Developer SEGA Publisher Nintendo Genre Racing Platform Nintendo Gamecube Release 31st October 2003
- In a recent review of Sonic Riders, I -- more than once -- compared the game to another futuristic racing title, funnily enough, developed by the same company (although, not the same development team), that game was, of course; F-Zero GX. The game is twinned with it's arcade version of the game; F-Zero AX (The "G" in "GX" refers to "Gamecube", where as the "A" in "AX" refers to "Arcade", see what they did there?) The two games can share save data between the two versions and are nearly identical in terms of content. The arcade version has a bunch of frilly extras like giving out cardboard, physical "licenses" which track player progression, however that actually works is beyond me.
Our F-Zero Hero; Captain Falcon.
F-Zero GX has a story quite reminiscent of old-school comic books and, frankly, it works quite well. F-Zero is a world where spandex-wearing, super-hover-car racing pilots solve all the world's problems by racing, rather than fighting it out or doing strange bat-dances. The primary antagonist of this world is a one "Black Shadow", who wears a full-body black latex suit and prances around all the time. Black Shadow has two primary skills, the first being the ability to screw up just about everything
he tries and the other being the most least-threatening villain possible. The very first scenes in the game show Black Shadow spiralling out of control and being taunted by a strange, vastly superior villain. Doesn't quite inspire dread towards this character. The next scene we see him prancing around on some TV sets which random passers by gawk at, almost like he's in some sort of surreal music video. Even more interesting is that Captain Falcon, the game's main protagonist, does some virtual reality training, only to find that Black Shadow's mug is still
on the TV, claiming that he'll "win the grand prix". Well, nice to see he has his priorities right.
I'm guessing it's a lot less than the space hover racer which is burning in the background, somehow.
Alright, so the whole story is this; the menacing villain at the start of the game, the one which bullied Black Shadow is actually called Deathborn, the winner of the "Underworld Grand Prix" which we neither see nor learn anything
about other than Deathborn is the winner of it. For reasons not quite made clear, Deathborn has enlisted the help of Black Shadow to win the normal world
's Grand Prix... So he can take over the world or something. It's not quite explained why Deathborn can't just... You know, race in the normal Grand Prix, since he's shown himself to be better than Black Shadow and it's not a matter of "well, perhaps he's an outlaw" because Black Shadow is still able to race, despite being publicly named as the man responsible for a whole building exploding in the Lightning district, seen dancing and prancing around burning debris of said building. Well, anyway, as expected, Black Shadow loses, gets vaporised (or something to that effect) by a rather annoyed Deathborn, who then challenges Captain Falcon, the winner of the Grand Prix to a race in the "Underworld", which Falcon easily travels to... So why couldn't Deathborn race in the normal Grand Prix again? Deathborn loses, falls into a lava pit and explodes, Falcon claims the super-belt which was formed of the Underworld Grand Pix belt and the Normal Grand Prix belt. Only to find out that this belt actually contains the spirits of the "Creators", a bunch of strange floating orbs who apparently "created the whole world", they want to suck out Falcon's soul and use it to create another Deathborn for reasons completely beyond comprehension, maybe they were bored. Anyway, Falcon then races against the spirits, wins, is returned to his world, he takes off his helmet, walks out of a door and then the end credits roll... That's it. There's no real conclusion to the story at all. Not even showing what became of the Creators.
Our evil dark lord, everyone, give a big "aww" to Black Shadow.
So, okay. The story isn't fantastic at all. In-fact, Sonic Rider's story seems more likeable and makes more sense in comparison but it has it's charms. If you think of the story as what it really is; a vehicle to progress a mission-driven story mode which comprises of unusual racing scenarios, it works quite well. But take it as a meaningful, well-thought story which drives an overall narrative and frankly, it's like watching the Teletubbies. I mean, at one point, Black Shadow captures Captain Falcon, makes an evil doppelgänger of him called Blood Falcon, attaches a bomb to Falcon's racer and tries to blow him up. The next scene and Black Shadow is rather surprised when Captain Falcon appears on the starting grid. Even though his very distinguished racer; the Blue Falcon is already on the grid right next to his
. Now, I don't know about you, but rather than being calm, collected and settling this minor
incident of attempted-murder
by racing to see who was the best, I would climb Black Shadow's vehicle and beat him within an inch of his life, tie him to the back of my futuristic space racer and drag him along the track. But then the game may not get a PEGI 3+ rating.
I love this future where everyone just gawks infront of any old TVs in the street like it's a national pass-time.
