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E3 2014: Nintendo Wii U Star Fox Hands-On and Miyamoto Q&A

Do a barrel roll!

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The surprise Star Fox announcement may have been accidentally leaked ahead of the Nintendo Direct today, but we also had hands-on time with the game at an event just before E3. Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto gave attendees a chance to try out the upcoming Star Fox and ask questions about the game.

The focus of the demo was primarily on gameplay and how the GamePad can be used to improve on the previous games' flight mechanics. Graphically, it was very early and didn't show anywhere near the level of polish or depth of something like The Legend of Zelda Wii U footage earlier today, but Miyamoto explained, "The game started off as an experiment, and what we're showing you here is still fairly early on. But the game has already moved into full development, and we're planning on completing the game within a year. The way that I design games, I start by experimenting with a lot of different assets and play styles. And then, once we have all that laid out and understood, then we go into full development and begin building the graphics around them."

To complete the game within a year, though, is a significant undertaking, even for a company like Nintendo. To make sure it can get the job done, Nintendo may bring in an additional studio for support. Miyamoto said, "This is a game that we've developed internally up until now, but because we do want to bring this to market very soon, we are looking at some potential partner companies that we can team up with." However, Miyamoto also assured fans that he "will be directly in charge of the project," regardless of what other studio Nintendo partners with.

"Originally we weren't targeting E3 as the announcement time for Star Fox, but in developing it, we really came to like it," he added. "And I also wanted to motivate ourselves to complete the game as quickly as possible. So we decided to bring the game to E3 and announce it to give us that motivation."

How Does It Play?

The game uses both the GamePad and your television in slightly different ways, and even after just a short time with the game, both feel absolutely essential. The GamePad gives you a cockpit view, allowing you to aim and look around independent from your ship's movement. The TV screen gives you a view more like a traditional Star Fox game. You can take out enemies, just not with the same level of precision as using the GamePad. Meanwhile, you need the TV screen to get a larger look at the full battlefield and keep track of your fighter when taking evasive maneuvers.

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Since the game is early, finding and tracking enemies can be a little difficult, but piloting feels great. You have a level of aiming precision that feels comparable to the VR flight sim EVE Valkyrie. In a dogfight against Wolf, at least when I was able to track him down, the flight controls offered quick turns and the ability to easily maneuver around the game's battlefield. And the conversations from your ever-present flight companions, Slippy, Falco, and Peppy, from your GamePad speaker pull you even further into the game.

While the demo section focused on an enclosed battle arena, Miyamoto said the final game would include many different game modes. "The game will have styles of missions that we call 'valley mode,' where you're flying forward through a straight, narrow valley area. Before, in the N64 levels, when we had these valley modes, it was difficult to play because the aiming was synched to the movement of the ship. So as you tried to aim, the ship was flying around within the valley. Now what we're able to do with the Wii U GamePad is, because the ship can move independent of your aiming, it makes it much more interesting and much more fun to play these valley modes."

Beyond the Arwing

The Landmaster tank made a return in the demo, offering a ground-based combat option with similar GamePad-based aiming. But Miyamoto also introduced a new helicopter vehicle as well. The slower-moving transport seems made more for missions that involve careful piloting and collecting items on different platforms. You can drop down a tethered robot to gather up collectibles and also open up fire on enemies.

Miyamoto is also thinking about how missions in the game will play out. "As far as the story goes, we're in an era where people have a limited amount of time and limited ability to play these long, story-based games, so there will be a story for the game, but you'll be able to choose the missions that you want to play."

Miyamoto is going to reveal more details about the game as they get closer to release. But demos of two minigame-like GamePad experiences on the E3 show floor, Giant Robot and Project Guard, may offer more clues as to what to expect.

We'll have more details on those games, and even more Nintendo E3 news, later today.

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