How much have we been looking forward to this one, a lot, that's how much. The F Zero franchise has always been a favourite here at Cubed3 with its quite amazing speed and sheer amount of opponents previous instalments have always impressed and thus expectation for this GameCube outing are quite high. In what is a major step forward for gaming F Zero GX is a collaboration in development between two of the industries biggest and longest running rivals; Nintendo and Sega. F Zero X on the N64 was all very well, but it was visually barren, going for speed and adrenaline enriched gaming rather than graphical flair. However, now we have the GameCube powering things it gets a whole lot better...
The first thing that hits you from the game is just how much is going on, and that's not just when actually racing. The menus are very busy with a wealth of options. You can race your mates, play in the Grand Prix or Story Mode, race against the clock and you are even able to customise your craft and make it all pretty and such like. Being the eternally intrigues buggers that we are we headed straight to Story Mode, big mistake that was. If we were to say this game was hard we would be lying, it is possible one of the most challenging games you will ever play. The first challenge in this mode is to race around Mute City and collect numerous glowing balls, after getting very red in the face and angry you will complete the challenge, only to now be faced with it in Hard mode and then Extra Hard. The Story Mode is totally new to the F Zero series and in our minds is a welcome addition. In this mode you follow Captain Falcon in his quest against evil. With nine missions in total you have to complete various different racing-based tasks. At the start, and end of each mission the story is moved along by wonderful cut-scenes that use the in-game engine to superb effect. To proceed to the next level you have to get a certain number of points with the amount of points required rising all the time. When you complete a mission on Easy you can try it on Hard and Extra Hard (harder than you could ever imagine) and if you manage to get through all that you can purchase a ship in the F Zero shop!
Now we consider ourselves to be decent gamers, we spend enough time doing it, but here we had to admit defeat, a man knows when he is beaten and so faces set to frown we hop into the Grand Prix for what we hope will be a more simple experience.
We advise you all start off in Grand Prix mode, it is the best way to get into the game and allows you to get to grips with various different aspects of what you have to do to win. Three cups face you to start with: Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald are what you will see, each available in three classes: Novice, Standard and Expert. Now Novice isn't too bad, but it is still an evil little challenge. You have to be on your toes to keep up with this game, it has a wickedly evil learning curve, that whilst being deviously difficult is also fair and only challenges skill, not luck. You have to know what to do in a situation, you have to attack and you have to keep a perfect racing line, you also have to account for a stupid amount of speed and opponents that would like nothing more than to see you blow up. If you handle all of the above and more and you will be onto a winner, but that is one big 'if'.
If you are anything like us after a quick dip into how the game plays in Grand Prix (probably getting a bit annoyed after you fall off the track...again) you will simply quit the damn thing and have a look at the more than interesting 'Custom' options. We have assembled a lovely little guide for you to enjoy.
So many racing games overlook the superb options of being able to tweak, twist and adjust just about every visual aspect of the car you race in, however with Amusement Vision at the helm this has not been ignored this time. Having a motor with your own little touch is a great addition, and how you can customise it is rather natty too. Supplied images include various Nintendo characters and motifs along with some rather cool little patterns and pictures. Now you could use these, or you could make your own in a simple to use paint applications, much like the T-Shirt designer in Animal Crossing here you can use various different colours to make a logo or picture to add that personal touch to your craft. However, there is more to a book than its cover, and in a similar vein there is more to craft customisation than pretty colours and logos. The real meat is what makes the thing tick, what makes it handle perfectly, run like the wind, and be strong enough to demolish opponents in the blink of an eye. Three simple rated assets: Body, Boost and Grip allow you to judge how good your flying tin can is. Each one is rated A to E, with A being rather good, and E being rather bad in comparison. If you are to become a true master of F Zero you will have to try and get each one as high as possible, with this you will have the ultimate machine. However, three A's will not make the best machine. Think about it, if it has an A in Body it will be heavy, robust and strong, which in turn will make it corner slowly, and drive like a car with donuts for wheels. Balance is the key, you have to find the exact synergy between the three assets to make your craft fast, strong and nice to handle. And just to drop in a little hint, beginners should stick with Captain Falcon.
