F-Zero GP Legend(2003) By:Suzak / NintendoGenre:Racing Players:1-4Difficulty:Medium Featured Version:Game Boy Advance Also Available For:Nothing
Everyone knows the F-Zero series rules more than any other racing game series in the history of the universe so it's slightly odd that Nintendo hasn't thought to expand the franchise to other potentially profitable areas. Until now, that is! Indeed, unknown to me (because it didn't make it to the UK, as usual) there was an F-Zero anime series produced in 2003 known as GP Legend which centres around good old Captain Falcon, Dr Stewart, and a new 'good' character called Rick Wheeler (or Ryu Suzaku, depending on where you live) and their battles against Zoda, Black Shadow, and the other 'bad' characters. It was a good idea which, at the very least, adds more to characters from an already character-heavy series and, in a move that would make Capcom proud, it wasn't long before there was a game of the series of the game too!
As you might expect considering the inspiration behind this entry in the series, one of the play modes included here is a Story Mode. Experienced F-Zero players will recall, however, that this isn't the first time such a mode has graced the series. Much like the Story Mode found in F-Zero X, this one consists of a series of racing-based missions with set objectives which usually involve beating a particular opponent on a particular course, and they are punctuated by some nice anime-style cut-scenes to progress the story. To start with, only the new main character, Rick Wheeler, can be used here but it's possible to unlock more characters up to a total of eight, including a few more new ones, and they all have their own set of missions. And yes, you can play as the bad guys too!
As well as this splendid mode, GP Legend also features the usual Grand Prix events (arcade mode), this time named the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Cups, each of which consists of five races, and the Platinum Cup which consists of eight races and is unlocked upon successful completion of the others. Each cup comes with various difficulty options as usual, too. There's also a Link-Up multi-player mode for up to four players available from the off, and Time Attack and Training modes can be quickly unlocked. Curiously, there is also an all-new mode called Zero Test. This consists of forty-eight simple missions divided into four classes which are meant to hone your racing skills. It's a bit like the license tests in Gran Turismo - they involve completing a given section of track within a strict time-limit which is ultimately meant to improve your corning techniques and things like that and there are gold, silver, and bronze awards for how well you do.
The Story and Zero Test modes are welcome new additions but other than that it's business as usual here. The style of the game, aside from the anime influence, is a curious mixture of previous games. For example, the courses are presented in the same graphical style as the original SNES game (and Maximum Velocity) but the game also includes all thirty racers from F-Zero X (as well as a few new ones) and an attempt has been made to present their machines in the same way as the N64 game, from their supposed polygonal appearance right down to the ability to toggle their acceleration and top speed ratio before each race. Use of the booster is taken from both games too - you only get one boost per lap but it reduces your energy levels too. The resulting amalgamation is mostly very good but it's not a game without faults either.
The presentation is of the usual high standard - all the menus, machine profiles, and anime cut-scenes are really nicely done, and the fact that the in-game visual style is mostly based on the original game means experienced players will know exactly what to expect there - the courses are all flat and the backgrounds colourful but the amount of detail is somewhat lacking too. Having said that, there are a few attempts to imitate the GX visual style (grated race surface, busy cities at trackside, etc) whilst remaining flat but overall the visuals do their job well enough. The sense of speed isn't great while going in a straight line though, often resulting in sharp corners seeming to appear from nowhere, and the smaller screen size means the many unique machines are less easy to distinguish during races unless they're close up and this probably won't be too often as the poor little GBA is apparently unable to display more than four simultaneously.
Indeed, this means that despite the fact there are thirty contestants in each race, unlike F-Zero X, and even GX, the other racers are not flitting about all over the track and jostling for position in front of you as you can only see the three machines immediately ahead. If you start well and race well you may not see anyone else for the entire race! It's not always as simple as that though, obviously. Many of the course locations from the first game return such as Mute City, Big Blue, Sand Ocean, Red Canyon, Silence, White Land, etc, and a few courses are even based on previous ones, albeit rather customised. There's a few new locations too such as 'Mist Flow' (courses are shrouded in mist, reducing visibility), 'Lightning' (GX-style courses with grated floors), and 'Illusion' (where the tracks have no sides). There are several variations of most courses and they can get rather complex as usual!
One thing I definitely noticed about this game more than the other entries in the series was the number of jumps! There's blinkin' loads of them here, on most courses in fact. Not only that but they're often rather long as well meaning you have to get a good run up - bump the side of the track or another racer just before reaching one and you're doomed! Some jumps have more than one possible landing point too meaning there are a few short-cuts (which the computer-controlled machines always use, of course). Other features include forks (one route might have an energy field, the other might have dash plates, for example), and roundabouts, as well as all the usual stuff (super-hairpins, right-angle turns, slow-down patches, slidy stuff, dash plates, magnets, etc). The sheer number of jumps is surprising though - I'd like to think I'm a pretty good F-Zero player and while playing it for this review I won around 75% of my races. The only ones I didn't win is because I was caught out by a ramp and crashed!
For the most part, GP Legend is about what I was expecting. The graphics offer little new to the series and will be very familiar to fans, the sound effects are again almost all taken from the original game, there's the usual arranged versions of the various music tracks, and the courses are filled with familiar sights and features. The new stuff works well and is welcome though, and it doesn't take too long to unlock the other play modes. Zero Test should keep you going for a good while and there's also plenty of other things to unlock of course, primarily the other characters machines. There are only five available at the start but up to thirty-four are ultimately available to choose between, although the difference from one to another is far less pronounced here.
The first time I played GP Legend I thought it was a stupidly easy game but it does get a lot tougher. Most of the courses are well designed and feature some fairly complicated (and even confusing, on occasion) layouts, but generally they offer a good challenge. Some sections on later courses can reduce your power reserves from full to empty within five seconds (like the dense minefields) and the irritating pinball effect is alive and well again, and there are some rather aggressive opponents too. On the plus side, there's more recharge zones to compensate for the increase in hazards and the tricky method of banking introduced in Maximum Velocity is gone too. Anyone who's played a videogame before should still avoid the easiest difficulty setting though, or playing may end up being a rather lonely experience, especially if you're ultra-skilled like me! Overall, It's not the fairest game in the series and doesn't have the most finely-balanced difficulty in the world either but GP Legend is a great game, classic F-Zero really, and a more than worthy entry in the series.