The game's story mode itself is comprised of little missions which are separate from the game's main feature; the normal Grand Prix mode. The story mode comes in three different difficulty settings; Normal, Hard or Very Hard. Which sounds fair enough until you realise that the game is sadistic and it's "Normal" mode is actually "Extremely Difficult" mode. As an angry internet opinion box, because the internet definitely needs more
opinion, I find myself shouting at the TV sometimes and I usually see this as a measure of what is a bad game. As if I resort to hurling abuse at my poor TV screen, then something's gone wrong with the game. Sadly, Story Mode in F-Zero GX is a very, very bad design choice from start to finish. My main complaint with the story mode is that the computer controlled AI opponents out right cheat
. In the second mission, you're racing off against long-standing Falcon rival; Samurai Goroh as you race along a canyon path as boulders tumble down onto the track. You can boost all you like on this course, it will do you no good
, your opponent has unlimited energy in which it can boost. Even if he hits boulders which would most likely take a good quarter of your
energy bar from you, he is still able to boost ahead of you at any given time. After trying to win in a fair race and realising this was impossible, you have to figure out, on your own, that you have to destroy Samurai Goroh's vehicle and then finish the race or just have supreme luck. I don't know about you, but if there's one thing I hate about video games is when the CPU has to resort to cheating in order to feign difficulty. It's not cool.
A few flips and these futuristic space hover cars explode? How did this get past Space Health and Safety?
Another thing which is deplorable about the story mode is that just completing a story mode mission isn't enough to see you through to the next part of the story. Instead, you unlock the ability to purchase
story segments from the in-game store using in-game tickets which you gain from completing story missions and races. Of course, the story mode doesn't give you enough tickets from completing one mission to instantly go buy the next, so you must engage in races in the Grand Prix mode to acquire enough tickets. I'm not sure why
they bothered to do this, perhaps in an attempt to make you complete races to ensure you have enough experience and skill to progress in the story or if they just didn't want people to realise the game's story mode is about 40 minutes in length
... But, again, this isn't the game's primary mode, it's merely an extra side-feature to the game's Grand Prix mode. And now we've gotten our little rant about the story mode out of the way, let's move onto the more interesting parts of the game, the Grand Prix mode.
I suppose "Try not to die" would be a mouthful at the start of a race. Yeah, "Go"'s fine.
Out of the box, you'll have access to 3 difficulty settings, 3 cups each with 5 courses making a grand total of 15 playable courses, each one is lovingly crafted and each are incredibly varied. If you're good enough, you can unlock an extra difficulty level which borders on satanic on the evil-o-metre and 2 extra cups, one of which you'll probably never
unlock unless you devote years of your life to the game which will bring the final course total to 25 courses. Sadly, I'm not in that tiny percentile which was able to unlock the "AX Cup", which is unlocked by beating the "Master" difficulty, a difficulty level so harsh it makes the story mode look like it was teasing you. Much like many other racing games, you start out in a grid, usually at the back but it all depends where you finished in the last race. The further up the rankings in the last race means you start further down the grid at the start of the next. Controls are pretty standard, A to accelerate, B to break. As you start off, you perform a single lap around the track and race normally, this is usually your time to butt-heads with other racers, pressing the Z-Button on the controller performs a spinning attack which can hit multiple enemies but is incredibly weak. A far better means of attacking an enemy is to press the X-Button and either left or right on the control stick to side-swipe another racer, dealing greater damage. This is helpful to either off-course or make an enemy take additional damage by hitting walls or other racers. Every 5 racers you rid yourself of gets you an extra life. Beware though, if you deplete your energy bar to zero, your racer will blow up. Your energy bar will deplete if you hit walls, boost or get hit by enemies or objects on the track.
YOU GOT A BOOST POWER
After the first lap, you're given a "boost power" which as the name implies, allows you to boost. Just how much speed and how many times you can
boost is determined by the racer you select. These are graded from D to A on Boost, Grip and Body. Boost determines how good your boost is in both how far a single boost will take you. Grip indicates how easy the craft is to handle and Body is how much punishment the craft can take or how much damage is taken from hitting other crafts or walls. Most of the crafts you unlock during the game are pretty well balanced, some seriously are not
, but these are generally special machines you unlock. You can also make your own craft out of parts you buy from the in-game store with tokens. Balance goes out of the window once you start making a custom craft and build up substantial amounts of tokens, though it will take dedicated play to get the best parts, as most have to be unlocked either by completing story missions on hard mode or very hard mode, things which are like ripping nails out of your fingertips in terms of pain. You also have the customary "Air Break" mechanic, which is mandated by law in all futuristic racing video games. The Air Break is a kind-of-sort-of drifting control scheme, only you have more precise control over your turning. It's best to get this mastered before all else as it will make turning while boosting a hell-of-a-lot easier.
Good luck keeping a track of your orientation, even when you can see outside. Just try it when you can't see out there.
