treehouse.
SB: While screen-switching could fix some of the issue, I still think it’d be somewhat jarring at best.
JA: Yeah, they really want you to use the cockpit view. It feels like the regular view is only to scout the enemies and give that cinematic feel to the game, since the camera doesn’t always follow the back of the Arwing.
SB: I did like that you can control the Arwing during cutscenes from the cockpit view. That was kind of neat!
JA: That was quite surprising! It reminded me of games like Half-Life in which you had complete control of your character during the cutscenes! Even better you can keep on shooting down enemy units to rank up your score!
The game took some liberty of this dual screen setup. It feels like an idea that came from Platinum and not from Nintendo.
SB: Ultimately, I’m just not sure if it’s the game the fans want though. It’s an interesting experiment, but Nintendo’s experiments haven’t exactly paid off lately, like Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
JA: Welp... don’t bring Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. to this conversation. I really liked the game, and it wasn’t as bad as people made it sound like.
But I agree it feels strange... yet it has this familiar air to it. I can’t quite put my finger to it.
SB: It retains that Star Fox feel while being something completely different from what we’re used to. Unfortunately for me, that something different isn’t really all that fun right now. It has potential, and we’re a long way from release, but I’d like to see that element of stress when aiming removed.
JA: I’ll remain optimistic, with the different control schemes, the swappable screens and maybe better stages… I can see this one become a classic.
SB: If anybody can turn a game around it’s Nintendo.
JA: For better of for worse whahaha (looks at Paper Mario: Sticker Star...)
SB: Don’t get me started on Sticker Star.
JA: I trust Platinum games... not one game from them has been mediocre, not even the PS3 port of Bayonetta!
SB: You make a good point. There are few developers that would be better suited.
JA: There are two things I missed in the demo though...
SB: What are those?
JA: First, you know how I am a musical snob, and well... I didn’t get a chance to listen to the music in the game, that show floor was too noisy! Music is always a make or break aspect for me, even bad games can be good with a great soundtrack (Sonic Lost World and Sticker Star come to mind).
Second, there was this lack of urgency/chaos in the stages. I even went back to replay Star Fox 64, and well... the Area 3 stage, felt anticlimatic. That battle with Pigma went by too fast! I think I finished that stage in less than three minutes!
SB: It feels plenty chaotic when you keep looking down at the gamepad!
JA: Another thing... I recall watching that same Treehouse video I mentioned earlier, Miyamoto-san talks about how the Star Fox Zero team want to give the feeling of immersion though the use of multiple speakers. Practically they want to simulate the the setup of the special booths that were present in the showfloor.
So your TV serves as the environmental noises and whatever is in front of you, the gamepad of course works as the cockpit, and you can hear how the enemy ships fly by… but the one that I actually want to experience is how they want to simulate that whenever a character speaks to you, it would feel like you have an earpiece on your right ear.
SB: It was way too loud on the show floor for me to take in the sounds of the game, so I can’t really speak to it. It’s important to remember though, that the game is still really early. A lot of what we saw and heard may change.
JA: Yep... this demo is probably over three months ago. They showed a couple more levels in the Treehouse show and I have to say I am pretty impressed with the Titania level!
SB: That was the Landmaster portion, right?
JA: Yep! It was pretty chaotic, unlike the two levels featured in the show floor.
SB: I think that kind of speaks to the issues I have with the game in general. It looks like, and of course I could be wrong, whoever was playing that was focused solely on the TV screen, as opposed to the gamepad. You see a lot of lock-ons happening, and homing shots.
JA: I know the video you’re talking about, that guy from Nintendo owned that run! He even manage to get up to 200 hits in the Corneria level! He made the game look easy to play.
SB: Yeah, I’m sure players will find a way to master the control scheme, even if it doesn’t change. I just worry that it won’t have the broad appeal the previous games have had.
JA: Yeah, it suddenly went from being an arcade game to an indirect hack and slash…
SB: I don’t know that I’d classify it as a hack and slash. It still feels every bit an arcade shooter to me; it just feels clumsy.
JA: True... Hopefully what we tasted in the show floor was just a hiccup. We still have to wait for that inevitable Star Fox centric Nintendo Direct!
SB:...Maybe. Nintendo likes to not give us what we want, after all.
