E3 2015: Star Fox Zero isn't the GamePad's savior

It's great to see Star Fox return with a new console game after all these years, but the awkward GamePad functionality may be a bigger nuisance than Slippy Toad.

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When Nintendo was looking for franchises to show the utility of its flailing Wii U GamePad, its eye turned toward Star Fox. Shigeru Miyamoto made a point of mentioning it last year at E3, albeit accompanied by blurry footage that we could only assume was Star Fox. This year is the formal coming out party, as it was redubbed Star Fox Zero. And though I'm thrilled to see one of my favorite Nintendo series making a comeback, I can't help but feel the GamePad is dragging it down, rather than the series lifting the controller up as intended.

Most of this is due to the new reticle controls, which are mapped to the GamePad's gyroscope. Steering your Arwing is handled independently, putting you in charge of two tasks at once. At its best, it allows for some level of precision, even if it's nonsensical that a fighter craft's guns would suddenly turn askew to make a bank-shot. More often, though, the problems are functional. It's fidgety and hard to track. It makes the tracking charge shot, itself a concession to the steering-directed shooting controls, essentially useless. The left-stick click is mapped to recenter the reticle, and the necessity of that option should speak volumes about the problems.

Not all of the control changes are for the worse. Flips, U-turns, and the infamous barrell roll are mapped to the sticks, giving a more authentic and naturalistic feeling to handling an aircraft. As a whole, though, Star Fox Zero badly needs a Classic control option.

The break from tradition is especially odd considering how much of Zero seems to be paying homage to the series' history. Large sections and even pieces of dialogue from the Corneria stage are lifted straight from Star Fox 64. The Walker mech transformation, which is destined to be called "the Chicken" no matter how badly Nintendo tries to brand it otherwise, is a very direct allusion to a feature in the unreleased Star Fox 2.

The criss-crossing of the series history, mixed with the "Zero" name, made me wonder if this was meant as a reboot or remake. It certainly feels like a retelling from the demo, unless the repeated content was just a quick way to concept the game for E3. If that's the case, though, a holiday release is too close for comfort.

Star Fox Zero is also aesthetically unusual for Nintendo by being presented in such a straight-forward manner. Nintendo's consoles are less powerful than the competition, we all know that, so we allow certain concessions of less visual punch in exchange for the company's highly polished sense of play. After games like Mario Kart 8, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and the upcoming Yoshi's Woolly World, however, it's clear Nintendo's real graphical strength lies in creating distinct visual styles.

Star Fox Zero doesn't look bad, but it does look like it's trying to present a realistic world and doing so less successfully than competing platforms. There's no reason a series about anthropomorphic animal fighter pilots particularly needs environmental realism, so why hold onto it? The world could look so much richer if it were presented in a context that made use of Nintendo's eye for art direction.

I had high hopes for Star Fox, and my concerns could be for nothing. After all, an alternate control scheme isn't hard to implement. I'm just disappointed, for the time being, that Nintendo is so uncharacteristically sticking with tradition in some ways that no longer work, and making sweeping changes to systems that were already fine. 

Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 18, 2015 6:30 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, E3 2015: Star Fox Zero isn't the GamePad's savior

    • reply
      June 18, 2015 6:41 AM

      you guys should really try harder to differentiate your news articles from your opinion pieces

      • reply
        June 18, 2015 9:12 AM

        Hey Korban,
        Thanks for posting. We do our best to bring you guys timely news and interesting opinion pieces, and we also try our best to keep these things separate. This is why we have a tag system in place. For example, this particular article is tagged with a Feature tag. This means it isn't news, and is likely an opinion piece.
        We are sorry for the confusion, but we have the tag system in place to avoid these kinds of things.

    • reply
      June 18, 2015 11:13 AM

      I seriously dislike the gyroscope options in Splatoon. Is it like that?

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        June 18, 2015 12:05 PM

        It sounds similar.

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        June 18, 2015 12:12 PM

        Hands-on impressions indicate that it's worse than the Splatoon implementation, but that it should be optional.