F-Zero GX (GameCube) review
"As with the attacks, knowing when and how to perform each of these turns is vital during a race, since, depending how it turns out (pun sadly intended), a turn can lose or gain crucial seconds during a lap—consider, of course, that the difference between first and second is often a mere tenth of a second."
When Nintendo originally released F-Zero for the Super NES, they had inexpicably—or perhaps, fully intentionally—pioneered an entirely new genre in futuristic racing. While the original title pales in comparison to today’s newer adrenaline rides, its innovation, though essentially an ostentatious showcase of the Mode-7-style scrolling techniques, is both indisputable and legendary. Today’s titles, such as the popular Extreme-G and Wipeout, are faster, more action-packed, and arguably much more fun than their ancestor, and its direct descendant for the GameCube, F-Zero GX, is a brilliant example of this inevitable superlativity—GX is, among other things, simply a wonderful racing game to play, period.
The background story is standard for a racing title: set four years after a “horrible accident” involving the F-Zero Grand Prix—an annual, intragalactic racing circuit involving the fastest, most talented racers of varying species and motives—F-Zero GX is essentially the sequel to the N64’s popular F-Zero X. Pilots compete in gravity-defying hovercrafts at over 1,000 km/h through obstacle-laden courses high above the surface of their respective planets, each with the ultimate goal: emerge victorious.
With victory comes consequence, however, and to get there pilots must be ruthless as well as fast. By using the X and Z buttons, players can perform either a side- or spin-attack, respectively, and knowing when and how to use these attacks, which can potentially knock a pilot out of the race altogether, is imperative in mastering the game.
The rest of the controls are relatively simple: A accelerates, B activates the machine’s brakes (though any player who finds the brakes necessary at any point during the experience may qualify as legally insane), and the control stick pilots the craft. The L and R triggers are used to turn, with a single press of either button allowing a sharp turn in its respective direction. Both together, however, allows the machine to perform a “drift” turn instead, which, though basically the same principle as a standard turn, can potentially result in a sharper pivot—hairpin turns, for instance, almost require a drift turn to navigate without hitting the guard rail. A drift turn also maintains acceleration throughout, while a standard, “slide” turn temporarily cuts off acceleration in order to cut a corner.
As with the attacks, knowing when and how to perform each of these turns is vital during a race, since, depending how it turns out (pun sadly intended), a turn can lose or gain crucial seconds during a lap—consider, of course, that the difference between first and second is often a mere tenth of a second.
The game itself offers several features, none of which feel either gratuitous or poorly designed, save perhaps the Story mode, which, although fun, is at times almost unfairly challenging, particularly in the Very Hard difficulties.
The Story mode follows Captain Falcon in events leading up to and following the Grand Prix, and while all of the chapters are entertaining and well designed, some are simply either too hard or too cheesy—one mission, for instance, involves a speed-sensitive bomb attached to the Blue Falcon’s hull, and if the machine hits anywhere under 700 km/h, it will detonate.
The voice acting throughout the game, including the Story, is pathetically poor, a Sega trademark, though the occasional FMV is nicely rendered. There are points where the animation looks a little sloppy, particularly when a character is running, but altogether, it’s a nice treat.
GX’s main feature, though, is the Grand Prix, which involves several Cups in ascending difficulty that contain five track each, also in ascending difficulty. Most of the tracks are extremely fun, each offering its own unique layout and design, though some, although fun to play, are relatively weak, depending on the player’s preference. The game offers four difficulties—Novice, Standard, Expert, and the unlockable Master difficulty—though the only major difference in each is how fast and aggressive the other racers are; the tracks remain exactly the same no matter the difficulty.
Points are awarded for your position at the end of race, and the winner of the Cup is the machine with the most points at the end of the fifth track. Because of the point system, strategy comes into play for most of the Cups, as four first-place finishes essentially clinches an entire Cup, allowing the player to relax on at least one of the tracks without worrying about their position.
F-Zero GX is, it must be noted, an absolutely gorgeous title. Each vehicle is unique and stylish, and the various pilots are similarly interesting. Even with thirty racers on-screen at once, and things moving at mind-bending speeds, the framerate remains constant throughout the action, which compliments the exhilirating backgrounds that pepper the equally breathtaking tracks. One course, for instance, takes place on a multicolored, translucent road against a psychadelic background, and it really showcases the GameCube’s power.
Even the sound is polished, as well. Each locale offers its own unique music, which is mostly a conglomerate of guitar riffs and synthesized melodies, and the sound effects are, for the most part, acceptable. Familiar music, such as Big Blue and Mute City, make triumphant returns, and fans of the previous games’ soundtrack will likely not be disappointed.
The game also encompasses a Garage mode, where a player can customize his or her own original machine and then use it in the Grand Prix or any other race. The various custom parts, unlockable through completing Grand Prix races (along with new racers, tracks, staff ghosts, and just about everything under a billion suns), can be combined in virtually endless combinations to create a vehicle that caters to any specific player, and the machine can be further customized with decals, colors, and even a selectable pilot.
On the surface, F-Zero GX is simply another high-adrenaline rush through futuristic locales. At its core, however, GX is more than that—it is an entirely new step in the direction of perfection, empassing a wonderful, virtually flawless racing engine, more unlockable features than you can shake a throttle at, wonderful presentation, and even cross-compatiblity with the arcades’ F-Zero AX via the GC memory card. With Nintendo and Sega combining their efforts to create such fantastic titles, it’s no mystery why the two companies remain the top two creative companies in the industry.
God bless Japan.
Staff review by Zack M (October 04, 2003)
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