Inside Pulse 12

Review: F-Zero GX (Nintendo Gamecube)

Game: F-Zero GX
System: Game Cube
Genre: Racing
Developer: Amusement Vision
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 8/26/03

Okay. Before I begin, let me just say that whoever can name where the tagline comes from gets a mention in the RG Mailbag.

Now, it’s been a while since we’ve seen an FZero game, and now it’s back both on the Game Cube and in the Arcade. Both GX and AX are compatible and you can unlock some stuff from the AX game onto your GX memory card if you bring it with and put it in the arcade console. Sadly NO PLACE in a 30 mile radius of Minneapolis has the AX cabinet so I can’t review how the two interlock, and that pains me. But once it arrives, I’ll do a follow up review of the Arcade version if you the readers want to see an Arcade review (And then of course SNK vs Capcom Chaos will be reviewed as well for some DEMITRI action!).

If you played Super Smash Bros: Melee, then you know Captain Falcon, the main character from the Fzero series. F-Zero has appeared on the SNES, the ND4, the ND4DD, the Game Boy Advance, and now finally, it hits the Game Cube.

And to be honest, I’ve only ever played the SNES one. And it was okay. I’m not a racing game fan. I enjoyed Need for Speed 3 because of the hidden vehicles like a school bus and a Semi and things like that, but nothing more. I’ve never really gotten into driving games. In fact the only other racing game I’ve enjoyed was the Gran Tursimo exhibition car expansion that only came out in Japan. And that was only for the weird and cute cars we’ll never actually see on the streets. Hell I don’t even like cart games except Walt Disney Magic Racing for the Dreamcast. And that’s only if we’re talking multiplayer.

I suck at racing games. I really do. But this game was a monument to video game importance. Amusement Vision, a Sega company was doing a Nintendo game, And more importantly, if Sega knows one thing, it knows SPEED. And I wanted to see how well Sega could handle one of the Big N’s bigger licenses. And plus no one else on the staff planned to review it, those lazy bastards.

So let’s talk back story. Yes, as F-Zero is a Drama filled racing game, there is a story. A pretty weird one full of super heroes and furries, but a story nonetheless. It continues from the N64 version, F-Zero X. Captain Falcon that race a year ago. Four years ago was a dramatic horrible multicar wreck on the F-Zero course and the effects of which are still being felt today. Or in the future. Or whenever. God Damn games set in the 26th Century; get me all confuzzled!

Now the problem is comparing the gameplay of the previous F-Zero games to this one. For a start there are MANY of them. And the control scheme changes with each game, for the obvious reason that they are on DIFFERENT SYSTEMS. As well, besides the above paragraph, there is no real interlinking between the games plots. Well, what little plots there are in the games. Hell, the first game HAD no plot. And had only 4 cars. F-Zero 2 was the same way and had no real upgrades. F-Zero X had a HUGE increase in the cast bringing it up to 30 characters, which is where the game currently stands. In fact, most of the info for F-Zero X is word for word what you find in F-Zero GX. Ugh. When I went back to the N64 and noticed that, I was a bit put out. As if AV and Nintendo got lazy .

But the fact remains, the game still is quite different from the predecessors. With a ton of unlockables and a brand new story mode, the game really is an upgrade in every way.

Except for the fact I don’t like racers.

Still, I must admit I’m pretty good at F-Zero AX. It’s still hard. Don’t get me wrong, but I’ve gotten good enough with both the Blue Falcon (Where’s Dynomutt?) and the Black Bull to place in the top 5 every time on the Grand Prix circuit. And I’m decent with the other cars, but not at a level where I can beat the thing on hard like I can with those two.

So let’s take a look at the 9 modes that come with F-Zero. First up we have the Grand Prix. Typical racing game mode here. Except for the insane speed. Wow, is this game bloody fast. Oh. And the ability to destroy your opponents. That’s more a Twisted Metal type quality and it adds an extra factor to both your strategy and the fun. It’s why I like the Black Bull so much. Sure it steers like a motherf*cker and has no boost. But it’s built to KILL. And once you learn how to drive that sucker, F-Zero “cars” are going down in flames.

