"We're going in full throttle."

I'm going to come out and say it right now. I really don't like racing games. The last time I shelled out cash on a racer was Sony's Gran Turismo 3, and it gave me a big headache that was only remedied by a can of Coke, a burger, and a new copy of Dark Cloud. Thankfully the SEGA developed arcade-racer F-Zero GX was a completely different story. With even more high-speed action than most racers on the market, this was one to keep. But when you have more to do, you'll find more problems too.

To truly create success with the gamer, SEGA produced high-octane races that will keep you coming back for more. As you compete against 29 computer-controlled opponents, there are three laps you'll need to survive before reaching the goal. The first lap is nothing special, but as soon as you hit the second that's when the magic begins. For the second and third laps you'll have Boost Power. With the press of a button, your vehicle will momentarily generate a huge burst of energy to propel yourself at an amazing velocity. However using Boost Power among other things such as getting hit by opponents drains your racer's health meter. While every track does have areas to quickly refill your health, this system of boosting adds a level of strategy to each race. You'll constantly need to decide when and if you should boost. If you don't use the boost enough, you'll quickly be overtaken by the AI. But if you boost too often, the slightest bump will reduce your racer to scrap metal.

Cool physics or style isn't the only thing needed to make a tight racer. That's why SEGA loaded the game with over 20 awesome courses to blast away at high speeds in. Each one is well designed with sharp curves, sick jumps, multiple paths and even traps. You'll have to keep your eyes peeled for Slip Zones, which cause you to lose traction and easily crash at high speeds, and Dirt Zones, which slow you down, or you'll drop a few ranks during the race. There are also helpful areas of the track too like Dash Plates that allow you for an instant free boost and Pit Areas for your energy replenishing needs.

How well you get through these courses depends on which vehicle you decide to pilot. You'll start out with a mere four racers but before you know it the cast balloons to over 30 machines. Each one has its own strengths and weakness. There are four important aspects of each racer: body, boost, grip, and weight (the first three are measured in an ABC fashion while weight is done through pounds). Body determines how well your car can take damage, so an A body will barely take any damage while an E body will quickly run low on health. Boost obviously deals with your Boost Power. The higher the boost, the faster you'll move with Boost Power. Grip is also extremely important as it determines how well the pilot can control the racer. But weight also factors into this control. An average weight and high grip is really something to strive for. If you're weight is far too low, your racer will easily slide mid turns, and if you're too heavy, turning will be nearly impossible. Essentially the best racers in this game are the one's that are well-rounded in each of these categories.

No matter which vehicle you choose there will be a few abilities that you're guaranteed to have. Each racer has the basic Side Turns with a simple press of one of the shoulder buttons. The Side Turn works just the same as the classic SNES game; you'll have an easier time making a sharp turn but you're speed will drop a noticeable chunk. However F-Zero GX has the way cool Drift Turn as well. By holding both shoulder buttons during a turn, you can actually make a turn and accelerate at the same time. Of course the smoothness of your Drift Turn depends on the weight of your vehicles (i.e. heavy cars suck at it and usually end up hitting walls). Lastly you'll be able to choose whether you'd like more acceleration or maximum speed before each race, which also adds more strategy to the game. You'll quickly notice that it's a good idea to pack some acceleration for courses full of twists and turns, while more speed comes in handy for simple flat pavement.

There is, however, one bad point that sticks in my mind when I think about the basic races themselves. SEGA tried to put in an attack system to spice things up a bit, but it just falls flat on its face. The idea was good though. I mean, one time I was actually able to completely kick off the guy beating me for first place overall in a Grand Prix and that was the only reason I won the entire circuit, but most of the time it just doesn't work. You can either use a weird spin attack or a quick slam into the side of another car. The spin just plain sucks and will just slow you down a bit. The slam is a much better attack and can sometimes work, but most of the time I'd either hit a wall (therefore kicking me down a few ranks) or fall off the track entirely. It's simply not worth the risk.

