Review by mikecullerne

"High speed racing comes home to GameCube."

The F-Zero series has been around for some time now with its historic roots back on the SNES. As a futuristic racing game the SNES did a pretty good job bringing some of the fastest racing action to the fore and considering the limited power of the old 16 bit system Nintendo did a great job. On Nintendo 64 the franchise was continued with dramatic changes, improvements and a new racing formula. The high speed action was realised at 60 frames per second and the heart-pounding action was non-stop. With the power of the GameCube at the developers disposal, Nintendo has returned to bring out an F-Zero game in line with next generation standards that continues the legacy of the series. While Nintendo handled the publishing details the core development of the project was handled by Sega's Amusement Vision and there were a few questions about just how well they could handle a franchise like F-Zero. To their credit the series remains true to its original formula of insane high-speed racing featuring stunning graphics and great audio to boot. F-Zero GX is a brilliant game but there are some notable features missing that stop it from becoming a true GameCube classic but we will come to those a bit later on.

F-Zero GX throws gamers back into the cockpit of a high speed hovercraft. Well, it's a hovercraft in the sense that it hovers just above the ground. It doesn't feature many of the traditional mechanisms us 21st century folks think of when the term hovercraft is mentioned. Most of those have been completely thrown out the window. In a few seconds these babies can hit 800-1000 km p/h and those speeds can easily double as a race progresses. There are thirty different craft in the game and each is piloted by a different driver. The most well known in the field is Captain Falcon (who most will remember from Super Smash Bros. Melee) but there are a whole bunch of unique personalities from alien worlds who have all come to race in the high-speed death-defying championship known as F-Zero.

If you've played F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64 then you will slip right into the action as the controls have been pretty much transplanted from that earlier version into this one. A-button will accelerate your craft and to brake players must make use of the B-button. The R and L triggers will enable players to drift into corners and boost power can also be used (after the first lap is over) with the Y-Button. To pull off the classic spin move (which acts as an attack to damage other craft) players will need to use the Z-button and X-button is for the bunt attack. For new players this system is very easy to pick up as the A-button acceleration is common in most GameCube racing games but the finer workings of the L and R drift triggers will take a bit of getting used to. It certainly doesn't take much though, a few laps players should be able to grasp the drift function and be pulling off awesome cornering in no time.

The two attack functions can come in very handy. In F-Zero GX (like all F-Zero games) there is a damage meter on each craft and if this empties out completely then it's bye bye ship - and hello pain. This meter can be worn down by hitting other craft, side railings or other obstacles on the track. Also when players use there boost power the crafts health meter will also drop so tactical use of the boost/health meter is required for drivers looking not to smash their ship into a million pieces Thankfully on every track players will have the chance to recharge on special areas that will add health as drivers go over them and these are especially useful in the exhausting story mode.

With nine chapters and an interesting character-driven tale the story mode is the most noteworthy addition to the F-Zero universe. As it plays out we learn a lot more about the pilots in the various craft that were just a handful of names in the original. There is a lot more personality in F-Zero GX and players can learn a lot more about the history of F-Zero and it's cast of colourful characters. Initially only four characters are available to race with but the other twenty-six are all unlockable and each have their own grip, damage and boost attributes making the correct character selection for each track critical. Players will be put to the test across a wide variety of skills and it's not all about racing with some tough challenges in store that will fine tune player skills for the Gran Prix mode.

With four cups up for grabs in the Gran Prix mode it's full on racing from start to finish. Each cup consists of five tracks and players earn points for placing with the highest points at the end of the five races taking home the prize. Players can even race in their own custom craft with the intuitive custom craft mode. Gamers can earn parts from other modes in the game and tune up their own high speed machine. These customised vehicles can be saved to your memory card and used in F-Zero GX's arcade counterpart, F-Zero AX. Unfortunately F-Zero AX is not out in New Zealand arcades yet and it's still unclear if it ever will, but the addition is certainly nice for gamers in other regions where it is available.

