F-Zero is the King of the futuristic racing genre by far. Pretenders to the throne have come and gone, in the form of Acclaim's Extreme G and Psygnosis' WipEout, none of them being able to hold a torch to Nintendo exemplary series of titles that have stretched over the SNES, N64, GameCube and GBA. Now the company returns with the second handheld iteration that follows in the footsteps of launch game Maximum Velocity. But can newcomer GP Legend live up to the mountainous expectations? We think you already know the answer...
When you think about futuristic racers the first thing that springs to mind is definitely not the memorable storyline that accompanies it. Now SEGA and Amusement Vision took the story approach on the GameCube’s F-Zero GX, admittedly to mixed results, so what can Nintendo alone do to make it more appealing? Well, first of all the scarily animated 3D figures have all been replaced by smooth animé styled characters – thanks to the fact that this game is based around an F-Zero animé show over in Japan (and coming to the States later this year, fact fans!) and also due to the technical limitations of the GBA in comparison to its big brother, the GameCube.
Then there is the fact that there appears to be slightly more variety and depth to the story itself as it has a base to work from, rather than being completely fabricated á la GX. You start off as a previously passed away detective, by the name of Rick Wheeler, who is constantly chasing after Zoda, a past adversary of his who is terrorising the entire galaxy with his despicable ways. The pursuit takes places both on the race courses and in special chase scenes and along the way you meet up with seven other characters who each have their own sub-stories. Light, but entertaining stuff nonetheless…
Dealing with any racing games on the SNES and now the Game Boy Advance will likely result in your dealing with the Mode 7 technique that became extremely popular in the mid-1990s. It is a special development effect that allows rapid movement of a track underneath a stationary object. However, to maintain the high level of screen rate, no 3D objects can be included in the track set-up, so landscapes are sorely lacking in any real massive detail, which can prove to be a major drawback for some when you consider the power available in today's world.
Unfortunately this is the case for F-Zero: GP Legend as the game looks basically the same as it did in its original SNES form over a decade ago. Yet, to be honest, do let that deter you from the game as the vehicle models have been spruced up to look more 3D in nature, the cut-scene stills are beautifully detailed and the small animé sequences will keep fans of the TV series and those that like that style in general more than happy. With a lightning-fast frame-rate in tow as well, Nintendo has done its best to keep a very old formula as fresh as possible…and it has succeeded splendidly!
The Japanese are usually mocked when it comes to included their style of rock in computer games as things really do normally stench of cheese more often than not. This is something that has plagued the F-Zero series over its entire lifespan. Whereas WipEout has its licensed dance tunes and XGRA had a superb rocking soundtrack included as well as the usual trance-stylings, F-Zero has always relied on synth-sounds that imitate rock guitars. But whilst this has not changed so much for GP Legend, the quality has been upped marginally to the point where you will find yourself cranking up the volume and sticking in a pair of earphones just to hear the delights of stereo sound. A very pleasant surprise, with a few old favourites thrown into the mix means that Nintendo is once again onto a winner…
You have a choice of twenty-four tracks throughout the game, all of which twist and turn, throwing hairpin bends and dangerous obstacles in your direction every five seconds. You also have a choice from thirty-four characters that can be picked to use as your preferred racer. And then there are the various different mode types up for perusal. First off is the main story mode, which sees you take on the role of one of eight characters that must complete a variety of tasks on the race course and in other general missions that sometimes utilise the special technique of pressing either 'L' twice or 'R' twice to bounce your opponent into the electrified walls. Then you come across the Grand Prix section where you are pitted against twenty-nine other racers across five laps of each treacherous, twisting, turning course in the hope of becoming the legendary F-Zero Champion.
Originally there are three cups to choose from: Bronze, Silver and Gold, with a Platinum Cup being unlocked later on in the game. As you would imagine, and as has been the case in every F-Zero to date, each cup increases in difficulty – however, with the added sensitivity found in races, even on the most amateur of courses, hit the electronic walls in the wrong manner and you will be sent into a pinball-style spin, ultimately resulting in a major loss of power. Here is a little reminder: No Power = Large Explosion. You would be advised to remember that at ALL times and ensure that you try to maximise use of the health strips dotted around in sometimes remote locations of the track you are currently enduring.
For those not taken by the usual Grand Prix fare, there is a typical Time Attack mode for those wishing to out-do their friends’ times by playing a track over and over again; the Training option for people that feel they need just that little bit of extra practise without as much pressure on them; and finally there is the normal multiplayer mode. If you merely link another system to one cartridge you will only be able to access one track to race your friends on, but stick another baby in and suddenly all of the tracks open up to you and three of your friends. Think you are the best? Prove it!
Of the most interest to many gamers will be the addition of a Zero Test mode. Made up of four different classes, the player must complete certain sections of tracks within a set period of time. Depending on how fast you are you will obtain bronze, silver and gold cups. This might sound simple, but as mentioned elsewhere, the difficulty level is so that it will require you to hit every boost available, find out special short-cuts and use as much of your boost power as you can, obviously without using up all of your shield's energy. The game's strongest challenge awaits you here, so beware!
One thing that must be remembered with the F-Zero franchise is that it is by no means a game for casual pick-up-and-play gamers who reckon they can crack any title within a couple of hours. F-Zero has always been about sheer perfection and absolutely no leniency from the computer. If you crash, then you crash badly and will most likely die/lose the race; if you can perfectly learn the track layout and hit the right boosts at the correct time, then you will be flying high and raking in the in-game funds. F-Zero: GP Legend continues that legacy and almost seems to continue it by an extra mile.
This will truly drive many people stir crazy and maybe even lead to the odd GBA being smashed in the process! See that rock on the main track? No? I thought not, because you were boosting randomly and going too fast – thus pinball time! Trying to control yourself when you start making small mistakes can cause you grief, but ensures that the lifespan of GP Legend is very long, even if there are not that many storylines to complete in general. Add the Grand Prix and Test modes and you will easily get your value for money from one of the best racers on the GBA to date!
Nintendo is clearly aiming at the perfectionists of the world with this edition of F-Zero. Renowned for its high difficulty in general, GP Legend goes that extra step to provide further challenge.
Whilst old and dated in the form of Mode 7, Nintendo has livened matters up enough to satisfy by sprucing up vehicles, including great 3D-rendered stills and throwing in obligatory animé scenes.
Nice rock soundtrack that improves considerably once you have donned some stereo headphones and cranked up the volume. Thankfully all the relevant sound effects make a worthy appearance as well.
With an extensive story mode, the usual Grand Prix options and a Test racing section, as well as the high difficulty level, if you were thinking of polishing GP Legend off on a one day rental you are sadly mistaken!
After the complaints that Maximum Velocity strayed from the mould a little too much, GP Legend crashes back on to the scene thanks to Nintendo solely controlling its production. Are you looking for the ultimate racer on the GBA? Then look no further than F-Zero: GP Legend...