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Star Fox Zero is about trying new things — whether old-school fans like it or not

Its directors on the series' newest experiments

Star Fox Zero, now out on Wii U, harkens back to the series' roots in many ways, except for a major one: its control scheme. Gameplay is based heavily on the Wii U GamePad's motion controls for steering the Arwing and taking on enemies. The ways Star Fox Zero and its even more unique companion title, Star Fox Guard, play are significant changes over, say, Star Fox 64, which Nintendo has named as a major inspiration.

Whether that's for better or worse has proven polarizing — but directors Yugo Hayashi (of Nintendo) and Yusuke Hashimoto (from co-developer PlatinumGames) see it as in keeping with the series' DNA.

"For me personally, I've played the Star Fox games since the Super Nintendo," Hayashi said in an interview through a translator on the eve of the game's American launch. "It's always been a series about experimenting and trying new things."

Both Hayashi and Hashimoto referred to Star Fox Zero as an experimental sort of project. That's how it got its start, in fact.

"[Star Fox Zero] actually started as one of the kind of experiments we did when thinking about how to use the Wii U GamePad," Hayashi said. That project eventually grew into a full-blown Star Fox game, one whose focus was nailing the controller's specific functionality within a single-player campaign. Although the idea started at Nintendo, which handled the programming, "planning and design" was taken care of at the action-oriented PlatinumGames, according to Hayashi.

"We were very aware that we were doing something new"

The GamePad-specific touches in Star Fox Zero include moving the controller around to aim, having characters communicate to the player directly through the GamePad's speakers and looking at the screen for the cockpit view. Despite the game being designed around the controller, it's a motion controls-heavy setup that some have found clumsy, awkward and uncomfortable.

"We were very aware that we were doing something new and something that would take time for people to get used to while they played," said Hashimoto of potential complaints from old-school Star Fox fans — or even those from people generally confused by the controls. "That was something that did concern us, but we felt strongly enough to ask people to get used to it."

The game employs a training mode available by default that allows players to test the controls for the entire vehicular arsenal:€” not just a spaceship, but a hovercraft and two land-based ships. There's also a lengthy tutorial at the beginning, and hero Fox McCloud's teammates can frequently be heard reminding the player of which buttons do what.

Although there are ways to limit the gyroscopic controls to some degree, there's no option to disable them entirely. Could that be a turn-off for fans attracted to Star Fox Zero's throwback appeal?

The directors don't think so, they said. "We never really thought about making it possible to turn off gyro controls or make [the game] playable using the Pro controller," Hayashi said. "It was really just our thinking that being able to look at your first-person view on the GamePad and line up shots that way felt very intuitive and very fun."

Nailing the "two-screen experience," as Hayashi called it, was key to the development of the game. That's why there's no multiplayer mode, either, although there is a cooperative option that has one player move the Arwing while the other fires shots with the Pro controller or Wiimote.

Something that the developers did devote time to, however, was Star Fox Guard. Retail copies of Star Fox Zero include the tower defense game —€” starring Slippy the Toad and his uncle, Grippy — on a separate disc. It's unlike any previous game in the series.

"I definitely understand that the controls are difficult"

The game originated as Project Guard back when Shigeru Miyamoto showed it at E3 2014, but "it was already pretty much in the Star Fox universe," Hayashi said. That demo contained enemies from previous Star Fox games, and eventually it became a Star Fox game in its own right.

"Obviously Star Fox Guard is a very different Star Fox game," Hayashi said, "but one way that I think [Star Fox Zero and Guard] are very similar is that the basics of both are shooting."

Star Fox Guard has players switching between a number of security cameras, firing shots at invading robots to protect Uncle Grippy's bases. The gameplay is incomparable to any previous game in the series, especially considering that players must remain in a fixed position. But its insistence on using the GamePad to switch between the cameras and take out the robots makes it a logical companion to Zero.

There's another reason for the bundle, too. "It's a very new and different kind of genre, and I felt like it was something that people wouldn't get what was fun about it until they tried it," Hayashi said. Packing it in with Zero is a way to get people to try out Guard.

Guard tackles a style of play that may be unfamiliar to Star Fox fans who prefer the flying and shooting of the older games. Still, Hayashi and Hashimoto hope players can embrace the changes.

"I definitely understand that the controls are difficult and take some time to get used to," Hayashi said. "But once you're used to them, you'll find yourself able to rack up bigger scores ...

"I feel positive about what Star Fox Zero has become."

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