Nintendo has made 'events' out of various quirky online broadcasts, with some being surprisingly short and light on actual reveals or details. It wasn't too surprising, then, to see Star Fox Zero: The Battle Begins given the live broadcast treatment, followed by the Nintendo Treehouse team showcasing the game and Star Fox Guard.
The 15 minute animated short followed a simple plot - the team was hanging out on Great Fox, slightly bored and waiting for some action, when the alert came from Corneria. In the second half of the video it recreated - sort of - the opening level of the game, albeit with a strange twist (which we'll get to). If you haven't seen it then you can do so below, both the English and Japanese versions.
First of all, on a personal note I thoroughly enjoyed it. A collaboration between Shigeru Miyamoto, Production IG and WIT Studios, it was full of wit and memorable segments. Peppy was a lot grumpier than I expected, oddly(!), but it was an entertaining watch; if the 12-year-old me had seen that when Star Fox 64 was coming out I would have probably had a minor meltdown. The animation was gorgeous, and the music - all from the game - was a fantastic fit.
Breaking down into the animation in a little more detail, it had some fun winks and nods. One that seemed designed to tease fans was Falco playing the original Star Fox on a futuristic console. I saw plenty of "is that NX?" comments, and I'm not sure they were all jokes - the cool controller with a hinged screen and controls underneath looked like a snazzy NVIDIA Shield, if anything, and I'd bet most of my possessions it was simply what the animators came up with as a sci-fi games machine. I was actually hoping (unreasonably) that segment was a precursor to an announcement of the original game coming to the Virtual Console. There are licensing and technical issues that make that a near impossibility, but for a brief moment I allowed myself to dream.
After Peppy had his old-hare rant I was raising my eyebrows at his 'lucky charm' of General Pepper's fur - I don't want to see the fan-fiction that spawns. The twist of that being used to create some kind of attraction weapon was also rather peculiar. These aren't complaints, though, as weirdness suits the Star Fox series.
There were some fun silly moments too, such as the team running down a long corridor - the classic scene - to reach shortcuts to the ships; it's actually a strangely impractical design on the old Great Fox, but it all added to the humour. I also liked seeing Corneria as a fully realised city, with various furry animals living their lives and generally looking adorable. The animation also neatly added a bit of plot to explain where all the residents are while the city is lain waste in the game's opening battle. The actual battle scenes were typically stylish, recreating how an imaginative gamer may imagine the action in their dreams.
General Pepper's character came through well, I thought, with the gag of hiding in a cleaning bot being a highlight. The plot twist at the end in his secret communication with Peppy (which is explained in the game) was also effective and left me (and others in the comments) desperate for more.
When it finished I couldn't help but fantasize how amazing it would be if every stage from the game had an animation, albeit some that are far snappier. That's pure fantasy, of course - an endeavour like this costs a lot of time, endeavour and money. Production IG and WIT Studios truly delivered a terrific animation, and the work behind it should be appreciated.
Though more Star Fox Zero animations aren't on the cards (unless Nintendo has a shock up its sleeve) this does show the potential for Nintendo to expand its brands and target young consumers. Perhaps the mixed reactions to Star Fox Zero since its full reveal in 2015 have served as a warning for Nintendo, as its marketing has generally focused on winning over established fans. Yet the approach of animations to accompany major releases could be useful in future, especially when targeting a new generation of younger gamers.
Quality work like The Battle Begins, when applied in a similar way to other IPs, could be given a more significant marketing push. Rather than a relatively short-notice announcement for a timed online stream, arranging to appear on TV or the likes of Netflix could be hugely effective promotion for a new release. All of that requires money to be spent, of course, yet Nintendo has consistently spoken of the need to strengthen its branding in new ways.
In any case, as a franchise fan and an advocate on the merits of Star Fox Zero, I thoroughly enjoyed The Battle Begins. It was quirky and funny, with beautiful animation and a killer soundtrack, and was effective in making me want to play the game. Whether it will have impressed viewers enough to earn a few extra sales will be interesting to see.
Let us know what you thought of this animation short in the comments and polls below - did it hit the mark?