In the Autumn of 2003, Nintendo fans had a problem. The two most eagerly awaited Nintendo racers were about to burst onto the Gamecube, within a month of each other. F-Zero GX landed in late October, with Mario Kart Double Dash coming in a close second during the first portion of November. For the most part, the Nintendo nation was divided, as not everyone can afford to duke out 80 quid for both of them. So do you go for the crazy antics of Double Dash or the pure speed of F-Zero? Do you want a dinosaur (Yoshi) and a giant ghost with a crown (King Boo) driving your car or the stern, super hero-like Captain Falcon? Thankfully, whichever racer you buy you can’t lose, as each smacks of gaming quality. For those of you who are undecided, strap yourselves in and lets take a gander at the sheer speed stunner that is F-Zero GX…
The F-Zero Grand Prix is one that every racer in the F-Zero world wants to win. Challengers from across the galaxy compete over multiple tracks and against 30 other racers in order to claim the belt as their own. The current champion is none other than that tight leather-sporting stud, Captain Falcon. But life at the top ain’t easy, as you’ll soon learn by entering into the Story Mode. Here you will progress through a series of extremely challenging levels, earning points to spend in the shop on body parts, new racers and the following chapters in our hero’s story. The story sees our Captain strive to get through the challenges before the Grand Prix. Basically, every other racer wants his ass on a platter and the overlord of evil, Black Shadow, is doing his best to prevent Falcon from competing in the race. Unfortunately, the story mode is a bit of a let down, as the story itself is very disjointed – one minute you’re saving another racer from an exploding power plant while the next minute you’re racing for an old man who’s gambled all his cash on you. Right. However, the levels are extremely tough, and the well crafted cut-scenes that follow each one means the story mode will have you hooked. It’s a great way to earn points to spend in the shop, unlock new body parts, and the only way to make the secret racer available for purchase.
Nearly every racer is available to purchase from the beginning, so you can buy whoever you choose providing you have the cash to back it up, which can be earned via the Grand Prix, Story, and Time Attack modes. The Grand Prix is the mode you will spend most time on, racing through 20 courses on the various difficulty settings. “Difficulty” however, is an understatement. F-Zero GX is extremely tough, at times bordering on unfair. Picture this: you’ve been racing perfectly around an extremely intricate circuit to have some idiot zoom past and blow you to smithereens. You’ll be racing on a track with minimal barriers and one lapse of concentration will send you falling into oblivion. Problems maybe similar to all racing games, but with F-Zero GX it is intensified and there is a huge demand for perfection in many areas of the game in order to succeed. There are 20 Grand Prix tracks, each of which are excellently designed and provide an incredible environment to be bolting around at 1000mph. Classics like Big Blue and Mute city are here in all their Gamecube glory, as well as many others including the immense Aeropolis tracks.
With such a fast game, the dedication to detail in the environment around you is incredible. Probably one of the most memorable moments within F-Zero GX is powering your way through the Sand Ocean tracks while giant fish are chasing smaller prey in the sky ahead, only to become prey themselves when a huge leviathan erupts from the sand and catches them in its jaws. On your ship you can see dents and areas where paint has been ripped off, while meteors and lightning make each race seem truly epic. The atmosphere is like none other I have experienced in a racing game. Controls for the game are similar to that of any racer, hold A to accelerate, B to brake and the D-pad will help direct you around the track. Pressing Y results in a speed boost, which are essential in finishing high up the Grand Prix rankings. Racing games seem to be getting more tactical, and after a while you will adapt to each course knowing exactly the best places to boost in order to cross the line first, as long as 10 other racers don’t pass you within the last few seconds! The music is nothing special, just standard beats and tunes as you race.
This is of little importance however, as you will barely notice it at all while engulfed in the gameplay. There are many F-Zero racers to choose from, each with their own personalised car and story. Some racers are in it for the money, others are trying to help their home planet which may be ravaged by war, while the hatred of another racer is a good enough reason to compete for some. Upon completing a Grand Prix, you have a chance to learn more about your character by asking him a question via an interviewer for F-Zero TV. Some of the responses are simply laughable, but it does act as a welcome reminder of Nintendo’s humour. Not content with any of the vehicles available? No problem – by unlocking body parts available in the main game modes, you build your very own racer. Customisation options within games have the ability to be slightly lacking, but this is not the case for F-Zero GX - here you can colour your racer however you like, adding pre-made emblems or even designing and applying your own. Brilliant. It’s just a shame you cannot name your racer; it does this for you according to which body parts you have used.
Multiplayer allows up to 4 racers to compete against each other – even with their own vehicles if they wish. However, it would have been nice if you had the option of allowing all other computer-controlled vehicles to race at the same time as it’s hard to really experience the game’s breathtaking capabilities with only two cars racing at a time. But unlike Mario Kart Double Dash where there is a different winner every race, multiplayer F-Zero shows who is the better racer as those who win do so because of skill, and not because their opponent slipped over a banana skin on the last corner.
F-Zero is the most solid, reliable racer on the Gamecube. The racing mechanics are excellent, with an excellent balance between acceleration and control. The story mode lacks depth, but the sheer difficulty of it along with the Grand Prix modes mean you may be ripping out your hair, but you’ll definitely get value for money. And that’s just it – F-Zero GX can usually be purchased for budget price as it is a ‘Player’s Choice’ game. So which of these Nintendo racers do you buy? Thanks to the price reduction on F-Zero GX, it is feasible to bag both. Problem solved.
Review by Matthew Long © 2005 (firstname.lastname@example.org)