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'Star Fox Zero' will drive you crazy, but in a good way

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Last E3, Shigeru Miyamoto, the famed Mario and Zelda creator, made it known that Nintendo was well underway with a new Star Fox game for the Wii U. So when the company kicked off its bizarro Muppets-themed E3 Nintendo Direct earlier this week with the reveal of Star Fox Zero, it wasn't much of a surprise. The reimagined game, which adheres closely to the initial Wii U mantra that two screens are better than one, is quite simply overwhelming. To say this installment in the Star Fox series requires a steep learning curve would be to grossly understate the complexity of the control scheme. There's just so much to absorb; so many different controls thrown at you at once.

For anyone that's ever played any game in the franchise's history, Star Fox Zero feels immediately familiar. The Arwing's back and along with it is the anthropomorphic crew of galactic space animals led by Fox McCloud. Corneria, that war-torn planet from the original game, sets the stage for one of two missions Nintendo made available for play on the show floor. The other is an all-range boss battle dogfight that takes place in outer space. But before the rep on hand let me jump into battle, I was entered into a training simulation set within the cockpit of the Arwing.

Before I dive into a rundown of the gameplay, it's important I start with the ideal "posture" Nintendo recommends for play. On the advice of a nearby rep, I loosely locked my elbows to my sides -- just above my hips -- and held the GamePad a short distance in front of me. I'll admit I was initially confused as to what I was supposed to be doing and where I was supposed to be looking. The GamePad is pretty much your "turret" and moving it doesn't translate into moving the Arwing onscreen; you control that with the left thumbstick. Acceleration and braking are handled by pressing up or down on the right thumbstick, respectively. Meanwhile, the ZR trigger fires off a stream of laser blasts and ZL can be used for a loose lock-on that merely shows you where your target is located.

E3 2015: Star Fox Zero Early Impressions

As if that weren't enough to juggle, simultaneously pressing down on the left thumbstick and up on the right one initiates a somersault that'll place your Arwing behind an approaching enemy. Additionally, pressing down simultaneously on both thumbsticks will cause your ship to make a U-turn. Both of those actions are also mapped to the GamePad's lettered buttons; in this case "X" and "Y." But wait, there's more: As you can imagine, your reticle will need (constant) recalibration, so a quick press-in of the left thumbstick will do the trick. As a result of this control scheme brain dump, I pretty much flubbed the training. It was just too much to take in while juggling between screens, tracking enemies and recalibrating my reticle. So the obvious next step for was to jump right into Corneria.

Here is where things started to slowly click into place. As this Corneria battle is set in a land-based, sandboxed area, I had more time to practice using the various control techniques and pick off enemies. With each kill, Star Fox Zero became less daunting and more enjoyable. Soon, I was out-maneuvering rogue ships and picking off enemies from a distance. But then the nearby rep threw another curveball my way: By pressing "A," you can transform into a bird-like land vehicle with the ability to hover. I didn't spend much time in this form, but it came in handy when taking out targets placed atop spider-like robots.

It wasn't until the all-range space dogfight that I realized I was having a lot of fun. Sure, I'd been (politely) cursing non-stop while getting to grips with the controls before, but now I was littering the room with expletives from the intensity of the deep space combat. Free of any landlocked targets, Star Fox Zero makes the most sense. I was at liberty to accelerate and brake at will; to initiate constant U-turns, somersaults and lock-ons. And, most importantly, I felt comfortable shifting between the TV screen and GamePad to chase and successfully take out the Piggy boss.

Whether my sudden comfort with Star Fox Zero's controls was a result of my extended playtime (about 10 minutes), I can't say for sure. Though, the on-hand rep seemed to think that was the case. What I can tell you with certainty is that Star Fox Zero will make you mad, and then it will make you wonder why it took so long for Nintendo to get this classic-in-the-making out on the Wii U.

[Images credit: Nintendo]


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