So, Star Fox Zero will not only have a co-op mode that'll allow less experienced players to play as a gunner and pew-pew stuff through the GamePad, but also a friendly option where gamers will have an invincible Arwing and simply fly through a level regardless of their performance. In the very next sentence of the interview in question Shigeru Miyamoto also said there'd be options to ramp up difficulty, where players will be more powerful but - on the flipside - also more vulnerable to attack. That all seems hunky-dory to me.
Pleasingly a look through the comments on our own article for this topic showed that many seem to share the perspective that this 'invincibility' is harmless because, well, it's optional and means games can be enjoyed by more people. Of course, this being the internet, some argue - occasionally in an offensive and juvenile way depending on where you're looking - that this is the worst idea since Slippy's voice casting and that the Star Fox series is tainted forever. Well, ok, let's stay away from the extreme ends of the debate - what I do want to do is to take this excuse to argue why the 'Super Guide' or happy helper approach is actually a universally good thing for all gamers.
Let's kick off with Miyamoto-san's own words when speaking to TIME, which pretty much echo my own thoughts.
One thing that I think is a misunderstanding, is that I'm not very supportive of simply making a game easy so that people who don't play games can play the game themselves. Obviously part of the fun of taking on a challenge is that the challenge has to be a hurdle that you overcome. Simply lowering the hurdle doesn't necessarily mean that the challenge will be fun. What's fun is you mastering the skill and having that sense of accomplishment — of achieving something that's difficult.
So I think that action games like this have to have a certain level of difficulty to achieve that satisfaction. And particularly with Star Fox Zero, if you try to complete this game, I think you're going to find it to be quite challenging. But it's because of that, that we have things like Star Fox Guard and the cooperative mode in this game. What those do, is allow people who maybe can't deal with that level of challenge or difficulty to easily be a part of the gameplay and enjoy this universe.
The 'Super Guide' term first popped up - as far as I can remember - with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, in which dying a number of times gave you access to a block that, when activated, would bring Luigi in to beat the level for you. It's evolved as a concept depending on the game, in some cases with the 'Guide' aspect replaced by invincibility, meaning you still need to clear the level yourself but can't be hurt by enemies - rather like the special Tanooki outfit in Super Mario 3D World and multiple predecessors. I personally prefer the invincibility approach (which Nintendo is certainly favouring more in recent times) rather than a 'guide'. As Miyamoto-san says above, the idea is to help more to experience the game and improve, rather than actually do the job for them.
Personally, I've seen these helper modes as an added dynamic in some games. In some later levels in both Donkey Kong Country Returns and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze I saw it as a sign of failure if the assist option appeared. I would refuse to use them, but seeing them offered would be as bad to me as another death - it provided extra motivation to me as Retro Studios found its sadistic side.
Of course, for gamers of reasonable skill even the occasional sighting of a help block doesn't mean they can't beat the game, it's just a teasing nudge and reminder that they're troubled by that stage. Modern Nintendo games, for example, throw so many lives and buffs at you that the actual 'Game Over' screen isn't seen anything like as often as in past generations. I understand why some bemoan this, I really do, but there are worse trends in modern games. For me, if a game gives me a fair challenge and makes me fight a little for the end credits - or the 'real ending' in some cases - then that's fine. Maybe it's an age thing - I don't have all day to master a crazy level to see the end - as sometimes I just want to beat the darn game.
The Star Fox Zero feature, such as it is based on Miyamoto-san's comments, is another sign that Nintendo is tweaking how it approaches accessibility based on fan feedback. For example The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD - developed with Tantalus - is a little easier than the original, and extra buffs can be found when scanning certain amiibo. Select 'Hero' mode and scan a Ganondorf amiibo, though, and you'll see plenty of Game Over screens. There's a clear desire to cater to a wide audience, and that's not a negative. Too often people treat accessibility as a dirty word - in actual fact it's integral to Nintendo's continual popularity.
The challenge for Nintendo, to touch upon broader topics, is to find a way to broaden the audience for its conventional games. In the DS and Wii era it won over a huge audience off the back of touch- and motion-based experiences - the 'Touch Generation', Wii Sports, Wii Fit and titles of that ilk were enormously lucrative. Yet that was a bubble, and while the 3DS has found a way to succeed the Wii U's been a victim of sorts to the fact that the audience hooked in the last-gen has moved on to other experiences.
Added to this is Nintendo's other problem, or strength in the right circumstances - the fact it's rather separate from the core gaming scene. PS4 and Xbox One have the controlling stakes in the market dominated by the likes of The Division, The Witcher 3, Dark Souls, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and hundreds of other games largely impenetrable outside of the sizeable audience that evidently enjoys them. Nintendo works in a different area, aiming to combine its considerable brand power with fun gaming experiences that appeal to as wide an audience as possible. If you want to know how big the 'hardcore' Nintendo audience is look at Wii U hardware sales - that loyal audience is very important, but Nintendo understandably needs to reach more people. Let's not forget, too, that the eShop scene in particular helps to cater to dedicated fans of tougher challenges.
And so the likes of Star Fox Zero will allow some players to fire through the GamePad, somewhat re-enacting the awesome gun turrets of the Millennium Falcon. Or those that like the idea of an action space adventure can enjoy it in an invincible ship. The optional aspect is important here, as those with greater skill need not worry about these features - they can shoot for all of the medals and top ranks and feel marvellous about it. Everyone wins.
Nintendo has been smart in how it's opened up more accessible difficulty settings in its games, largely allowing players of various levels to have their fill. The Fire Emblem franchise is a good example - my brother may opt to play without permadeath while I soft reset for days, but we both enjoyed Fire Emblem: Awakening a lot. We weren't bothering each other about our gaming choices. There are other games and experiences that my parents, non-gaming friends and their kids have also embarked upon and, yes, they often choose easier difficulty settings or use assist tools. For my part I crank the difficulty down on FPS games because I'm not very good at titles in the genre; surely that doesn't bother anyone? There are no negatives here, as it just means more people are playing Nintendo games that would perhaps otherwise be sticking to Crossy Road or Angry Birds.
I think the debate can always be had if Nintendo games offer little-to-no-challenge for anyone, as balancing is important. For the most part I think the balancing is sound, though, and I for one welcome the prospect of an option to increase the difficulty in Star Fox Zero. I get annoyed if I lose a single life in Star Fox 64 3D, such is its softly-softly level of challenge, so an extra degree of difficulty could be fun in the Wii U title.
Overall, though, I'm all for some games accommodating gamers of all types. After all, if we want Nintendo to thrive it needs to shift tens of millions of consoles and hundreds of millions of games. A rich Nintendo is an ambitious Nintendo that can make even more games and cool things, and to connect with the broader gaming audience - not just the dedicated fanbase that can beat Super Mario Bros. without thinking twice - it needs to give some players a helping hand.
Think of it less as a helping hand, and more as a hand offered in gaming friendship. The more people that can have fun in games like Star Fox Zero, the better.