Team Star Fox is back, but not everythings the same
Nintendo has so many major franchises. Just look the Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS roster for a hint of Nintendos diverse collection of characters, including dashing sky pilot Fox McCloud. Fans have been waiting patiently for new entries in the furry ones series to hit the Wii U. Well, Nintendo diehards can now check off one series from their wish list, because a completely new Star Fox is coming to the Wii U--though with no concrete title yet.
Fox McCloud and his furry friends are hopping back into their Arwings in the first wholly new Star Fox in years, with co-creator Shigeru Miyamoto at the helm of this HD title. The changes go far beyond the visuals, as the games controls have gone through major transformation and these are changes that some fans might not be totally comfortable with. After playing the still unnamed game, these are my first impressions on the hard to define future of Star Fox. (And yes, we only have one image so far.)
The GamePad is central to gameplay
When the Wii U was first shown, the GamePad and its tablet screen were talked about as central to the console, but there havent been enough games that took advantage real of it. Nintendo execs like Shigeru Miyamoto talked recently about making more games that use the device in unique ways, and Star Fox is one of the earliest to support that sentiment. Thats because all the shooting is controlled via the GamePads camera and motion control.
In the normal Arwing mode, the spacecrafts movement corresponds--as expected--to the right and left sticks. Its visible on the TV through the standard, behind-the-ship camera angle, which flies around the circular arena (no autoscrolling valleys in this demo). The shooting is controlled via moving the GamePad around to carefully direct shots at enemies. That second screen gives you a view of whats in front of the ship, and you direct your shots with one-to-one movement. Blasting enemies in the circular stage takes a lot of swapping between the two views, and thats certainly disorienting at first.
The GamePad controls take time to figure out
This setup is unique, and not unlike the inputs in 3DS title Kid Icarus: Uprising, it feels off to control something familiar in such a different way. Moving the GamePad around to direct your shots feels gimmicky at the outset, and its a little hard to control until you adapt to it. After about 10 minutes, I started to see the controls had a capacity for more accurate shots, provided you keep an eye on both screens.
After acclimating to the controls I was doing good enough to beat Star Wolf in an impromptu boss battle, and the controls got a little easier to deal with once I adapted to the use of homing missiles. As in previous Star Fox games, you can hold down an attack button, then hover your sights over targets to mark up to three of them for a homing attack. I felt like I was really starting to get into the controls after 20 minutes of play time, but I still wasnt completely sold on this style of control replacing the one from previous games. For the doubters, its worth noting that my demo appeared to be a very early version of the game, so hopefully the controls can only improve from here.
The Arwing can instantly transform into a tank
Star Fox games are known for their Arwings, spaceships in the mold of Star Wars X-Wings, and those were central to the first half of the demo. The Arwing would likely come in first in a fan poll of Foxs different crafts, with the probable runner-up being the tank known as the Landmaster. Normally the armored vehicle appears in separate stages from the Arwing, but now players can shift between the two instantaneously during combat.
Aiming for the Landmaster mirrors the Arwing, with the same GamePad-centric view for attack, only youll be shooting up a lot more often. At first, the change in viewpoints between the two added to the confusion, but it got a little better as I played it. Additionally, the Landmaster is better at clearing the map of the more stationary ground enemies that the Arwing can miss.
Theres a new helicopter vehicle
The other stage in the demo was also a massive, free roaming area, but it replaces green hills with a city at dusk. The technologically advanced metropolis is full of tanks, ships, and four-legged robots, though it was hard to keep track of them all when a Godzilla-sized monster is stomping around the city. He was a slow, lumbering monstrosity, which is just the right speed for the new helicopter unit in Star Fox.
The hovering ship (not pictured above) is much slower than the Arwing or Landmaster, and its attack camera is pointed more towards the ground. Compared to the fairly standard Arwing stage, the copter action stood out as the aircraft floated between buildings, blasting the enemies below. And while it cant transform into anything, the chopper can drop down a little robot that can then fire at enemies from a more head-on perspective. No doubt Nintendo diehards will appreciate the androids resemblance to NES pack-in ROB.
It feels like a sequel to Star Fox 64
Whether on the N64 or remade for the 3DS, Star Fox 64 is hands down the most popular of all Nintendos spacey shooters. Though this Wii U entrys changes to core mechanics will no doubt bother lovers of the 64-bit release, fans will likely be comforted by the fact that it does so many things similar to its original. That goes from the character and enemy designs right down to the humorously cheesy dialogue.
Despite the advancements of HD visuals, the Star Fox crew looks about as plastic and puppet-like as they did in 1997, which is warmly nostalgic. The same goes for many of the common enemies I seen flying around the demo, most of which looked ripped straight from the N64 cartridge. And the lovably corny lines of dialogue are back too; while I didnt hear Do a barrel roll!, after I defeated Wolf I heard Foxs rival shout out the immortal I cant lose! At least there are some things that havent changed.
It looks HD (but not that HD)
Its hard not to feel a little spoiled after the amazingly good visuals of Mario Kart 8. That game raised the bar for graphics on the Wii U, and it may be unfair to compare an early version of Star Fox to a polished adventure like MK8. That said, the demo was hardly the best Ive seen on the Wii U, though it is the best that any Star Fox game has ever looked.
The Arwings sci-fi laser blasts and massive explosions are eye-catching in the moment, and while the enemy designs were simple, there were at least a lot of them visible on-screen at any given time. Of the two areas, the city was the more detailed of the two, and the unexplained monster walking around looked pretty good in motion.
Shigeru Miyamoto wants the game out in the next year
My early demo of Star Fox for Wii U was hosted by Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendos number one developer. The series must mean a lot to Miyamoto given that he co-created Star Fox back in 1992 and shepherded many of its sequels. When he revealed the game, he mentioned that he wanted to get it out within another year, but that may take some outside help.
During a post-reveal Q&A, I asked Miyamoto if the game would be entirely developed by Nintendo and he gave the somewhat cagey answer that they were looking for outside help to expedite development. My bet would be that the co creators of Star Fox currently working at Q-Games will be brought on to help, just as they did with the 3DS port of Star Fox 64. Whoever it ends up being, it looks like Miyamoto really hopes that well all be playing Star Fox by holiday 2015. But will everyone enjoy playing it with a GamePad?
I can't lose!
That's everything we know so far about the new Star Fox. And don't worry, nothing we've seen gave us ANY indication of another Star Fox Adventures debacle. What do you want to see from the new Star Fox on Wii U? Tell us in the comments below!
And if you're looking for more, check out our Nintendo E3 2014 press conference recap.