During the height of the console wars between Nintendo and Sega, a lot was made about the hardware differences between the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive (or Genesis, if you prefer). Nintendo made much of their Mode 7 graphics in games such as Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings and F-Zero but, in 1993, they raised the bar once again with the much heralded introduction of their revolutionary Super FX chip, added to game cartridges to improve their 2D and 3D capabilities. We saw what it could do for 2D in games like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, but it was the prospect of 3D gaming that got people really excited. Nintendo didn’t disappoint, with the much-hyped and much-loved new IP – Star Fox!
Taking the helm of Fox McCloud’s spacecraft, the Arwing, the game allowed the player to take on a series of levels, choosing a difficulty level to match their ability. Each difficulty level offered an alternative route through each stage, meaning that the on-rails limitations of the hardware became a well-received feature central to the game, offering replay value, rather than a disappointing frustration. Inevitably, given the success of the first game, it was followed in 1997 with a new title on the N64. Once again, Fox McCloud was joined by his Wingmen, Slippy Toad, Peppy Hare and Falco Lombardi! Whilst not strictly a sequel, it built on the mechanics of the original and introduced a multiplayer dogfight mode too. Since then, we’ve had several appearances from the gang both on handhelds and home consoles, often with gameplay styles different to the original. 2005’s Star Fox Assault on the GameCube was a disappointment to many but, when in 2014 Nintendo teased the development of a new title for the Wii U, long term fans hoped and prayed for a return to form.
After keeping quiet for a whole year, at E3 2015 Nintendo revealed the franchise’s much anticipated latest installment; Star Fox Zero. Initial reactions to the footage were hugely positive, but this was somewhat tempered by the proposed use of the gamepad, a feature of the Wii U some users have found distracting. You’ll be using the Wii U’s gamepad for a cockpit view, whilst your TV screen displays either a ‘behind-the-arwing’ shot or, on occasions, a more cinematic representation of all the action. Having to occasionally shift your focus from one screen to another may prove confusing to some, and certainly some stages seem better suited to this than others. The other concern raised is in the use of the gyroscope to look around your virtual cockpit. Many would prefer to have this mapped to the right control stick, as gyroscopic controls aren’t exactly renowned for their precision. These are valid concerns, but it remains to be seen if the final game can address them and deliver the return to form the fans so desperately want.
On a positive note, the game looks absolutely fantastic. The team have managed to capture the art style of the SNES and N64 incarnations, sure to create warm feelings of nostalgia in those old enough to remember them the first time round. Yet, whilst the game is recognisable as part of that lineage, it somehow manages to simultaneously look fresh, crisp and vibrant. Further optimism can be found in the news that it’s being co-developed with Platinum Games, the team behind two of the most-loved Wii U exclusives of more hardcore gamers: Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101. Their attachment to the project gives a boost to the hopes of Star Fox fans that this is a game that will deliver.
In a year where some feel that Nintendo have been light on core titles when compared to 2014’s cavalcade of big announcements, all eyes will be on Star Fox as the latest potential system-seller. Whether Fox and co are up to the task remains to be seen.