Review by Blue Blob
Fast, furious, fun and insanely challenging to boot
Let's be honest here - F-Zero is the best example of a 'dark horse' franchise you can get. Its signature mascot and lead character, Captain Falcon, is more associated with the much more popular Smash Bros series due to his catchphrases and powerful moves. Ask someone on the street to name a 'futuristic racer' and they'll more likely mention Wipeout, F-Zero's casual rival series. On top of all that, its best selling and most well known incarnation was its very first one, released on the Super Nintendo in the very early 90's. Yet despite all this, the games are often bursting with quality and present a challenge rarely seen in Nintendo games (especially those developed in-house).
2003's F-Zero GX is probably the magnum opus of the franchise. A joint effort by industry titans Sega and Nintendo with a little bit of help from Tekken developer Namco, it's a high-speed cyberpunk racing game with around 30 racers on the track at once with a plethora of things to unlock, the ability to customize your own racer, a very tricky story/mission mode and many other cool features. Not only that, but it looks beautiful (even 7 years later) and plays extremely smoothly. In terms of content and things to do, this is definitely one of the bigger Gamecube games - I bought this at the same time as Capcom's sleeper hit Viewtiful Joe, and was still playing it months after I completed the aforementioned title.
F-Zero GX wasn't as huge a seller as other Gamecube blockbusters such as Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros. Melee and Wind Waker. If anything, the console's 'kiddy' image and gradually falling sales at its time of release didn't really aid it in its success. Either way, F-Zero GX has definitely become a bona fide cult classic, getting great reviews across the board and maintaining a dedicated fanbase. Sadly, at the time of writing, it was also the last F-Zero to be released on a home console. If this game marked the end of the franchise, it at least went out on a very high note.
The aim of F-Zero, as with all racers, is to pilot your speedy futuristic jet car to the goal faster than all the other morons on the track. However, unlike the cartoon kart capers of Mario Kart or even long-forgotten bike racer Extreme G, you have your ship and only your ship. No weapons, no items. Just you and your chosen craft. Other than just going extremely fast, however, you can spin your ship around to crash into other racers and disrupt them - not only that, but hitting them with enough momentum will knock them off the spiralling corkscrew track and into the abyss - putting them out of action for the rest of the race. After the first lap, you are also granted with a boost meter that grants you a burst in speed for a slice of your health meter. It's a wonderfully strategic element, and it's this simple setup that really makes F-Zero GX shine. To make things more interesting, there's over 30 characters, some that control wildly differently to others. Captain Falcon, for example, is your typical all-rounder, whilst Spade's machine is more geared towards precision control, and Black Shadow's is manufactured to punish anything that dares get in its way.
Here's something I don't feel like I've mentioned enough: this game is fast. I first played this game straight after a race on Mario Kart: Double Dash, and the difference in speed is absolutely phenomenal. Seeing as Sonic ground to a halt in the last decade, it's like Sega put all the speed factor of his games into F-Zero instead. Except this moves and controls way, way faster than Sonic ever did. Most newcomers will either be overwhelmed by the speed or fall off the track and die upon playing their first lap. But the game not only encourages practice, it rewards it with heaps of things to unlock for completing its harder challenges. You don't even get to see any of the characters' ending movies unless you complete the game with them on the notorious Master difficulty.
Aside from the racing game standards that are the Grand Prix/Time Attack modes - eventually offering somewhere around 25 tracks with everything unlocked - there's also a bunch of other things to do. You build up and unlock 'parts' the more you play the game, enabling you to make a custom racer (where you can even draw your own emblems to decorate it with, with hilarious results). There's a mission mode going under the facade of a story, which is MUCH harder than the Grand Prix and involves you doing everything from escaping a time bomb to taking down a gang of futuristic boy racers to a race against the Satan of the F-Zero world in his underworld lair. On top of that, there's also Nintendo's stock addictive multiplayer (which is insanely good fun when playing with 3 other people on the same skill level as you).
The game looks beautiful. Definitely up there with Metroid Prime and Resident Evil 4 in pushing the GC to its absolute limit. The magma ocean of Fire Field looks like it could burn you just by glancing at it, the lush greens of the Big Plant stage are ridiculously colourful without being distracting, and Mute City has never looked so alive with its neon barriers, cyberpunk advertisements and other graphical touches. The tracks themselves all have their own textures and look fantastic, and the racers aren't ridiculously detailed but still have some nice elements, such as scratches on their paint from previous races. You can even see the pilot if you look close enough!
One of the best soundtracks ever made for a videogame. F-Zero GX ditches the metal of its N64 father F-Zero X and instead goes for a much more suitable techno-rock theme, with fast paced drum samples, carefully implemented guitars and other elements that just scream "this is what the future is going to sound like". Aside from the high-octane track themes, each character also has their own individual theme that plays when you visit their profile, from Captain Falcon's hard rock anthem to Princia's Arabic style horn melody.
The story of F-Zero is pretty much completely functional and only really there to give the Mission mode a little more entertainment value. A camp Batman wannabe known as Black Shadow is working for some sort of devil racer, and it's up to Captain Falcon to stop him as well as survive other events, like a random ambush from his rival Samurai Goroh. The story is dressed up in hilariously fruity (yet really well rendered) cutscenes with pretty decent voice acting. Aside from all this, each racer has their own profile to check out, where you can read about their backstory and why they're risking their lives to race in the first place. None of them go any deeper than the backstories for stuff like Street Fighter, but they're fun to check out.
If I haven't convinced you to get this game, I honestly don't know how else I could. Here's my last effort - it's a true gem of the PS2/Xbox/GC era of videogaming and presents an immense challenge. If you stare F-Zero GX in the face, then promise me you're going to burst into it full throttle.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: F-Zero GX (EU, 10/31/03)
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