The race mode is simple. You have 3 cups to choose from, each more difficult than the last. You fly through 5 race courses in a row and garner points for your position at the end of the race. At the end of the 5 races, you receive a number of F-Zero tickets based on your overall result. Ah yes. F-Zero tickets, both a great and horrific little thing within this game. But we’ll get into that later.

You start off with only having 4 ships to choose from as playable characters, but with tickets to can unlock a total of 30 ships. Each ship plays differently by nature, but F-Zero also allows you to adjust you ship to your learning curve. You can adjust the ship to have a high acceleration but a lower maximum speed, and vice versa. High acceleration is good for windy courses, while High Speed is great for things like the Ruby cup where courses are straight out.

Next up is the vs. battle mode where you and up to three other friends can zoom around the tracks. What I really enjoy is that in 2 player mode you can split the screen EITHER horizontally or vertically. And vertical is the way to go. I hate being on either the top or the bottom. Having a halved screen is so much nicer for keeping your eye on both you and your opponent. It’s just too bad you can’t earn tickets here either. Dammit all.

Time Attack is just seeing how fast you can complete three laps around a track in a certain amount of time. And to this I say, meh. Just meh. It’s not that big a deal. You get nothing special for it. All it really does is let you practice the courses. You get no tickets or extra parts or anything unlocked. So what’s the point. Especially when next up IS the practice mode. Which makes have two modes that are essentially the same thing completely redundant.

Then there’s story mode. Which is a very nifty idea. Until you actually play it. Okay. That makes it sound as if I’m going to say Story Mode sucks. It doesn’t. The graphics are incredible and the “missions” are fun and innovative and really change the way you play the course. As well, after you complete a section of the story, you can replay it on hard.

Let me stress again, the cinemas in F-Zero GX story mode are by far the best graphics I have EVER seen in a Game Cube game, and blow away FFX cinemas with ease. It is just beautiful and easily CGI cartoon quality. And again, I love those missions. They’re a lot of fun and are a great change of pace from the normal F-Zero Grand prix.

But here’s the bitch. Let’s say you clear a mission in the story mode. Do you get to play the next one? You’d think so, yes? That you could just keeping playing the story mode again and again. But that’s so far from the truth, it’s tragic. You see, when you complete a story event, the next one is available for PURCHASE in the Customization area! ARRRGH! Do you realize how insane that is? All this does is force you to play the Prix over and over and over again to use your very hard earned tickets to get more of the story mode instead of unlocking new cars so your friends and you can enjoy multiplayer mode more. Hmm, story mode or design your own car? Again, what’s up with that? Yes, it’s a ploy to make you play the game even longer to unlock everything, but it makes you frustrated when after play the entire Ruby Cup, you get 9 tickets, and a story event costs 20! So you can either play Grand Prix mode 3 times (for a total of 15 races!) to unlock another story section, or you can have enough tickets to unlock 3 new playable characters or design a new craft from scratch. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. Bad Amusement vision.

As I’ve said earlier, customize mode is where you unlock parts and characters and story segments. Buy you can also design and edit emblems. For me, this was mindless filler. Oh boy. I can add an elder sign to my vehicle. That’s worth the 50$ price tag right there! It’s cute but I can’t see anyone really truly caring at all about this unless you are only playing your own designs and only them.

Options. They’re options.

And of course, there’s the pilot profiles. Again, cute, but mindless filler. Especially when every profile is already printed in the manual. And most of it is rehashed line by line from F-Zero X. Yawn. Again, it’s a nice little touch, but in the end it ultimately means nothing.

So F-Zero is fun to play, but frustrating to unlock the cool stuff. And although there are lots of modes, a third of them are utterly useless and will be used once or twice, if at all.

