PAX Prime 2015: Barrel Rolling to Corneria

Star Fox is the Nintendo franchise with the oddest history, taking detours into ground based brawling with Star Fox Adventures and adding ground based versions of the iconic Arwing space fighter in tank and walker form into the N64 version and beyond instead of focusing on the flying combat that made it a hit. In the upcoming Wii U iteration of the game that was demoed at PAX Prime 2015 this past weekend, Star Fox Zero adds some new tweaks under the guidance of legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto as it prepares to be Nintendo’s key holiday title.

One of the biggest changes is the GamePad integration, displaying an active cockpit view on the screen and using the motion sensors to aim your firing reticle. In its current version, the controls have significant problems: the motion sensing is sluggish, the cursor repeatedly gets stuck at the top left corner of the screen and the cockpit view is too limited to see incoming enemy movement and fire in comparison to the main display. The bulk of the GamePad and the small triggers combine for an unsatisfying experience, the Pro controller may be a better control option upon release.

The arrival of Star Fox in high definition is long overdue, giving the iconic space fighter and the worlds you fly through a much needed refresher since we last joined Fox McCloud in the Lylat space system. The audio was hard to make out amidst the crowded Nintendo booth area, but the trademark blaster fire and squawking pilot sounds seem to have made the transition to Wii U fully intact. That said, the game also shows signs of still being in active development as franchise staples such as the plasma bolt upgrade for grabbing a second twin blaster weren’t included, but there’s still time to add in those elements.

The initial level in the Corneria system strongly resembles the opening level from the original SNES game and includes the option to use a Landmaster tank or a Walker robot, although neither seemed very useful. The ground based options offered no functional benefit over the classic Arwing for taking out enemy squadrons or spider attack drones as they scaled their way across the map, so I opted to primarily stay airborne and rapidly boost through the level.

The other level brings back Pigma from Star Wolf in a speedy Wolfen fighter, a combat sequence which unfortunately highlights the control problems: the cursor kept snapping into a corner which made sustained blaster fire nearly impossible, while the somersault and direction reversal moves were too slow to gain the upper hand on Pigma before he sharply veered away in his seemingly superior spacecraft. It’s worth noting that the nearly 3 hour line (!) for the demo may have sapped me of some focus and physical dexterity, but the game design also funneled me towards either hard braking when being fired upon for the enemy to zoom past or slamming on the trigger reset before target locking to grind down the enemy boss.

Nintendo is long overdue for a proper Star Fox game after skipping the Wii entirely. The upcoming sequel will be the first console version since Star Fox: Assault on the GameCube; under the watchful eye of Shigeru Miyamoto, the holiday season release shows promise as the proper sequel that we’ve been waiting a decade for.

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