JA: I really want the team to add a lot of pizzazz to the battles and more explosions! Make it Star Fox the Michael Bay edition!
I don’t know… it feels the game lacks that extra “oomph!”
SB: Lack of oomph, huh? I wouldn’t exactly say Star Fox Zero looked bad, but it didn’t look good, either.
JA: I blame the art direction. I feel Star Fox Assault was (for its time) more impressive. The design of the Arwing in this game doesn’t click with me... it looks simple, even if it is the most detailed Arwing ever.
I have no complaints about the Walker though, I love its goofy chicken design.
SB: The muppet-like design of the characters is really cool. It fits in with the old marketing materials for the game in the ‘90s, but the Arwings and the rest of the world don’t seems to match very well with that aesthetic.
JA: Haha I called it! I knew they were going back for the puppet look! But yeah, outside the character’s designs, the game looks… plastic.
SB: It’s almost like the jarring difference between them is a metaphor for the rest of the game.
JA: I loved how every ship in Assault left a trail behind them, the greens were sharper, the reds were more stunning, the blues were more soothing. The color palette in that game was impressive, this one just felt like an upgrade of Star Fox 64.
SB: That’s true, but let’s not forget that this was a tech demo last year, and has just been announced as a proper game this year.
JA: Star Fox games have never been visually impressive titles, but we have seen what the Wii U can do when it comes to visuals.
SB: It’s definitely not a top-tier title in the graphics department.
JA: Even as an underpowered machine... in the right hands it can “rival” some next-gen games, specially when it comes to style.
SB: Yeah, but let’s not get too far off track. The Wii U is certainly a capable console, but we’re not seeing that here so much, and that’s okay, as long as the gameplay works out.
Final Impressions - Star Fox Zero: Yay or Nay?
Jose Acosta: Yay... but it could change. Don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I cannot emphasize more on how I didn’t have any issues with the control scheme... what I want is a Star Fox that feels frantic and exciting. If Nintendo and Platinum can deliver that, then I can see the game becoming an instant classic.
Also give me more Fox and Wolf bromance...
Steve Bowling: I’m going to have to go with a tentative nay, actually. The controls are just too disorienting for me right now. I think it’s good enough to keep an eye on, but not worth a recommendation at this early stage.
I’m good on the animal-on-animal bromance, thanks.
JA: Come on... that was one of the most exciting missions from Star Fox Assault! Riding the wing of the Wolfen and taking down General Pepper’s berserk mecha!
SB: You… might be a little more into this than me.
JA: Oh… before I forget it, one thing I liked from this game is the return of the Aparoids in that last section of the Corneria stage!
SB: Yeah, they’re a welcome addition to the game. I’m glad we’re seeing a little variety. Star Fox bosses tend to all feel the same. Seeing a new guy off the bat was nice.
JA: Hopefully that means the more bizarre and interesting battles from Assault will return too.
SB: Alright, well I think we’ve covered everything!
JA: Oh… haha, sorry got carried away. I was watching some gameplay footage of Star Fox Assault…
SB: LOL. I need to go back to that game.
JA: The game was pretty good, but the on-foot sections were terrible! Sauria comes to mind that was a horrible mission… and the Space Station.
SB: Haha, yes they were.
JA: I think I could talk about Star Fox all day...
All in all... Star Fox Zero is not a terrible game. What we tried last week was definitely an early build of the game, one where we assume the main focus was to provide a smooth (read: glitchless) experience for everyone. What we learned and saw in later iterations of the Treehouse are welcome additions, not only because we will have more controller options, but also the levels showcased had that classic Star Fox feeling.
We believe Nintendo and Platinum can turn this ship around, but they will have to work hard to make Star Fox Zero another classic in the series.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in.
Follow the author (cameraman, gaffer, boom guy and director) of this post on Twitter @Nach212 When he’s not busy building a shrine to keep Krystal away from this iteration of Star Fox, he’s probably tweeting about food, or building a different shrine to bring back Panther Carusso to the Star Wolf team.
Steve Bowling served as as a moderator in this chat... otherwise my ramblings about Star Fox would have continued into the story of Command (and you don’t want me to go there), you can follow him on Twitter @SteveBTAY.