BY NINTENDO & AMUSEMENT VISION, 2003
25 WORDS OR LESS:
F-Zero’s back in 3D and in the hands of Sega, with new courses and machine customization.
You and the Cap’n can make it happen
Breathe a sigh, kids, the next sequelriffic Nintendo game is now upon us! Except it’s not really made by Nintendo this time. Through the big N’s creation of the Triforce arcade system and partnership with Namco and Sega, we now have F-Zero GX, developed by Sega’s own Amusement Vision. AV already knows the Cube thanks to Monkey Ball, but more importantly the team includes members responsible for the original Daytona USA. So thankfully, the game feels 100% F-Zero with a lemony Sega zest, and will no doubt keep them on Nintendo’s good side for quite a while.
True to the series, GX relies on two main gameplay principles: speed and pissing you off. And both are doled out regularly with no apologies. There’s a reason they finally went with an arcade version, after all. But if you’re an F-Zero veteran, you know what to expect and will be pleased that Amusement Vision has kept the toughness intact. To be stuck on a huge track with no walls and rivals that want nothing but to get ahead of you is both a beautiful and ugly thing. And the speed is there too: rocketing down tracks in the cockpit view (something the N64 game desperately needed) and then hitting a boost or five is an experience that we bet won’t be matched for quite a while.
In the past, the futuristic mile-high racing worlds of F-Zero were rendered with flat, repetitive graphics. But now, thanks to technology and AV’s own creative touch, it’s all much more believable. Sprawling cities glow with lights, fireballs dance around huge furnaces and giant R.O.B.s act as port equipment. It’s a cinematic level of detail that keeps you in the world and doesn’t let go.
Perhaps in order to extend its audience, GX allows you to create your own racing craft with a variety of parts and customize it with colors and emblems that can you can place on your machine. Naturally, you can do just fine by playing with one of the racers already provided, but hey, it’s fun to show off. Creating your own emblems is done via an in-game paint program, not unlike Animal Crossing, except that you have more than 32×32 pixels to work in. The game provides its own emblems if you don’t have the time or the artistry, letting you choose from simple numbers to crazy patterns to Mario mushrooms.
Buying parts, as well as new characters and story chapters (see below) will require you to earn cash, and luckily you can do so in basically every mode by winning races and cups. Parts can change your machine’s performance through the standard A-through-E rankings but can also affect things on a larger scale, encouraging you to keep a fine balance between cornering, max speed, momentum and so on to stay ahead of the pack. And yes, if you want to race as Mr. EAD or James McCloud or any of the other characters, you’ll have to buy your way through lineup. But thankfully most of them are inexpensive and overall it’s easier to deal with than having to unlock them through some outlandish means.
Beyond the usual grand prix, time trial and practice modes, you can do even more racing in Story mode, which follows the exploits of the golden-nippled Captain Falcon as he tries to take the F-Zero championship crown once more. Bumpered with wonderfully animated but horribly voiced FMVs, the mode moves along in chapters that each present a mission for Falcon to accomplish. From simply completing a trial course to having to beat a small group of super-agressive assholes, you’ll get tested just as well as you would in the grand prix. Complete one chapter and the next opens up, but you’ll have to buy it in the shop first, and they get more expensive as time goes on, so you’ll have to do some serious racing to see what crazy crap happens to Falcon next. Admittedly, it gets to be more fun to just tackle Grand Prix, so it’s probably best to finish up the rest of the game beforehand.
The music in GX is all right, but doesn’t really live up to the F-Zero name. There’s a couple remixes of classic tunes, but it’s mostly standard electronic beats. However, there are some shining moments of mirth when you open up the Pilot Profiles to find out more about your favorite racer and discover their accompanying theme song, some of them with vocals! Yes, in order to drive home the point that this is a Sega game, a handful of the pilots’ themes are replete with lyrics. They sound well-produced, but the absurdity of it all is like being kicked in the chin, except you’re high so you’re laughing it off. Those looking for the "next best thing" musically after Sonic Adventure 2 would be crazy not to give this a listen and enjoy its insanity on the same level we do.
Now, would you believe that GX is only half a game? Well, sort of; with F-Zero AX (the arcade version) about to drop, you’ll be able to take your custom machies to the arcade via the memory card slot on the AX cabinet. By winning races and earning points, you can unlock the exclusive AX tracks, parts and pilots in GX. But it will probably be hard for most folks to find an arcade, much less the game, so you’re free to unlock all of the AX goodies at home, provided that you are the reincarnation of some holy deity and can actually meet the unlocking requirements (beating all of story mode on Very Hard, for example). So for some it might be better just to take a road trip to the nearest Gameworks.
GX is twisty, turny, speedy, and uh, anger-y, but those are only small parts of what makes it the best F-Zero yet. Unlocking everything will take you forever and a day, the story mode is fresh and making your own machine is just plain fun. The biggest issue you could have is that it’s basically a super version of F-Zero X and if you didn’t like that one, GX probably won’t change your mind (but at least it doesn’t look like it’s made of Lego). To conclude with a bonus tip: we don’t suggest playing with a Wavebird unless you want to see how far it reaches. Wink wink. —Ray Barnholt
F-Zero AX/GX official site