Wednesday, 27 July 2011

F-Zero Series - Part 6

F-Zero GX (2003)
By: Amusement Vision / Nintendo Genre: Racing Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo GameCube
Also Available For: Arcade

It's hard to say for sure what the most popular F-Zero game is, but for a good few, including me, it's F-Zero X. It truly was, and still is, an absolutely phenomenal racing game, and a rare recipient of a 10/10 score here at this very blog. If there's possibly one thing about it that could be improved though, most would agree that it's the graphics. Super-fast they may be, but they are also largely devoid of detail, especially the backgrounds. It seems Nintendo listened to this slight criticism of their otherwise flawless game, for when the series returned to their main console (accompanied by an arcade counterpart) after a brief GameBoy-related diversion, it was in this area of the game that they sought to impress, and they enlisted some help.

That help came from their one-time enemy, Sega. More specifically, their sub-division, Amusement Vision, formerly AM4. With this in mind, and considering that Nintendo's main console was now the GameCube, it was a mouth-watering prospect. Armed with the power of this flashy new console, the combination of Nintendo and Sega's collective genius couldn't possibly let us down, surely? That was my sincere hope and belief and the screenshots looks extremely promising when they started to emerge. Then I saw the first review, in the generally very trustworthy 'GamesTM' magazine, and it was a very good one. My excitement level rose. I immediately bought it the minute it came out. The anticipation of its release was actually the main reason I bought a GameCube to begin with. It would be worth it though, surely?

Aside from the predicted aesthetic enhancements, everything appears to be just as expected. The number of options on the menu screen is fairly exhaustive with play-modes including the usual Grand Prix, multi-player Battle (for up to four players again), Time Attack, and this time there's also a Story mode which sees you assume the role of Captain Falcon for a few 'missions'. It's also possible to view replays here, customise your machines, adjust in-game settings, and look at pilot profiles, and there is once again a handy practise mode with adjustable race and opponent settings. Unless you have any friends handy, however, it's likely that the grand prix mode will again dominate your time here.

The Grand Prix mode is divided into several 'Cups' as always. Instead of the usual playing cards, however, it is instead gemstones that give them their names - Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, and Diamond (and another secret unlockable one too!). Most of the details are the same as F-Zero X - there's thirty competitors (including your chosen racer) who race three laps each of five circuits, gaining points (or not) based on their finishing positions. Each Cup can be raced over three difficulty levels - novice, standard, and expert - with the super-hard 'master' level also becoming available when the previous ones have been beaten. All the characters and their respective 'machines' return from the previous game too. This time there are only five (including the four from the SNES original) that can be selected from the start with the rest being unlocked as you progress through the game. Okay, so far so good.

The courses themselves are a great mixture here too. If anything they're even crazier than those found in F-Zero X. Most of them once again look like space-age roller-coasters with huge loops, banked turns, split tracks, corkscrews, tunnels, massive jumps, right-hand turns, half-pipes, track through the inside as well as over the outside of pipes, and parts at all sorts of gravity-defying angles. They're not generally as 'themed' as those found in the other games with most of them simply looking as though they've been constructed in and around futuristic cities. Many parts of the track surfaces are transparent which can be quite disorientating when they're high up in the clouds! There's also all sorts of neon lights and giant advertisements and that kind of thing around the city-based courses. Some others are located in more distinctive locations, however.

Sand Ocean is once again a set over a desert (including giant sand worms!) and there's some bits of greenery here and there on some courses. The Big Blue course even goes through underwater tunnels! You won't get to spend too much time ogling this new-found eye-candy though as the racing action is just as fast as before. The courses include lots of 'dash plates' and your machine can still produce its own boost power too (with the amount depending on the machine chosen) which reduces your energy, so it must be used carefully. There are some fairly sizeable recharge zones although they sometimes lie on one part of a split track, and a few other features like gravelly slow-down patches and energy-sapping mines. Some of the larger jumps even include several parts of track you can land on. The better your jump, the better the part of track you can land on.

I know what you may or may not be thinking - it all sounds great so far but what new stuff is there? The biggest additions are the custom machines. Here, it's possible to build your own machine using a variety of parts available in the 'garage'. New parts are unlocked by gaining tickets which are earned from time spent playing the game. The better you do, the more tickets you receive in one go. You can even decorate the outside of your machine with the Emblem Editor. Another big addition is the Story mode which sees you, as Captain Falcon, attempting to achieve set objectives such as collecting a set number of capsules, beat an opponent on an obstacle-strewn course, escape from an exploding power-plant, etc.

There's a few other new but perhaps less immediately obvious touches, of course. For example, upon successful completion of a Cup competition, you can interview... ummm... yourself, using Mr. Zero, the F-Zero Reporter, which gives a bit more character to some of the racers and there are now CGI intros, endings, and cut-scenes which flesh-out the characters, the competition, and background to the game universe in general. As expected, it's this kind of thing which sees the most noticeable improvement over F-Zero X. The presentation here really is of the highest order. The title screen and attract mode are the same thing and it's been really well done. All of the menus and options screens and what have you are simple and well-designed.

