Full Review: Prepare ship?for ludicrous speed!
Despite having only three entries into the series in 12 years, the F-Zero franchise seems to be one of the biggest cult hits out of Nintendo. The sense of speed, track designs, and unrelenting challenge of the series has led to this, and with the current generation of consoles displaying power like never before, F-Zero fans were primed for what Nintendo had in mind. F-Zero GX is what Nintendo had in mind, and along with the help of Sega's Amusement Vision (Sega making a Nintendo game ? what kind of bizarro world are we living in?), they've created a racer beyond anyone's wildest dreams. All those trademarks? They're in there, and even better than imagined. Along with enough options to keep you playing for some time, F-Zero GX is a dazzling racer that will equally challenge and piss you off at the same time ? and in this case, it's definitely not a bad thing.
F-Zero GX is loaded up with different modes and customization, creating quite a deep game. The main part is obviously Grand Prix, with 3 different cups at the outset, unlocking a couple others after beating the first 3 cups on Standard difficulty. Beating everything on Master (quite a challenge) unlocks the AX Cup, letting you race the tracks from the F-Zero AX arcade game. You can win the cups with around 40 different racers, many of which are unlocked after buying them with tickets in the shop (which we'll discuss in a bit). Each are different in performance ? some boost better, others handle curves smoothly, while others are tank-tough and can take a lot of punishment. You can also test out the tracks in both time trial and practice modes, to better learn and master them ? you'll certainly need it. There is also a Story option as well ? you take control of the F-Zero mascot, Captain Falcon, and drag him through 10 different story chapters, achieving different goals, such as collecting capsules, destroying other opponents, even racing through a desert track with falling boulders. Of course, there's also up to 4 player racing for your friends, though it's not emphasized (and the lacking online play makes multiplayer mostly irrelevant).
What's neat about GX is the connectivity between it and AX, the arcade counterpart. Simply by buying the specific F-Zero playcard for F-Zero AX, you can upload stats and vehicles from either version to your GameCube memory card, and connect between the home and arcade version. It also can unlock the AX tracks a bit easier. Of course, this isn't really that much of a possibility for many, given that there's about 5 arcades left in the US. Perhaps this kind of connectivity will turn arcades around, but I doubt it.
Finally, there's an in-depth customization option that lets you buy chapters in Story mode, unlock new racers, let you buy parts to customize an existing vehicle, as well as create emblems to further customize your ride. The more cups you win, the more tickets you win, thus having the funds to unlock things. Me likely games that make you work to unlock stuff, instead of handing it to you on a silver platter!
Before we get too deep into the gameplay aspect, we'll just spell it out ? F-Zero GX is a hard, hard game. If you go in thinking it will be a cakewalk?you'll be in for a major ass-kicking. Even on the novice cups, the computer opponents are smart, tough, and calculating in their attempt to beat the races and win the events. This game requires a heavy mastery of the tracks as well as a vehicle, which is why I must say that plenty of practice/time trial laps will be necessary to get that zen-like flow going with the harder, more complicated track layouts. Of course, the story tracks are much different; the only way to practice is to race them over and over until you win ? and most are very tough with things other than finishing 1st getting involved to further stack the odds. This is not a game that you'll master in a few days; however it is a game that you will get better at each and every time you pop the disc into your Cube. It's that very statement that should at least help un-daunt the newbies afraid of the challenge ? even if you struggle to win some of the harder cups, the next time around, you'll get closer and closer until you can smoke the others off the track and breeze to victory. It all depends on how fast you adapt to the game, really. Once you do get all the intangibles of the game down, it becomes a wildly fun racer that rewards dedicated players with some very nice goodies.
For a zippy arcade-style racer, F-Zero GX does require a lot of strategy aside from keeping on the track at all times. Effective management of boost and mastery of the hard corners and loops is essential to the harder cups, and without this, you'll struggle to move up the ranks. Like past F-Zero games, you gain boost after the first lap, and somewhere on the track a recharge station is waiting for you to power up your boost or energy if you've used some of it. It's wise to not use all your boost at once ? just enough to gain a few more seconds or put some distance between yourself and opponents. If you burn it all at once without thinking, you'll end up fighting to maintain a lead and you have to be extra cautious not to make a lot of contact with barriers or other vehicles or it's game over unless you hit the recharge strip beforehand. It's a delicate balance, and one that does get easier over time ? soon you'll be able to make a comeback win on the final stretch by boosting your ass off and sneak by with .1 seconds remaining. It's those thrills that keep you playing the game long after you first bring it home.
