Review by mwallyn
"Hop in for another super-sonic joyride"
Back in the day, when the first pictures of F-Zero X came out, people were outraged. Nearly a decade without an F-Zero game in the States and what they saw after such a long wait was truly underwhelming. However, F-Zero X was a truly rare game that did not look all that fantastic on paper, but when players actually got a hold of the game, what an experience it was! The game went from talk of being a huge disappointment to being in conversations for best racer on the N64 almost overnight. F-Zero X went on to be a top game for the N64 in general and once again set new standards for racing games. Almost another decade later, F-Zero X got re-released for the Wii as its 100th Virtual Console title. Is F-Zero X a good enough racer to remain a top notch game?
Although it's still the same gameplay, F-Zero X revamps a great deal from its predecessor. Just to name a few, the number of laps has been dropped from 5 to 3, boost power now uses your machine's energy instead of separate charges earned every lap, the number of machines on the field are up from 20 to 30, the number of machines playable are also up from 4 to 30, more tracks to race on plus a random track generator and so on. Long story short is that F-Zero X is a MUCH different beast this time around.
The main change in gameplay is how scoring is done. In F-Zero, players had to finish above a certain rank every lap in order to continue. If you can finish in at least third place on every course, you pass the cup. X uses a more realistic, grand prix-style, scoring system. You can finish anywhere among the 30 racers as long as you finish. Crashing or falling off the course still disqualifies you, though. At the end of the grand prix, highest score wins. Simply put, this is a much better way of figuring a winner and adds a fair bit of challenge to the game. No longer is it a matter of just getting by, you actually have to win to in order to win.
Another huge change to gameplay is the ability to attack. No, this is not wipEout-esque attacks with missiles and lasers, but attacks like checking other machines into walls or spinning your machine to throw around your opponents. Moves like this are totally optional and you can win without taking anyone out. But if you find that your rival is gaining ground on you in the GP standings, an attack to DQ him will quickly put him out of contention. Taking out opponents at the right time can be critical in the more difficult levels.
One major addition to F-Zero X is the various play modes. What made F-Zero for SNES just a good game was its lack of any multiplayer. Thankfully, this issue has been rectified in F-Zero X. 4 players can go head to head in split-screen racing on any track. Time Trial has also been improved by allowing you to race any of the tracks in the game. This was not possible in its predecessor, strangely enough. A wholly unique mode to F-Zero X is the Death Race. The track is a simple loop and you're tasked with destroying all 29 other racers as fast as possible. Though a small mode, it's interesting enough to try and take out everyone as quickly as you can.
There are two issues I have with gameplay. One, the AI is cheap. You can be going full tilt, all out boosting, and the AI pilots can keep up with you without doing a thing to actually keep up. Also, your rival will often times magically end up in the lead just seconds after the race starts, no matter what his starting rank may be. This is rather frustrating, but the same drivers that keep up with you no matter what will suddenly drop away shortly before the finish. Confusing, but it's not such a huge problem that it renders the game unplayable. My second problem is the controller. I use a GameCube controller to play this game. When using the shoulder buttons (L or R), I have to push all the way down on them in order for them to active the controls in-game. This causes a slight delay when trying to attack or drift. However, I've never used a classic controller, so I can't say the same for that control-scheme.
As mentioned before, F-Zero X did not look very good on paper. So, why did it suddenly get so much praise? Answer; 60 frames/sec. The main criticism of F-Zero X has always been the game's extremely low polygon count and graphic detail. However, most people's response to this is that it managed to pull 60 frames/sec and do it well. This is not the first game to attempt this, but it certainly was the first to make it look amazing. Massive three dimensional tracks all with 30 separate machines racing on them all ran perfectly smooth on the N64. Not even Mario could top that. Yes, there is fairly little detail on the various machines and courses, but the advanced frame-rate definitely made up for it.
Only problem is, this beautiful framerate didn't translate perfectly from N64 to Wii. For whatever reason, I've experienced some slowdown while playing the Wii version. For comparison, while beating the original N64 game through, I've never experienced any lag whatsoever. However, this problem is pretty minimal and doesn't happen very often anyway. It's just unfortunate that the transition to the Wii for F-Zero X was less than perfect.
It's worth noting that while Captain Falcon, Samurai Goroh and the like existed in the last F-Zero, they were never seen in-game outside of their machines. F-Zero X is the first instance where you can see the pilots that drive the machines. The art for each pilot is actually pretty good. Each pilot is drawn in a comic book-like style that fits pretty well with the game (ironically, one of the pictures at the title screen is a comic book frame). This otherwise tiny addition gives the game a quite a bit more personality.
To make as much room for the framerate as possible, everything around it had to be sacrificed. Even sound took a quality hit. Music is only done in mono. Sound effects are still fitting for the type of game that F-Zero X is, but they too suffer as well. It's unfortunate, especially since F-Zero X had a fantastic sound track. Almost all of the original themes got remixed with a speed metal theme. Personally, that's awesome, all I need to say about that. But that's just my personal taste, so it's up to you what you think. Overall, the sound and music does what it needs to, but it's clear that they're not what they could be since they were sacrificed for a better framerate.
Like its predecessor, F-Zero X has 3 difficulty modes plus an extra one after you beat Expert class. This time around, though, there's quite a bit more to unlock. There are 30 pilots total, but you only start with six of them. To unlock more, you have to beat a certain number of cups at different difficulty settings. This alone will require some work. Once you've done that, Master class unlocks. Though the only thing that unlocks after this is a new title screen, it DOES give you serious bragging rights. If that weren't enough, the game has a random track generator and has an entire cup based around it. If you're ever bored, this cup never plays the same, no matter how many times you play it. The tracks range in difficulty from blatantly easy, to ball-bustingly hard, and in rare instances, can kill every single pilot without warning. The latter is EXTREMELY rare, though. Either way, this mode always provides a fresh experience every time and an even playing ground for those looking to challenge others to a serious race. Bottom line is that you'll be playing this one for a while. A long while.
My only gripe here is that the expansion was not included in any way. What is the expansion you may ask? F-Zero X was one of few games that were made to be used with the ill-fated Nintendo 64-Disk Drive expansion. The expansion disk came with new machines, new tracks, a car editor, and best of all, a track creator. This track creator is pretty much what the actual designer used for the game. The N64-DD failed miserably in Japan and saw no release state-side as a result, but the F-Zero Expansion was considered a gem for the system, especially for the track creator. What better way to make a little more money by incorporating the features from the expansion into the Virtual Console game? None that I know of, but F-Zero X could have been a best seller on VC had it included this add-on. But what's done is done, and F-Zero X is still an incredible stand-alone game.
F-Zero X is an interesting game. While it does achieve some impressive graphical feats, F-Zero X more focuses on robust gameplay than anything else. It builds on what its predecessor had started and goes from a good game to a truly great game. Though the game does have flaws, they can't take away from the overall presentation here. F-Zero X once more delivers a wholly solid racing experience, this time for the Wii. You'd be hard pressed to find a significantly better racing game anywhere else on the Virtual Console.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/15/10
Game Release: F-Zero X (US, 06/25/07)
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