|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Anyone who wishes he could fly should experience the white-knuckled adrenaline of F-Zero GX.
Nintendo's latest racing game, developed by Sega for the GameCube, is the third in a series of futuristic, non-combative racing games in which thirty hovering cars race along roads set high in a planet's atmosphere. The Nintendo 64 iteration of F-Zero was heralded for its speed, and berated for its lack of graphical detail. The GameCube edition incorporates both features across its 20-plus courses and myriad racing modes. The tracks twist, turn, and intersect in ingenious and impossible ways, dangerously defying gravity. Players will encounter loops, tubes, pipes and half-pipes, and Mobius strips. Since the courses turn on their own, sharp changes in velocity are rarely required, instead calling for regular, minute course corrections.
No matter how great or critical the steering, the speed is constant, reaching a simulated 2,000 KMH. The competition races along often more quickly than the player, calling for drastic measures. Once players realize what an effective and seductive art knocking one's opponents off the course is, it becomes difficult to refrain from doing so, even to one's own detriment. In later levels that lack protective boundaries, it's easy to lose control and send oneself flying into oblivion. It's these sections of track that most threaten the player.
If the main four cups of five tracks each are too competitive or mundane, F-Zero offers other modes, including practice and time attack. The multiplayer mode allows up to four players to compete on a single course, though the absence of dozens computer opponents and the unavailability of full circuits diminishes this experience.
A lone racer can also try the game's story mode. Here, the famous pilot Captain Falcon is set on custom levels with unique goals, such as collecting items or avoiding falling boulders. These objectives are unbelievably difficult, and failure to meet one effectively stalls all progress in this mode. A branching path of optional quests would have been more enjoyable.
New to this installment is the ability to create and decorate a custom vehicle, assembled from parts purchased with points earned in the main circuit. With 30 preassembled vehicles to purchase and pilot, there isn't too much need for manufacturing a unique craft, but it is a neat bonus.
As mentioned, the graphics have been improved since F-Zero's last outing. A variety of distracting backgrounds whiz past the player, offering a sense of perspective as the tracks turn upside-down and back again. Each car has a unique appearance, and racing up to and past their multicolored exhausts is akin to flying through a field of sparklers. The accompanying music is appropriately fast-paced, often timed to the race and varying somewhat during the third and final lap.
F-Zero GX offers a variety of improbable courses and selectable difficulties, with additional modes that are unlikely to distract the sole gamer. The variety exists more in the environment than in actual player initiative, though there is more than one way to lead the pack. There is enough strategy for players looking to shave precious seconds off their times, while others will be content to hang on and enjoy the ride of incomparable speed.
This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Tech News, 16-Sep-03