Nintendo's upcoming Star Fox Zero isn't starting over from scratch, despite the name. The game doesn't take place before the previous Star Fox games, and according to Nintendo it's more of a remake in that sense. Playing through the game, it definitely feels like a classic Star Fox title, or even all of the Star Fox games combined into one with some special features exclusive to the Wii U.
No matter how you perceive the new Star Fox game, it's been a long time since most people have gotten their hands on a traditional Star Fox title. With the Wii U control system and the amount of time that has passed, some of the more strategic elements of the game may have been forgotten by fans. There will also be plenty of newcomers trying their hand at Star Fox Zero when the game releases later this year.
The first thing any Star Fox fan will notice about Zero is that it feels like a classic Star Fox title. Other than the obvious differences in the visuals, if you were to put the original Star Fox side by side with Star Fox Zero, the gameplay would look almost identical in many ways. You can still perform barrel rolls, lock on to enemies to fire a tracking shot, or simply fire a barrage of lasers to finish off enemies.
In the demo we played, there were enemies that appeared during the boss battle which could only be defeated by attacking them from above. To get the proper angle while not wasting time you had to slow down, use the shoulder buttons to gain additional maneuverability over your Arwing, and then drop down from above to clear them out. All of this should sound pretty familiar to fans of the classic series.
Where Star Fox Zero begins to differ is in the vehicle choices available to players. In the original Star Fox you could only use the Arwing. Over the years, the Landmaster tank has been added to the Star Fox arsenal, but in Zero you can switch between four different vehicles on the fly. You've still got the standard Arwing, but it can transform into the Landmaster tank or the walker, or you can use the Gyrowing.
The walker form of the Arwing is very useful when you need to take out grounded enemies. The Arwing has a hard time maneuvering around to get multiple passes at enemies, and the Landmaster can be slow and difficult to move around in some situations. This is where the walker form comes into play. It's faster and agile, allowing it to dodge enemy fire with ease, while still taking out enemies on the ground with firepower similar to that of an Arwing.
The Gyrowing is essentially an Arwing with helicopter-like abilities. It flies slower than an Arwing, but it's much easier to maneuver into tight spots. In addition, it houses a small robot named Direct-i which is tethered to the Gyrowing. The robot can be dropped into tight areas to explore the inside of an enemy base or squeeze into areas that would be otherwise inaccessible. Nintendo likens the use of the Direct-i to adding a touch of Mario to Star Fox Zero as you navigate through tight interiors almost as if you were in a Mario-like land.
When playing Star Fox Zero you can choose to look at the Wii U GamePad screen or the TV screen. The Wii U GamePad displays what is essentially a cockpit view. You can use the gyroscope inside the GamePad to look around the cockpit, and the view is much tighter than what you see on the TV. This makes aiming a bit easier to do, but old school Star Fox players may have some difficulty adjusting. You can still use the TV screen to play, but there are many occasions in which the closer viewpoint of the GamePad is very helpful.
The real advantage comes once players get the hang of using both screens simultaneously. With proper precision between the two screens you can fly in one direction while looking and shooting in another. It adds a new level of gameplay to the Star Fox series that we haven't previously experienced. It does take some getting used to, and some players may not want to use both screens, but it definitely makes some areas of the game far easier.