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Star Fox Zero

Star Fox Zero

A blast from the past leaves us asking for more evidence of the Platinum connection as we go hands-on with Wii U's dual-screen sci-fi shooter.

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Starfox's two-level demo begins with a startling degree of déjà vu, opening as it does on a Corneria mission that mirrors the start of Lylat Wars/Starfox 64. Perhaps it's an unspoken commitment by Nintendo and new co-developer Platinum Games, as if to ask you to forget the entries between then and now. That this is the proper sequel to the furry-loving sci-fi shooter series.

It'd be wrong to say it even looks the same; there's an extra sheen to the visuals, added detailing on flying enemies and city-destroying mechanoids. But if you're expecting the same leap in quality between last generation's Zelda and the Wii U title here, you'll be disappointed. The colours pop with cartoon vibrance, but the levels are unarguably barren. Even the inclusion of destructible trees can't spruce things up.

The classic controls are still in play, with an additional set layered on top. Left stick veers your Arwing around the screen as it continues its on-rails flight forward. Right stick up hits thrusters, pulling down slams on the brakes. Left and right on the stick will flip the craft on its side, double taps engage the quick spin that's stylish and deflects enemy fire. Laser shots are mapped to the trigger, with a hold and release charging and firing a lock-on variant - important for knocking out enemy groups and adding to the returning score multiplier. There's face buttons for 360 flips and 180 turns come the all-range mode that end this level and is the focus of the next.

The new mechanics are built around the second screen. The GamePad (or with a button press, the TV) screen doubling as a cockpit view, within which you can use the controller's gyro-sensor to move and precisely aim the targeting reticule. As you can peer out to your left and right by rotating the GamePad in those directions, you'll actually see more of the level than can be spotted from the external view.

In terms of the demo, that means seeing enemy clusters hidden along canyon walls or flying between rocks you'd otherwise miss. On the one hand there's bonus kills to be made and the suggestion of more secrets that need finding with quick camera pans. On the other, we found it impossible to steer our Arwing and look around simultaneously, while quickly glancing between screens wasn't a satisfying compromise. We can see the thinking behind it, and this need to juggle two different perspectives makes us wonder if this is more a Platinum design decision than a Nintendo one, but it's going to take some adjusting to, and we can't help but feel it's a clunky analog to the natural smoothness of head tracking in VR space sims like EVE: Valkyrie.

It becomes important in downing mechanical spider bots that scuttle towards General Pepper's command tower in the level's finishing stage. Deploying to all-range mode, we blast the tanks positioned around the central skyscraper, before using the cockpit view to locate individual spider bots and lock on to their top-sided weak points that we'd otherwise have a tough time locking on to in the third-person view.

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The area cleared, the final boss, a rounded attack cruiser with laser beam-firing satellites at its top and bottom, descends into view. At this point two things happen. One, we switch to a third view mode, which keeps our target in the centre of the screen, with the camera panning around our Arwing in cinematic fashion, requiring our attention to the cockpit mode to nail those protruding weapons and chip away at the health bar. Two, we tap the wrong button and instead of doing a 180, deploy the Arwing's transformation mode.

You'll have seen from the E3 demo (below) that your craft's transformable this time round, able to assume the form of Landmaster, submarine, grypcopter and, in this instance, a bird-like form as legs extend out from the Arwing's undercarriage, allowing it to walk around levels. It's a little ungainly, and we're informed the controls switch to something equivalent to GoldenEye's. But even naming that holy N64 title doesn't stop us from switching back to flight mode immediately. We'll need a situation suited to the Birdwing to try it out.

The second level's a dogfight in space, random enemies easy cannon fodder until Starwolf's Pigma flies into the area. We're soon trying to outmanoeuvre each other for the kill shot. The strategy's little different from the N64 days, but it's still fun to perform. A few strikes and he soars back into deep space. We're told if we'd got close enough in passing each other, a slo-mo cinematic would kick in, camera zooming in as Fox and his rival skirt to within a few feet of each other. Little touches like that to remind you Zero's veins are pumping with Platinum blood.

The experience feels nostalgic. The Starfox feel is there, but we're much more eager to see what new stuff Platinum is injecting into the experience. As much as Sega's racing expertise led to the arcade thrills of F-Zero GX, Platinum's pedigree in intense combat and addictive pursuits of high scores should hopefully mean there's much more to this game than has been shown.

If the teams can merge classic Nintendo formula with the excitement and score attack stylings of Bayonetta, then we could be on to something good. We hope so, as this is currently little more than a trip down memory lane, despite the tweaks to the gameplay.