F-Zero GX

F-Zero GX
F-Zero GX Cover
Platforms Gamecube
Genre Ridiculous. Fast. Ridiculously Fast.
MtAMinutes to Action 0
Keep Playing? Sure
Buy from Amazon

The original Super Smash Bros. was a crash course on the Nintendo properties that I ignored in the early nineties. I learned that the orange robot from Metroid was actually a woman in a suit. I learned that the green elf guy wasn’t actually named Zelda.

I also discovered that Nintendo made a futuristic racing game called F-Zero. Although the Falcon Punch was the coolest thing in the world, I still couldn’t be persuaded to try out an F-Zero game. Cruis’n USA and Wipeout convinced me that racing games weren’t my thing.

Racers still aren’t my game of choice, but a bargain bin find has led me to give the F-Zero series the old college try. It’s been almost ten years since the earth-shattering Nintendo/Sega tagteam effort gave birth to GX, and though Nintendo has buried the underperforming series beneath Wii-branded successes, a small but passionate fanbase still thrives. Is an hour with the game enough to place me in their ranks?

- Is there no tutorial in this game? I expected to see one among the many options in the opening menu, but nope. I get that Arcade Racing 101 begins and ends with a lesson on holding down the gas and steering at the same time, but F-Zero is too fast and tough even in the early goings for that to be the case.

- I played through the first Novice cup of Grand Prix mode, and even with the ludicrous speed of the race, beating the other racers was no tall task. A lot of opponents seem quicker than my Blue Falcon racer, but they don’t appear to have the boost ability that I acquire after the first lap of a race. And although there’s a lot of jostling going on with thirty speed machines on the track, nobody’s tried to run me off the road yet.

- The visuals are so bright and busy and fast that it hurts my eyes after a while. Crisp HD would help smooth things out (I’d love to see what F-Zero could look like on Wii U if Nintendo decides to revive it), but the main offender is the neon-future color scheme. Even the track itself can be hard to follow: its patchwork of shiny tiles and transparent surfaces is distracting, and the low camera angle hides upcoming curves and jumps well. The hard-locked framerate of 60 per second is a necessity. Blinking is a liability.

- The other singleplayer attraction is story mode, which puts Captain Falcon in unique race scenarios. The first mission was an easy simulation where I had to collect icons on an empty racetrack. Chapter 2, however, was a dangerous mountain pass duel against Samurai Goroh, who seems impossible to beat fair and square. After twenty minutes of exasperating failure (pieces of which you may witness in the video above), I consulted the instruction manual and found that you can ram other racers off the road. It was much easier to beat Goroh in the race once he was dead.

- The racing action holds up pretty well after so many years, but the cinematics must have looked awkward even when it was new. The lo-fi CG movies that bookend Story Mode have terrible audio balance, drowning out the characters’ awkward voice acting (which doesn't match their lip movements at all) with cheesy hip-rock that constantly loops the lyrics “Our hero, F-Zero!” And the in-engine assets look even stranger. During the post Grand Prix interview, Captain Falcon and the newscaster both looped idle breathing animations that looked like a shoulder shrug workout fit for a Tae Bo video.

f Zero gx Emblem

Minutes to Action: 0

Would I Keep Playing? Sure. F-Zero GX hasn’t yet divulged a depth beyond the standard arcade racer, but the breakneck pace of the game either foreshadows yet-unseen intricacies or portends unfairly demanding challenges in the coming hours. I’m at least interested enough to find out which.