The future of racing has arrived once again. Its name is F-Zero GX.
F-Zero has had an interesting gaming history behind it over the years. Starting off on the SNES, the game used the Mode-7 power of the system to create a detailed (albeit flat) world for you to race upon, and in the process made a very fast game overall. A sequel was made in Japan as well, but never came out here in the states.
Moving forward, the N64 version came out a few years later. Moving entirely into the realm of 3D, this 60fps racer was fast. Very fast. Unfortunately, due to the general lack of power in the console, it wasn’t all that detailed. A course designer and additional tracks for the game came out in Japan as well, for the all but cancelled 64-DD mini-drive unit.
Now, with the power of the Nintendo Gamecube, we have the best of both worlds – an extremely fast-paced racer, one that constantly puts you at and beyond 1000+ km/h, and one that looks absolutely gorgeous.
Is it a good game though? You better believe it. It’s also a rather difficult one as well. But more on that later.
Ultimately based upon an arcade port, Sega and Amusement Vision have done an outstanding job turning what was once a somewhat good looking game (for the times anyway) into a visual masterpiece that’ll stun you as race across the galaxy. The lands that you drive through are richly detailed, vibrantly colored, and simply alive. The racers are varied and are recognizable from a distance, so you can size up your competition. The tracks, while simplistic compared to everything else, are still stunning.
So, what can you expect to see as you race for the goal? It widely depends on the course in question. In some, you’ll be passing over a sea of desert, watching in awe as creatures jump up, over, and in some cases, right through you, not caring in the slightest of the racers speeding by. In others it looks more like your average city high-rise, with towering casinos and complexes on all sides. In others you’ll be trying to concentrate on the course itself as a psychedelic background attempts to distract you. It’s simply beautiful to see, even if you won’t notice it as you’re simply going past the scenery too fast.
What of the racers? Each of the 30+ racers you’ll encounter not only look different from each other, but colored as well, so in time you’ll know exactly who you’re racing neck and neck with. If you look closely enough, you’ll even see the driver himself piloting his craft, leaning from side to side as they fly through the courses. You’ll also be impressed by the sparks that fly off your craft when you’re hit, and the exhaust that shoots out of your vehicle whenever you use your booster.
But how does this all hold up in 4 player mode? Surprisingly well. Even though you’re only limited to a total of 4 racers on any track in multiplayer, it does so with no framerate issues.
Best of all is that this is all done without a hint of slowdown.
This is a difficult category to rate, as for some strange reason, most of the music for the game is hidden away inside an option that most people won’t visit, as it’s far from the main course. Even stranger is that all the good music is sitting there as well.
As it wasn’t stated at the beginning of the review, F-Zero GX doesn’t support Dolby Pro Logic II, as one might expect from a racing title. Then again the additional immersing feeling would be lost at the absurd speeds you’re constantly traveling, but it would be useful in detecting opponents right on your tail.
However, that’s not to say that the game sounds bad. Not at all. What you do hear as far as sound effects go do a very good job getting you into the game. Most vehicle engines have a different tune/pitch to them, roaring with their power, and the sound of your boosters firing off kick you audibly just as hard as they do your craft. On top of that, not only can you clearly hear the wind whipping by your windshield, but you can hear your opponents coming up behind you. All done very well considering that it’s just simply stereo.
The voice acting, which is only seen in the Story mode, or whenever you win a cup using a standard craft, is Sega’s well known quality – in other words, rather bad. While not as cringe-inducing as Sonic Adventure, it falls into the realm of Resident Evil, but not as laughably bad. It seems to fit the characters however, and you so rarely hear it, you tend to forget that its even there.
The music is quite well done, harking memories of the original F-Zero title on the SNES when you play it. Just like before, you’ll be humming the tunes as well as you play through the difficult courses, dodging and weaving around as you attempt to pass everyone nearby. It’s best described as techno/rock, and it fits perfectly with the game and the average speed you’re traveling at.
In an interesting yet unusual move however, every character in the game has their own theme music. Unfortunately the only way you can actually listen to this music is by wandering into the Profiles option, some place that most people won’t ever visit, as the manual has a pretty detailed listing of the characters already. If you don’t go there however, you’ll be missing out on some fantastic audio tracks as far as I’m concerned.
I have to ask this though – where can I buy a music CD of this game?
When you’re traveling at 2000+ km/h, not only do you need nerves of steel, but you need an extremely sensitive controller, one that allows you to maneuver that craft at that speed. Thankfully the Gamecube does just that, using the entire range of motion on the analog stick, and reacting instantaneously to your every command.
Unfortunately by default, Nintendo has the controller configured very oddly. The standard settings have you only use half of the maximum range of the controller in maneuvering your craft. In other words, once you move the analog stick half way to the edge, you’ve turning as sharp as you can. Thankfully you can easily go into the Options screen to adjust this, but the fact that you have to do this makes me wonder.