In-game, the graphics are nothing short of jaw-dropping. The biggest failing of F-Zero X was the rather uninspiring backgrounds but here they are packed with a huge amount of detail. There's far too much for me to relay here but at times there's almost too much to see - I've certainly been distracted a few times and crashed as a result! The underrated power of the GameCube flings all the courses around at lighting speeds too. The sense of speed is incredible at times, and it is maintained without exception while the whole time showing superb details in everything from the machines themselves (complete with transparent cockpits through which you can see the pilots) right down to the different types of track surface which ranges from traditional-looking tarmac to various types of metal grating to transparent materials.

As well as melting your eyes with its super-fast, neon graphics, F-Zero GX is also adept at pounding your eardrums unlike any other game. Although the fantastic soundtrack of its predecessor hardly necessitated change, the music here has undergone the same evolutionary process as the graphics. Gone are the pounding metal guitars and drums to be replaced by... well, a mixture of styles really, but the predominant one is techno/trance. It suits the game pretty well in truth and the old style metal tunes make the odd appearance (my favourite racer, Bio Rex, has one for his theme, for instance). The crazy course designs started by F-Zero X are even more extravagant here but that's not necessarily a good thing. For example, the angle of the track sometimes changes so abruptly that you can't even see where to go! Trial and error fixes this problem of course, but it's hardly the mark of a well-designed game.

The machines are much less grippy around the tracks too, slipping and sliding around all over the place, which means this game loses one of my favourite things about its prequel, namely the extremely precise control you have over your machine. Of course, with a great deal more effort you may be able to exert a greater level of control here but it's so fiddly and you'd lose so much time messing around with it that you wouldn't win many races. Given the large variety of machines, it's likely you'll find one or two that suit your racing style, but the excitement of flying round a long corner at 1000kph knowing that you're right on the edge, pushing your machine to the limit, and that if you push any harder the grip could give way any second and see you careering into the barriers, is sadly gone.

My biggest problem with the game, though, is the dilution of the actual racing. That was my absolute favourite thing about the amazing F-Zero X. It wasn't just a pulse-racing, adrenaline-rush of an experience. It was also the purest, most finely tuned actual racing game I've ever played. The controls were perfect, the courses were each masterpieces of design, and racing against twenty-nine other racers through them all was a massively immersive experience. You could see the track ahead of you, the neat graphics allowed you to identify each racer from far away, you could weave in and out of them as you made you way through the field, or you could smash into a racer you dislike. The sense of competition it conveyed was amazing. With F-Zero GX, much of that is gone and has been replaced with a flashy, super-fast arcade-style racing game much like so many others if you can look past its exterior.

F-Zero X rewarded skillful racing. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that F-Zero GX does not. Here, you can do pretty much whatever you feel like within reason for the first two laps, conserving your energy, then just boost all the way around the last lap and you'll win! Again, this is hardly befitting the sequel to such an amazing racing game. Looking at screenshots, and especially watching videos of the game, I have to admit - it looks amazing. Almost anyone would want to play it from watching just a quick demo and a vast majority would greatly enjoy doing so, particularly if they're not hopelessly devoted to F-Zero X as I am. Lord knows, this game has certainly got its fans, quite a few of them in fact. Some people think it's the best racing game ever, but I'm confident these people are either graphics tarts, or simply haven't played F-Zero X which is such a superior racing game.

There's no doubt that this really is a thrilling game with all sorts of tricks and flashy course features and special effects and is great fun for the odd blast around one of the crazy, gravity-defying tracks, but despite all the play-modes it doesn't have the depth or sheer competitiveness of its predecessor. It's still a good game, and better than most other racing games available, but it has lost the vital spark which made F-Zero X so amazing. With such a great game to build on, and with the possibilities the power of the GameCube offered, it's unfortunately a real disappointment - improved in every way except where it counted most. When I first loaded the game, seeing the Nintendo and Sega logos on the screen together was fantastic - I'd hoped for this for a long time! Sadly, inexplicably, they let me down.

RKS Score: 7/10


  1. Great review, RKS! Very analytical.

  2. Thanks Marc, good to see you again! :) When I started this I thought it would be a pretty short review and now look at it! Haha, oops! :P

  3. Yes, a good review. I love the N64 version as well and was thinking about getting this GC version sometime (when I get a gamecube, that is). Not so sure now after reading this! The screen shots you put up do look pretty good though:)

  4. Thanks Sean :) GX is a damn entertaining game so you should still give it a try. As long as you don't go in with the immense expectation I did, you'll probably love it! It seems to be pretty much unanimously worshipped by most gamers so perhaps I'm just being too picky! :P