I still remember blowing into that iconic gray cartridge and booting up Star Fox 64 for the very first time on my, tragically apple juice-coated, Nintendo 64 console. I was born in 1991, so I would have been six years old for this, although time has blurred together the days, weeks, months, and years that have since followed. Perhaps my age didn’t truly matter though, as it all felt irrelevant when I was quickly whisked away to an animal-filled, sci-fi wonderland that put me in control of Fox McCloud – the leader of a heroic mercenary group known as Star Fox.
Franchise entries that followed in the wake of that release have all failed to recapture the magic that I (and presumably many others) had experienced with the N64 classic, which is why it was so enticing to see what looked like a return to form of sorts with the reveal of Star Fox Zero for the Nintendo Wii U. This time I wouldn’t be leaving my Arwing with a gun in-hand, I wasn’t going to beat dinosaurs with a staff, and I certainly wouldn’t be strategically squiggling lines on the bottom screen of my DS in a bid to preserve fuel. I was instead going back to those days where I sat on my living room floor and just simply played, repeatedly starting over to locate various routes that altered the narrative through secret paths that I’d discovered and teammates that I’d rescued.
Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to sit down and go hands-on with Star Fox Zero, which only further validated my initial interest in the game. I reported in my introductory play session with Star Fox Zero at E3 2015 that the early version of the title was looking to do much more than simply bank on nostalgia to grab gamers – although it certainly does that as well. This is primarily thanks to the motion-tracking tech of the Wii U’s GamePad, but Nintendo (with the aid of Platinum Games) has managed to expand rather than retread. Thankfully, this motif rang true during my brief play session and it provided me with much more than a high-definition revision of the core Star Fox formula.
As I walked into a dimly lit room filled with Nintendo employees and an outsourced public relations representative, I plopped myself down in front of an 80-inch television and was promptly handed the Wii U’s tablet-like controller. As the first stage booted up, I was treated to an all too familiar opening that saw me gliding over the ocean and towards the war-torn city of Corneria – just as I had experienced nearly twenty years prior. Even though this was familiar, it managed to feel unique thanks to the new control layout that required me to shift the GamePad around – as if it were the cockpit of my spacecraft – in order to aim.
I played through this section of Zero three separate times, soaking in the reminiscent opener based on the original sequel, but more importantly I was immersed in the new take that accompanied it. Much to my delight, each playthrough brought with it an entirely new ending and opened up a completely different path with each go. Admittedly, one of these paths would have likely been overlooked if one of the reps didn’t tip me off to it, but doing so exposed what is sure to be the real appeal of the game for longtime fans: it’s going to be incredibly challenging.
After swapping over to my Arwing’s Walker form (something that was originally set to be a major mechanic in the shuttered Star Fox 2), I took to the ground and stomped on a button hidden in the grass. This opened up a steel gate that allowed me to track down an airborne freighter that was being ransacked by a myriad of metallic spider robots. After sending the iron arachnids to their explosion-filled afterlives, a portal opened up in the sky. I soared through it undaunted and prepared myself to take on a boss of some sort. I then proceeded to die twice in back-to-back attempts.
This wasn’t the result of flawed controls or a slight adjustment period to them, it was my own doing. There’s legitimate strategy to be found and implemented within Star Fox Zero, as I quickly learned, and Nintendo took little issue with absolutely steamrolling me with an entire sky-full of orange lasers and pulsating electrical barriers. As I played, I learned, and this harkened me back to those all too familiar days that I would get lost in exploring the vast Lylat System in front of my family’s television set for hours on end.
On my third consecutive attempt, I finally destroyed the water-based warship with Fox McCloud’s trusty laser cannons and flew off into the sky to watch the Andross-made contraption implode into a fireball behind me. I’d finally done it, and I truly felt like I’d bettered myself along the way. In that passing moment, I realized that I’d fallen into the exact same mindset as that cartridge-wielding, six year-old pilot again, and I had successfully answered General Pepper’s dire request for Star Fox’s help – albeit with fewer grilled cheese sandwiches and teeming glasses of SunnyD in tow.
Star Fox Zero arrives exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U on April 21, 2016.