Other than that, everything is perfectly placed out – A is gas, B is brake, Y boosts, X attacks, Z spins you around like a top, and L+R slide you around. Odds are you’ll place your thumb on the A and Y buttons, allowing you the instant boosts that you need to survive.
First things first – this game is extremely difficult. If you aren’t an old-time gamer, one who has the inclination to put in the time necessary in order to master this racing game, either knock off 20 points in this section, or simply don’t buy this game. This game is hard if you want to unlock everything on your own. Very hard.
That’s not a bad thing though as far as I’m concerned. I love hard games, as long as you have the feeling that you can do better, that it’s your fault that you messed up. Thankfully this game gives you that in spades.
I’ll get back to the difficulty issue in a minute. For now, let’s talk about the options you have available to you. Once the game is booted, you’re presented with 9 options: Grand Prix, VS Battle, Time Attack, Practice, Story, Replay, Customize, Options, and Pilot Profiles. Here’s a quick rundown of each:
Grand Prix: This is the meat of the game. It’s just you, 29 other racers, 3 cups, 5 tracks to race upon in each cup, 3 difficulty levels, and nothing at stake except the trophy at the end. This will eventually grow to 4 cups and 4 difficulty levels, thus extending the time you’ll be spending here. Especially since you need to finish every cup at every difficulty level in order to unlock more courses, tracks, and pilots. Odds are you’ll be replaying this section quite a bit as well, as you earn tickets upon finishing each cup. More on that later.
VS Battle: As expected, this does what you’d expect it to do – play a VS match against other human opponents. If you have less than 4 people playing, you can have AI vehicles join in the fray, thus allowing you to always have 4 vehicles on the track.
Time Attack, Practice: Both also do what you’d think it does – one allows you to freely race on any course that you’ve unlocked (Practice), allowing you to make modifications like allowing respawns, and placing AI vehicles on the course for you to compete against. Time Attack places just you on a track, racing for the best time. Rumors abound that the staff of this game have their own best times encoded in this section for you to race against as well…
Replay, Options: Relatively simple things here as well – one allows you to view any replays that you’ve saved to a memory card (3-12 blocks per replay), while the other allows you to adjust the options of the game. All first time players really, really need to visit here, so they can change the controller around to use the entire movement of the control stick in play (as stated in Controls, above).
Pilot Profiles: As stated in the Sound category above, this section holds not only the meat of the musical soundtracks in the game (as each pilot has their own soundtrack), but you can look into the machines and characters of everybody in the game.
Story: Second only to the Grand Prix in playing time, you’ll go here to go through a story of sorts with the star of this game – Captain Falcon. While I wouldn’t call it the ‘incredible storyline’ that the back of the box says, it is a ton of fun, if not extremely difficult. There are a total of 9 stories, and 3 difficulty levels, and each will challenge even the best of F-Zero GX racers.
Customize: If you don’t like the 30+ racers that you can eventually choose from in F-Zero GX, you can instead decide to make your own. As you play through the Grand Prix and Story modes, you’ll earn parts to purchase from in the shop, with each part corresponding to the craft’s Body, Grip, and Boost rating. The final stats, Acceleration and Max Speed, are based upon your craft’s weight, with the higher ranking parts being heavier for the most part. It’s a very careful balance, but in the end, you can design vehicles far better than any of the standard craft.
How do you purchase these parts? Remember the tickets I was talking about earlier? Winning the Grand Prix and finishing the Story mode will give you tickets, which you can use to purchase additional parts, vehicles, and more Story mode challenges. These tickets don’t come easy, so you’ll be replaying the Grand Prix a few times in spots to earn everything.
Additional customizations for your craft include being able to put emblems upon your craft, all being able to design your own emblems, for that true custom look. It’s all simply to use, and a ton of fun, as there is a serious drive to make the best machine out there.
Finally, to bring up the difficulty once more. This game is very difficult. In a move that harkens back to the old NES and SNES days, the developer holds nothing back as it throws the most difficult challenges into your face. Not only is the Story mode unbelievably difficult most of the time, but at the higher difficulty levels, the AI holds nothing back as it attempts to smash your vehicle into the nearest wall.
In short – it will kick your ass. However, each time that you lose, you know that you could have done better. You don’t lose because the AI cheats. Oh no. You lose because you simply weren’t good enough.
However, this game is hard enough that only the hardcore (or old-time gamers who love the challenge) will ever see all of the game. Thankfully Nintendo has realized this, and has made it that you can unlock quite a bit by simply going to the nearest arcade, and spending some time with the arcade version of F-Zero. Nice idea there Nintendo.
You will spend some serious time with this game, as because I’m serious in what I’ve said before – this game will kick your ass in spots. There are tons of craft to unlock, and designing your own vehicle is lots of fun. And in order to do this, you’ll have to spend lots of time playing.
If you’re a gamer who wants everything opened to you, or who wants everything opened to you without much work, look elsewhere. F-Zero GX will require dedication in order to do everything. Lots of dedication.