At its heart though, GX is still an arcade racer, and arcade racing rules do apply. The vehicles are smokin' fast, and the tracks whiz by so fast that it's hard to keep up ? blinking is not an option. As such, twitch skills and reaction times are heavy requirements, especially in tracks that have lots of turns and jumps that might lead to your death if you mismanage them. It might get frustrating at first to miss a jump or even beat the nasty half-pipe track, but practice will make perfect, and you'll laugh about it later. Either way, fast reaction times and an ability to memorize the track layout become requirements to advance through the cups ? though let it be known you don't have to finish each one in first to win the entire cup ? just get the most points. Nothing is better than coming up on the last race with a lead over 100 points (the maximum points rewarded for 1st place) ? all you have to do is place and you win the cup.
Getting a hang of the controls in GX all depends on the racer you choose. A balanced vehicle will have nice boost skills and a good gripping ability, but others will have awesome boosts, strong bodies, yet turn extremely erratically. The controls are very responsive (a major necessity for a fast game such as this), but all vary depending on the vehicle. Unlike some racers that claim vehicle differences yet deliver in miniscule amounts, the variety between them in F-Zero GX is night and day, depending on the one you've chosen. Just remember, Captain Falcon isn't the best ride in the game, even if he is the most famous racer in the F-Zero universe. And of course, with the oddball Cube controller layout, some will get intimidated, but it actually isn't bad, as only the A and Y buttons are used on the face, with the triggers for air brakes, and Z for your attack spin (or the best way to do a tight turn like the first Aeroplex track in Sapphire Cup, excellent tactic). It's very intuitive and takes all of a few seconds to adjust to ? a huge benefit in a game such as this.
In a game where speed is so important, the visual presentation of F-Zero GX has to display this as well. And it does ? in spades. While it's tough to really take a gander at the twisty, turny tracks that are loaded with futuristic effects and detail, which almost is excusable given the intense speed of the game. Not only do the racers go really fast on-screen, they feel like they're blurring by things at 1000 KM an hour. At 60 frames per second, the game is probably the fastest racing game on any console ? and believe it or not, there is never, ever, not once, a single drop of slowdown. At all. Which is the most important graphical aspect of them all. Sure, the vehicles are a bit generic and uninspired, especially some of the secondary characters (i.e. the ones you unlock with tickets), and a couple track designs are boring, but the sense of speed and rock-solid framerate completely absolves Sega and Nintendo for these minor quibbles.
As far as audio goes, F-Zero GX is pure and simple, classic Sega weirdness and coolness. The techno-rock soundtrack is straight out of any Sega arcade game ever created, and while a lot of it is remixed from the original tunes (as it should be), the original tracks are good as well. A few are a bit poor, but no matter, they're pure Sega trademark music. However, oddly, there is no option to drown out the music in-game by reducing the volume in-game, something Nintendo tends to never do, so the only way to get your own tunes is to hit mute and play whatever garbage you might want to play instead.
Of course, there's also the cheesy, cheesy interview segments that take place after you win a cup ? not only does ?Mr. Zero? (a dopey looking sportscaster reject who seems to have a serious problem with keeping his legs from scrunching up and down) offer dumb lines and ?questions? (listen, saying ?Congratulations on winning the Cup? is not a question, numbnuts), with equally cheesy retorts from the winning racer. I'm really not sure if this should have been included, really, though it's definitely something Sega would do (along with the ?Thanks for Playing!? finale ripped right outta Super Monkey Ball). It's a very love or hate scenario with the audio of GX.
F-Zero GX is just what the GameCube needed ? a fast, challenging racing game in one of their best franchises. Having Sega handle development was a stroke of brilliance, letting one of the best arcade racing companies create an awesome racer that will challenge even the most hardened racing veterans. It might be frustrating at first, but with time the game becomes very accessible ? not easy, mind you, but accessible so that you can learn each track and race one at a time and advance through the tougher cups and story chapters. If you're looking for a racing game with loads of replay and a great challenge, F-Zero GX is the only way to fly.