Nintendo’s E3 booth focused on two high-profile releases at either end and squished a bunch of other games into the middle. On one extreme, Super Mario Maker… and on the other, Star Fox Zero. This new Star Fox was no surprise, having been tipped last year as an upcoming example of Shigeru Miyamoto’s mission to continue justification for the Wii U’s signature GamePad controller. But does a dual-screen approach make sense for a franchise like Star Fox?

The E3 demo included two missions, one that replicated the initial Corneria sequence from Star Fox 64 and another mission set in an outer space dogfight. Despite Nintendo’s baffling claims that Zero is not a remake or a sequel, the Corneria level contained much of the same familiar Star Fox 64 landscape and character dialogue (although naturally it looks much, much better than all of those sharp old N64 polygons.) Yes, Slippy picks up a tail right away. Yes, Peppy implores you to “use the boost!” Towards the end of the level, the allusions to Star Fox 64 are dropped as you fly into a completely different boss sequence meant to show off the new control scheme.


In Nintendo’s adorable E3 Digital Event presentation, Miyamoto mentioned how he wanted Star Fox Zero to replicate being inside a vehicle cockpit. To that end, he brings up the inverted axis controls, which are probably not a surprise to any experienced gamer but might throw off somebody walking in cold. More to his point, however, is the GamePad usage, which pulls double-duty in Zero as both a first-person cockpit view and motion controls for the targeting reticule. Old Star Fox players know that the targeting reticule was controlled with the N64’s analog stick and the Arwing vehicle sort of followed along after it. In Zero, these are now controlled separately. You fly the Arwing with the GamePad’s left stick and you move the GamePad around to direct the reticule. The right stick is used to boost/brake and, in conjunction with the left stick, for u-turns and loops. (Although these last two stunts are also mapped to face buttons.)

Moving the GamePad to aim that reticule – and therefore change the outlook of your GamePad view – was a constant fight for me. As a practiced Star Fox 64 player, I wanted the reticule to move where I was flying, and I continually forgot that I was supposed to be pointing the GamePad to aim. Sure, with even more time (I probably put in half an hour over multiple demo sessions) I might eventually acclimate 100% to the new scheme, but it raises the question of why I should have to initially work this hand to play something that was already distilled to perfection almost 20 years ago. What does this newly complicated control scheme bring to Star Fox?

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has since revealed on Twitter that you will be able to turn off gyro controls, but that option was not available for the E3 2015 demo.

The GamePad was at the forefront of the new Corneria boss fight. Just as in 64, this sequence triggered “all range mode,” where you are no longer flying forward on a fixed path. Circling around a tall tower, the fight began with multiple enemy ships to chase down and then moved to several waves of spider-like ground enemies. I made great use of the lock-on lasers here, chasing ships to get the lock and then blasting them out of the sky. The game seems to want you to look at the GamePad’s first person view during all range mode, which is another weird learning curve. Again, there was just too much 64 in me to entirely understand which screen I was supposed to look at and how I was expected to aim.

I just don’t know that I need to fly in one direction and shoot in another.

I found it very easy to get disoriented between the two screens. The small GamePad screen did not give me an overview of the 360 degrees of action surrounding me, and the TV screen would switch to dramatic camera angles which were probably very cool looking to anyone standing nearby who was not me.

The first time I attempted the Corneria level, I failed – failed! – during the spider waves. The spiders emerge from spawn boxes and move toward the central tower. If too many of them climb the tower and attack it, the missions ends in disgrace. The spiders’ weak spots are directly on top of them, and I had a devil of a time targeting them from the air. I transformed the Arwing into its chicken-walker mode (Didn’t I mention that yet? You can switch to a cute bird-shaped mech for ground fights.) but even that proved fruitless, as the chicken was not tall enough to hit the tops of the spiders. A booth rep had to educate me: target the spiders while in chicken mode, but jump into the air before loosing the missile so you strike them from above. Would have been nice if Peppy could have told me that.


After dispatching the spiders, the final boss ship is revealed, where you fly around shooting off shield panels to take it down. In a nice touch, there were two ways to defeat this boss: either keep hammering it from the outside, or fly inside of it and chicken-walker-shoot the central core.

I grumped and grumped throughout my demo, fighting the controls and wishing I could just play Star Fox without all of this fluff. Am I an old fogey and out of touch with the fancy dual-screen gyro mechanics beloved by modern gamers? Possibly, but it was capital-n capital-f Not Fun to step inside Fox’s Arwing. I’ll be very interested to put Zero through its paces on release and get a better idea of how the new controls work… and then turn them off and see if that makes things any better.

I just don’t know that I need to fly in one direction and shoot in another.

Obviously the new controls were the main focus of this demo, but it was nice to see a much enhanced version of Corneria and the Star Fox crew. The crew personalities and melodrama are a major thrust of the franchise and Zero looks to keep that space opera going. I can only hope that Zero picks up on characters introduced throughout the entire series. Hey, it’s not a remake! But it’s not Star Fox 4! So if those options are ruled out, all that is left is that Zero is a reboot that re-introduces the franchise. Which is sort of what happened with Star Fox 64 anyway, right?

Star Fox Zero is scheduled for a Holiday 2015 release.