Courses themselves are characters all on their own in this game, you have a few different types as declared by what city or region it's located in. Mute City for instance is a futuristic metropolis area, Lightning is an industrial area, which so happens to be very stormy all the time and Green Plant which is a suburban area covered in trees and shrubbery with a race course or two within. They're, for the most part, extremely fun to play and their design, with many twists and turns not just horizontally but vertically. You'll find yourself in giant loops, corkscrews and some courses even double-back on itself upside down
. At at speed when boosting and hitting on-course boost-pads it's an absolutely amazing experience. My favourite course of the game; Green Plant: Mobius Ring has a strange gut-tangling, almost euphoric pay-off when you speed through the corkscrew and see the blue sky and the green undergrowth twirl around you. The game's unrelenting speed also makes for an enthralling time, something which not a lot of games can really pull off, but F-Zero GX seems to pull it off effortlessly. Mix this with the dangerous tension that if you take too much damage or fall off the course that you'll have to start again, and you have a very limited number of lives. It all adds up to a fantastic and frantic game.
Captain Falcon had one regret... Taking that corner too quickly. Oh and dying. Mostly dying.
Of course, some stages aren't so fun. There are the stages that you will hate either because they're so confusing, such as any stage which has pipes, either ones where you're inside or you're on-top of, keeping track of your orientation while in the tubes can be pretty difficult, especially at speed and learning where all the boost pads are is a challenge, but quite a rewarding one. Sadly, as you get into the later difficulties in the game, the fun starts to diminish as the game becomes more a memory game, remembering where all the speed boosters are, which line to take to hit corners properly, which is odd for me to say that in a racing title, but F-Zero GX seems to chaotic, unstructured during the Novice and Standard difficulties that you can play how you like and still power into the lead. The game is understandably very arcade-y in that anyone can pick it up and play on the easy to medium difficulties, but as you progress into the harder modes, you start to see a more "hardcore" racing game emerge. And it's this balance which is most deserving of praise. The whole package is just amazing.
Ever see that scene in Inception where Paris like folds in on itself...
In terms of visuals, the game is just amazing looking. For a game from 2003, the game is utterly jaw-dropping. The detail on the tracks, the scenery and the speed of the game all add together and give just a wonderful looking game. Everything about it just looks great, the only real down-side I can think about with this game is the pre-rendered story mode scenes, in which there seems to be little direction and the scenes often just fade-out too quickly. Everything else just seems right, after all it has to look fantastic to pull in gamers at the arcades, so it's got to be bright, vibrant and visually distinct appearance. F-Zero GX is all of those things. It looks fantastic. One thing I can say that was perhaps a step too far in the game's visual appearance is that when you win a race, you're subjected to a TV interview, in which you ask a question like "What does it feel like to win?" or "Can I get an autograph?" Most of these are tedious and I struggle to work out why they're there, exactly, since they don't build characters or add to the story in anyway, they're just bland, generic responses. Some of these are hilarious, Deathborn is particularly amazing, go look up those interviews on YouTube or something, it's a good laugh.
Yes, give him one more chance. He'll definitely race with his blown up space racer... Oh wait.
Audibly, the game is equally amazing. Each track share's it's city/theme's music score but they are wonderful tracks. There's a lot of cheesy tunes as well, like the character theme songs or the music that's sometimes played in the story scenes that you only hear parts of, usually involving the parts where they talk about characters or just keep repeating "F-Zero" in some way. One stylistic choice which I still can't quite wrap my head around, but is so awesome and unique that it just blends in so well is the announcer voice, which sounds like a southern-American accent. It's not quite the voice I would have thought to have announce a game about futuristic hover-car-racing, but looking back at the Nintendo 64's F-Zero X title, where you had this very gruff and cliché sci-fi announcer, I think F-Zero GX made a pretty bold decision and it paid off. The voice acting in the game is awful, just terrible, but the whole thing's so cheesy that it just works. Characters over-act, lines are delivered poorly, but the whole story and characters come across that way anyway, so nothing is lost there.
Overall, F-Zero GX is an utterly amazing game that completely came out of no-where. This was SEGA and Nintendo working together, just a few years after the demise of the SEGA Dreamcast and a game produced before the SEGA-Sammy takeover in 2004. It's sad to think that if such a game were to be made today, that SEGA wouldn't have the ability to create such a masterpiece title such as this. Perhaps it's why there hasn't been a console F-Zero in nearly 8 years (there have been Gameboy Advance instalments to the series, though). Perhaps it's time for a new F-Zero either on the up-coming Nintendo home console or on the Nintendo 3DS, because we're long over-due and I think everyone who's played this game wants to see where F-Zero goes past this game. Somehow I think it's only downhill from this point, but what do I know? I want to be proven wrong, I really do. If you have a Wii, try and pick up this game, it's fairly cheap and a must-have for anyone who likes arcade racers or futuristic space racers, a game of high priority for everyone else. I promise you wont be disappointed.