Star Fox Zero is just a few months from release, and I had the chance to play the demo at PAX Prime 2015. The gameplay was…well, a lot more awkward than I expected.
Star Fox Zero is not exactly a remake of Star Fox 64, but it has a lot in common with the nearly 20-year-old classic. For one, the new game pulled a lot of dialogue from Star Fox 64. In Star Fox 64, running out of lives means starting the entire game over from the beginning. Because of this, the game’s dialogue is some of the most well-known in the entire Nintendo canon: Players would wind up listening to a lot of the same cut scenes over and over and over.
I got to demo two levels at PAX: Corneria and Area 3. Corneria is the first level in Star Fox 64, and Star Fox Zero’s take on the planet was incredibly familiar, with some key differences. Instead of having two boss battles to choose from, I had one boss with two optional ways to defeat him. Plus, the graphics were amazing! Everything, from entering orbit to dodging giant lasers to flipping through a river ravine looked beautiful.
But let’s talk about the really important part: the gameplay.
When I was watching other people playing the game, I found myself getting frustrated every time they crashed into a wall or were unable to dodge an attack. It looked so much like Star Fox 64 that I felt certain that I would nail all of the moves in my first try…And then I tried it.
The controls felt totally unintuitive. The left joystick controlled my arwing’s movement, and was (thank goodness) inverted, so pushing up made me go down and down made me go up. The right joystick, however, was used almost like a D-pad. If I wanted to do a sharp turn, I had to push right or left with the right stick while making the turn with the left stick. If I wanted to boost, I pushed up on the stick, and to brake I pushed down on the stick. Pushing upward on the right joystick made me boost forward, but pushing upward on the left joystick made me dive. This hurt my brain.
At any time while I was flying, I could go into target mode, which at first I thought would be like Z- or L-targeting in the Zelda games. But nope, target mode in Star Fox Zero is totally different. Although the camera is looking in the right place, your arwing is still pointing in whatever random direction it was pointing in before. That took some getting used to.
I kept trying to use the right joystick to move the camera, but of course it doesn’t work that way. The only camera control I had was choosing between the target mode or the regular mode. I could also use the GamePad to aim with more precision, using its gyroscope to target my weapons from an interior cockpit view. However, if you’ve ever played Star Fox 64 in first-person mode, you’ll know that it takes some getting used to, and switching back and forth between the cockpit and the third-person was really hard for me.
I am totally confident that if I play this game for a few hours I will be able to get the hang of it. By the time I started the second demo level, Area 3, my handling had already improved loads. But I get the feeling that it will be really tricky switching between this game any any other dual-joystick video game. The controls are just so different.
I applaud Nintendo for trying something totally new with the GamePad. Star Fox Zero’s handling was certainly unlike any game I’ve played before, and I’m willing to believe that once I master it, I might like it even more than I like Star Fox 64. But I learned a valuable lesson with this demo: Just because it looks like Star Fox 64 and sounds like Star Fox 64, does not mean that it is Star Fox 64.