A crumby attack system isn't enough to make this racing game falter. It's easy to forget about that tiny nuisance with F-Zero GX's fair share of gameplay modes. The first one you'll encounter, Grand Prix, is by far my favorite. You can think of it as an arcade mode or tournament. You simply pick a difficulty, racer, and cup and get ready to make your opponents eat some dust. It's a real blast, but it's a little too easy. While choosing one of the higher difficulties may make each individual race tougher, it'll still be a synch to land first place overall. The problem is that you're competing against 29 other racers. Even on Expert, the AI can go from first place in one race to nineteenth in the next. As long as you land a few thirds or single-digit ranks, you'll do fine. Well, expect on the unlockable Master difficulty. Your abysmal placement will be tougher to swallow than Patricia Heaton's cooking. Still, Grand Prix is a no-nonsense mode full of high-speed thrills with the true arcade feel.

After Grand Prix, you'll come across a few self-explanatory modes that have become a standard of the genre including Versus, Practice, and Time Attack. But your interest will perk with the neat Garage feature. With the sacrifice of 18 additional precious blocks of memory, you can create your own custom racers with unlockable parts. Learning the in and outs of vehicle creation will teach you the importance of balance, and it's a great feeling when you make something that leaves a blazing trial across the track. Another plus is how SEGA made it difficult to overpower your racer. It doesn't take a genius to figure out giving all A-rank parts to a car causes it to weigh far too much, so you'll have to tinker around finding the best ratio of ranked parts to weight.

Finally we come to Story Mode, and unfortunately I found the least bit of entertainment here. Essentially each “chapter” is a small mission with some odd goal and a cheesy FMV sequence tacked on. For example one chapter forces you to get out of a power plant within a meager time limit. You'll have to boost your way out while collecting much-needed canisters of fuel and avoiding pillars and closing doors. This may sound interesting on paper, but it's frustratingly difficult and requires you to replay constantly until you've master the course perfectly (as in collective every canister at wicked high-speeds and don't come into contact with anything). Every chapter plays out like this and the story is so piss-poor that you won't want to bother with the rest.

There is yet another flaw to this package. While F-Zero GX boasts a treasure chest of possible extras to unlock ranging from parts for the garage to an entire new cup in Grand Prix, all the content from the arcade counter-part F-Zero AX is a real pain to acquire. The feats you'll need to accomplish to earn the AX parts, racers, and courses are ridiculously impossible. There is an alternate way to unlock the AX content however. If you find an AX arcade cabinet, you can spend a bunch of quarters playing that game for awhile to earn everything the possible way. Gee, do something incredibly difficult or spend more money? Isn't that just a little too convenient?

At least graphics lovers will get their moneys worth. This title features some of the smoothest visuals seen in a racing game. While the vehicle's designs are rather box-like in nature, they sport finely glistening coats. With each rev of your massive engines, you'll see brilliant flames shoot from your racer and scattered over the track. The courses themselves are amazingly detailed. For example one area puts you in the middle of a thunderstorm. Rain pounds against the pavement splashing everywhere while the black night sky is illuminated by a wild crack of lightning. Another course has you racing through a towering inferno of liquid hot magma and flame that almost seems to want to reach out and consume you. F-Zero GX also has an amazing sense of speed by having all this blast right towards you at a blur. You'll see all this awesome scenery fly right by with the frame-rate staying constant.

Even if I was impressed by SEGA's sleek visuals, the excellent music was definitely a stronger factor for the game's coolness. The soundtrack is a mix of fast-paced techno beats and fancy electric guitar work. Each area has its own unique piece of music that feels perfect for the environment. Take that thunderstorm track I mentioned early. During the insane storm you'll hear a lot of quick beats with this tight synthesized instrument playing the lead melody. The best part is that this instrument used sounds very “electrical”. Another course puts you high above the sky, so the music has some chilling beats that sound very ice-like to fit the mood of the stage. A desert stage plays heavy-guitar riffs while you're scorched by monstrous heat. As for the sound effects, they're just what you'd expect: lots of engine noises, crashes, explosions, and such. Also there are some voice-overs for each character once you've finished first in Grand Prix mode, but they're so lame that it's best to simply ignore them.

With its flaws in mind, don't ignore this racer. The fundamental basics of F-Zero GX are pretty cool (minus the crappy attack system) and the courses are awesome. You'll definitely find yourself spending most of your time in Grand Prix Mode and in the others a few times. It's a damn shame that Story Mode turned out to be such a pain in the ass, and that the AX content had to be nearly impossible to unlock without spending a mess of quarters. But this little disc will provide you with just enough fun and entertainment to cover its $20 price tag. I definitely recommend it for people that prefer the arcade-style of racers like Daytona USA or Wipeout.


Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/05/05

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