Review by Mariner

Reviewed: 10/15/02 | Updated: 10/15/02

‘There are two kinds of drivers.... Me, and the losers!’ - Captain Falcon

Ain’t he the coolest guy ever? You just can’t go wrong with an arrogant bounty-hunter /hovercraft racer, can you? Especially not someone as flashy as this guy. Of course, you really don’t get to see him in the game. Which is probably a good thing, as he looks even goofier than in yonder N64 version. But hey, it’s the launch of a new series, so you can’t expect the artwork to be refined. Which sort of applies to the game too. It’s fun, it really is, but you can tell it was an SNES launch game. It’s just missing a little polish.

But Nintendo needed a game to show off their nifty sprite scaling techniques, and this is what we got. It’s the future, and lots of people are too filthy stinkin’ rich. So they built huge tracks above cities. Then they had slightly insane (hey, he runs around with a gold falcon on his head. That’s not normal) racers drive their ultra fast hovercrafts for your enjoyment. But since normal racing is boring, they through in all sorts of evil obstacles, from mines to magnets to ramps to speed boosts. And now you’re the one who gets to race it.

You get four cars to choose from, each of which are significantly different from the next. The Blue Falcon, for instance, has a decent top speed and strong acceleration, but doesn’t handle too well and has a weak body. There are 5 laps around the track, you’re allowed a speed boost after each lap, and you must place at or above a certain level each lap (15th place for the first, than 10th, than 7th, than 5th, and finally finishing up at 3rd or better). There are five tracks per cup, three cups in the game, and three level of difficulties (with a fourth being unlockable). Moreover, you’ve got your structural integrity to worry about. Too many bumps by other cars or against the magnetic barriers and you start to lose power, decreasing your speed. A few more hits, and you go boom. You only get three tries, but you get extra lives for point bonuses. Fly fast, stay sharp, and go for the gold.

So what did I mean when I said it was not refined? Well, let’s start with the graphics. The game just looks pixelated. Everything looks like tiny rectangles moving along in a distracting, downright annoying way. This problem is mostly in the backgrounds, some worse than others (Mute City and Silence look disgusting). The cars themselves are decent enough, despite the obvious pop-up, but the magnetic barriers on the side also blur together in a way more or less exactly unpleasing to the eye. Even little touches like seeing the shadows of the drivers lean when you turn can’t blind me to the blinding backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not enough to seriously harm the gameplay, but it is ugly.

And then there’s the options, or lack thereof. Yes, there are four cars to choose from. But the Fire Stingray, with it’s insane top speed and strong grip, is obviously the best choice for anyone but beginners. It’s practically impossible to beat the Master difficulty with the Golden Fox, and not much easier with the other two. Or perhaps I could complain about the lack of multiplayer. Doesn’t hurt what’s already there, but when it’s main competition is the multiplayer-friendly Mario Kart.... But there is a time trial mode. Except it’s only available for 7 of the 15 tracks. No excuse covers that; that’s just stupid. Finally, as long as you place third or above, your placement doesn’t matter. You get the same reward for coming in 3rd place every match to coming in first, which I find to be a bit cheap.

Or how about the difficulty? The difference between the different levels of difficulty are just fine. It’s not as spread out as the perfect difficulty levels of F-Zero X, but Expert is still for experts and Beginner is still for beginners. But I have to wonder how they chose to put the tracks the way they did. See, the knight class is supposed to have the easiest tracks, queen medium, and king the hardest. Yet my picks for the three easiest tracks in the game - Mute City II and Red Canyon I&II - are in the Queen and King classes. It’s forgivable, but bizarre nonetheless. My main gripe, though, is Firefield. This is the most devilishly impossible race track I have ever seen in any game. Chances are you’ll die unless you take it so slow that you can’t possibly win. This one takes a lot of practice and a lot of finesse even on the intermediate level. I have no problems with including a very difficult track, but I do have a problem if it’s a requirement for beating a full 1/3 of the game.

So far, I’ve covered pretty much everything but the core gameplay. And despite all its problems so far, I love this game. The actual game is quite fun, even if there are other problems present. One of the big plusses is that the futuristic nature of the game is not merely a gimmick; it defines how the game is played. First of all, this game is darn fast. Not as fast as the N64 version, but who cares? Obstacles and errant cars fly past you at frantic speeds, and you must have quick reflexes to avoid them all. The hovercraft aspect works well, and worrying about your grip on the road seems to work even better than in normal racing games. The magnetic barriers on the sides of the track add even more to the game, as it is often better to ram into them at full speed than to graze them (as bizarre as that may sound) if you can’t avoid them. If you ram into something at too high a speed though, chances are you’ll become a giant pinball, ramming into all sorts of different things. It’s devastating, but cool anyways. As a futuristic racer on the SNES, it’s pretty darn amazing.

Yeah, it’s fun. I don’t know what keeps me coming back to play the same few tracks over and over. But it seems to work, sort of. By all rights this should be a game I would play for a while and forget, but I do come back to it occasionally. And while playing it, I realize that I shouldn’t be playing it - as I have gotten all of the enjoyment out of it that I possibly can - but I do anyways. It’s fun, but has no right to be. All of the faults I listed are very minor, but they do add up however. It shows off a distinct lack of polish quite uncharacteristic for Nintendo, stopping a good game from becoming a great one. I can't guarantee you will get as much play time out of the game as I did. On the other hand, I can't guarantee you'll notice all these faults, or care about them for that matter. All I can say is the game has potential, but whether or not it meets it is up to you. Perhaps the GBA version improved on this; I really don’t know. But for a 2D futuristic racing game, I guess I can’t complain too much.

Final Score - 7.2

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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