F-Zero GX features twenty tracks. All of them are very unique and it's hard to find any elements that are repeated across the tracks. Each bend has been crafted from scratch so it will take time to learn every inch of tarmac in your aim to be the number one F-Zero racer. Many of the track styles, like the inner and outer pipe circuits, have been bought back from F-Zero X and they provide some of the most exciting racing. Amusement Vision have also used jumps and ramps to offer shortcuts and quicker passages for players that are prepared to take the risk. The overall track design is impressive and whilst there are a few tracks that are a bit lacklustre the sense of speed is still incredible as thirty craft surge through a sharp chicane or go flying off a huge ramp.

Unfortunately for whatever reason Amusement Vision and Nintendo decided not to bring back the random track generator. This was a key feature in F-Zero X as it threw up a brand new track every time and no two tracks were ever alike. Because these tracks were completely random drivers could put there high speed driving skills to the test in an unknown environment and in multiplayer the winner would be the player who had the reactions to adapt to tracks rather than the driver who had played the track the most. In the F-Zero 64DD version, which was only released in Japan, a track editor was included. There were hopes that this would be included in F-Zero GX but again, for announced reasons, it was not thrown into the mix.

Split screen gaming enables plenty of multiplayer action. Unfortunately there is only one standard mode – racing. No others are included and one may have expected them as they are common in other racing games these days. However Amusement Vision only chose to do one thing and they have done it well with great fun to be had across the various tracks, but I have to reiterate that the exclusion of the random track generator severely hurts the multiplayer experience. Another feature left out is LAN play. This worked through the GameCube's broadband adapter setup and it was initially rumored to be included in this title but was unfortunately left out for unannounced reasons. Players will also be disappointed to know that in four player split screen there are no computer controlled racers i.e. only four cars will be on the track (all human) so there is no thirty racer carnage as there is in single player.

You could be forgiven for only noticing the aesthetic upgrades with F-Zero GX because they are just that good. Amusement Vision have basically filled in the gaps taking the brilliant technical success that was F-Zero X and layering on the lighting, texture and particle effects that are now achievable thanks to the power of GameCube. As mentioned before the sense of speed in F-Zero GX is amazing and the blistering framerate stays steady even with a full field of thirty racers on screen. The Nintendo 64 version could do that but the level of detail in the new circuits and the enhanced craft and environments make it the complete visual experience.

F-Zero X (N64)
F-Zero GX (GCN)

Captain Falcon's craft keeps it's clean racing lines but players will notice chips in the paint and other dents from previous F-Zero encounters - looks very genuine too. As your vehicle launches into warp speed with boost power the wonderful lighting effects make your high speed antics feel so very satisfying. The story mode is also packed full of FMV sequences (Nintendo and FMV? You better believe it). Every one is a great addition to the game and certainly captures the off track action beautifully.

The killer soundtrack is certainly a highlight of this tight audio package. Techno and guitar rock beats can really get the heart pumping and the high speed action is complemented nicely with this 'racey' style of music. Surprisingly the development team did really capture the essence of the speedy craft all too well. Considering the game is played at well over 1000 km p/h most of the time the sound effects are fairly dull and there certainly was plenty of room for Amusement Vision to go nuts with extreme volume and engine noise... but they didn't.

Bringing in so many elements of previous games in the series meant that F-Zero GX was going to be a sure fire winner. With wonderful visual enhancements and a kicking soundtrack Captain Falcon and the rest of the F-Zero racing crew have made the move into the next generation in real style. However its not about what's in the game its about what has been left out. No random track generator, no track creator/editor, lackluster sound effects and no LAN play. With these elements dumped on the wayside I can't help but feel unsatisfied as these elements were all things I was really hoping would be included. Disappointments aside, what is in F-Zero GX is great fun with the story, grand prix and garage modes all having lasting replay value and the split screen multiplayer is still a fun romp even though it is a reasonably 'light', lacking the aforementioned features. Fans of F-Zero X, the original F-Zero and Maximum Velocity (GBA) will feel right at home and new players will be in on the action in a flash thanks to the simple controls and alluring visuals. Recommended.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/03


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