Visually this game is the best, it will make your eyes bleed with its sheer detail and speed. As you might of seen from the screens it all looks very pretty, but when it is in motion and you are in control it is a whole different kettle of fish. Your eyes just can't resist looking at what is going on around you, be it a massive light display or a set of high rise buildings that simply have to be gawped at you will get caught out once or twice. We don't really know what else to say about the graphics in F Zero, it is just very, very good, in fact it is better than good, what your eyes can look at here are perhaps the best of any game ever, they excel in everyway to make a complete visual package. In a similar vein the sound is also flawless. It makes the whole game feel very futuristic and adds to the feeling of pace and danger wonderfully. It is a sort of mix between techno but with less of the annoying beeps and blips. The music also varies so you are always enjoying something new that complements the level you are tackling.
One of the first things that hits you when you first pick up and play F Zero (apart from how it looks) is how you control what happens, or don't in some cases. With such high speed getting the controls right is essential, if something doesn't quite work the entire game will be ruined, but such problems have been battered into submission. All you need to do is move forward and remember to turn at the right moments, simple to say, but not to easy to execute. There are thirty opponents in each race, and they are all very violent, trying to ram you off the track making things really quite tricky. Old time players of F Zero will no doubt know about the energy bar system. If you run out of energy, you run out of time and therefore you will combust and have to retire. Every hit you takes will drive down your energy levels and after one lap you are awarded boost powers allowing you to go even faster, but also eat into your energy levels. You have to keep your energy levels up, and at certain points on each level you get the chance to drive through some very nice pink/purple stuff that will boost up your energy levels. If you are anything like us then you will need more than this, and to get energy by other means you have to be a bit aggressive and attack your fellow racers. Spinning into the around corners, slamming into the on the straights, do whatever you can to get rid of them and boost up your energy reserves. So with the knowledge that you can attack and kill you have an essential skill that will lead to success in F Zero, but you need to master it all to succeed, and a massive part is to take risks.
Picture the scene, you are in 11th place, and you need to win this race to clinch the Grand Prix, you can see the whole field ahead of you but there is no chance you will catch up at normal speed. Your energy bar is getting quite low but you might just have enough to power your way through the field, providing you don't overshoot at that corner and go slamming into the wall concluding in your doom. So do you do it? Of course you do! Another clever addition is the rival system. Attack the craft with the large 'Rival' sign above it and you don't need to worry about finishing in the top five, an interesting addition that allows you to gain greater skills in another area of the game outside pure skill of driving. To finish off our look at controls and how to play the game we bring you the ultimate skill 'slide corners'! Many people will go into the game and take quite some time to realise that cornering is nigh on impossible unless you use your air breaks. Hit the L or R triggers and you will be able to take the hair-pin corners at a great pace and keep in touch with the leaders. If you don't get to grips with this quickly the difficulty level will move away from and you will be left slamming into walls and blowing up at the back of the pack.
Certain racing games can be a bit on the slim side, but F Zero goes out of its way to entertain you for the maximum amount of time. With twenty tracks, story mode, craft customisation, time trials, and multiplayer you will be playing for months on end, and the enjoyment never wanes. And indeed what would a racing game be without a multi-player? It is like taking away a mans arm, or 'family jewels' without it you would be a bit buggered. Four Player split screen mode is where it is really at. Still blatting along at 60fps no matter how much goes on it is a joy to get round some mates and get some serious racing done. Superbly enjoyable and one of the best multiplayer racing experiences you will ever play.
Perfectly balanced controls make this game a dream to play and with one of the best ever learning curves this game is just wonderful.
They are very, very good; we lack the superlatives to tell you just how bloody fantastic they are. Imagine the screens going to 60fps with thirty racers screaming past and backgrounds constantly changing. The best on the GameCube and no doubting it.
It all sounds lovely, but is hardly anything wonderful. Complements the tracks and pace of the game wonderfully, but we can't help but think they will annoy us after a while...
It just goes on and on and on. With twenty tracks, a story mode and a glorious multiplayer, that before you even look at the craft customisation there is months on show here, and it is all rock hard!
What can we say? This is the best racer on the GameCube, the best ever F Zero title and it is so eye stingingly good on the visual side that we loose the words. It is a case that very few games make you have an adrenalin rush, and ripping through a field of thirty at past the speed of sound with boosts blaring and your survival on the line makes this game what it is. Hard as nails and with so much to do if you don't buy this it is only your fault.