Nintendo's Star Fox franchise skipped the Wii generation entirely, leading fans of Fox McCloud's exploits wondering when and even if we'd ever seen the series again. Teased at the end of Nintendo's E3 digital event broadcast and formally announced shortly afterward, Shigeru Miyamoto has redefined Star Fox for the Wii U as part of his experiments into finding new ways to play games using the console's unique GamePad. Kotaku's Stephen Totilo has played the early, rough form of the game (which, at this point, sounds like it's caught in the limbo between being a tech demo and a proper game) and elaborates on how this new Star Fox uses both the in-GamePad screen and the television in tandem.
The concept, Miyamoto explained, is to enable players to have independent control of where they fly and where they shoot. The GamePad's control sticks steer Fox's fighter jet, but the GamePad's gyro controls act more like a fighter pilot's targeting visor and let players tilt the pad to "look" in any direction to shoot. In practice, this means that the player will move wave the GamePad around to track targets if they so choose, instead of turning their Arwing to chase the targets down.P
"Before, in the N64 [game's] levels, when we had these valley modes, it was difficult to play those levels because the aiming was synced to the movement of the ship. So, as you were trying to aim, the movement of the ship was flying around within the valley. But now what we're able to do with the Wii U GamePad is, because the ship can move independently of your aiming, it makes it much more interesting and much more fun to play these valley modes where you're flying the ship but simultaneously aiming at a lot of different things in the level."
Totilo notes that the game includes very rough artwork and reused sound clips from the Nintendo 64's Star Fox 64 ("Check your G-defuser system!"), but Miyamoto hopes to finish the game within a year. Even after reading about how the new Star Fox works, I don't quite understand it. Having to look back and forth from GamePad to television seems like it would be confusing, but Nintendo maintains that the transition becomes more natural over time and given practice. This seems like one of those gameplay innovations that, like the N64's analog control stick or the Wii remote's motion controls, I need to physically try in order to understand it. Prior to seeing how to correctly use the N64's control stick, for instance, I tried to use it by grasping it with my thumb and finger like a tiny joystick. My first try with a Wii remote resulted in some wild off-target swings at Wii Sports. My point is, while I enjoy Nintendo's products, I'm not always the smartest at using them on my first try. I'd probably crash my Arwing on my first flight, but I've learned not to doubt Miyamoto and trust that I'll quickly figure things out.
As for bringing back Star Fox itself, it's overdue. Apparently Nintendo's developers worked on a new sequel during the Wii era, but never quite cracked what made it a worthwhile project and set it aside after six years of experimentation. About six months ago or so, however, Miyamoto solved the puzzle and work resumed with the assets created for the unfinished Wii version. So take heart, F-Zero fans! Captain Falcon's next adventure could be gathering dust temporarily in the famed Nintendo vault. But seriously, this is part of what I love about Nintendo's development process. They never really throw away an idea that isn't working. They just file it away and wait for the technology to catch up with it or until such a time that they solve whatever problem(s) held up development. We hear about games being canceled all the time, but seldom do we hear about games rising from the dead. It's actually refreshing to see.