GAMEPLAY

Well it differs for each car first of all. And that’s the point. Depending on the car’s handling rating, the car will either respond with a hair trigger or like molasses to your controller. But here’s the downside. The cars with the A rating are the hardest to control. If you even slightly tilt your stick to the left, it goes FLYING to the left. And these are supposed to be the cars that are the easiest to handle. Black Bull took me forever to get the hang of due to the sensitive controls it had, but when I did, it was sweet glory.

And this becomes the problem. You know now NOT to drive a car with an A level grip rating. Because it’s crap. And each car is supposed to be balanced against each other. So if you have a car with oh say, a B or C grip, you’ll be handling much better and you’ll be getting better boost rockets AND a stronger body! So a ship like the WILD GOOSE becomes nigh unstoppable. It has a grip of only C, which is actually a good thing, but then a Body of A (laughs at the face of damage) and Boosts of B! This is the car to be driving people! Same with the Mad Wolf! You’ve been told.

The controls are pretty easy to manage though. A for speed, B for break. And then there are 5 other controls, which to be honest I don’t use that often. Z is the spin attack. And it does just what it sounds like. However. You have to be right up to your opponent to do this, and you get jack out of doing so as every other car gets to go flying past you. You bump them off course but lose a HUGE amount of speed in doing so. And so this does little to nothing to help you win. The Slide Attack (x button) is better in terms of damage and usefulness, but I still rarely find myself using the attacks unless I’m playing as the Black Bull. They waste too much time and you never win a race by just attacking.

There are also the slide turns (caused by pressing a shoulder button) or the drift turns (caused by pressing both) but again, I rarely use these unless on a very curvy track. When you do need them though, they’re a life saver.

Overall the controls aren’t bad. I do hate the “best” grip ships are actually the hardest to control. But I do like that each craft pilots differently. Could things stand to be better? I certainly think so. But I’m no driving game fan.

Graphics

I love the visuals. The first few times I played I kept staring at all the small little things, from sand worms to the excellent amount of detail placed into the backgrounds and even the cars themselves. Amusement Vision put a lot of time and effort into make F-Zero a visual masterpiece and I salute them for it. Things they could have skimped on, like the pilots are as well made as any action or adventure video game character. And I’m very happy to see this level of precision in a next gen game. I know I harp a lot about how crappy quality has gotten with the current set gen of systems. I still stand by it. By Sega’s offspring does me proud to be able to sneak out from behind the grizzled retrogaming exterior I wear.

Sound

The music is hit or miss with this game. Some times the music is mind blowing, like on a lot of the tracks, but the menu music annoys me to no end. As well, the Black Bull vs. mysterious Uber Villian music is so bad it makes me want to weep. What is that? Gregorian chant? Space Ghost: Coast to Coast’s theme music through bad speakers? No, it’s called Crap.

Now I will admit, there a lot of great music, but the problem is those tunes are character specific, so you really just have to go into the character profiles to hear them. And that’s insane that the best tunes don’t occur while you play the game.

Of course, that does mean that you can access them anytime.

So overall the music is good, but by no means should some one attempt to find the soundtrack.

Fun Factor

Is it fun? Hell yes. Can I play it for more than an hour at a time? Hell no. Do I like unlocking new cars and parts? Of course. Do I like having to race gazillions of times to get enough tickets to unlock story mode bits? I’d rather get the clap from a she-male. Do I think the game is worth buying? Very much so. And I hate racing games. Is it worth 50$? Not at all in my opinion. Wait for it to come down in price.

Yes, it’s a fun and fast and beautiful game, but it doesn’t grab me or wow me or give me chills. It’s a game to add to my collection and to be an alternative to my usual choice of games. Nothing more. Even multiplayer mode dulls after a few races.

Still, one must remember the ability to design your own racer. And the fact it’s compatible with the arcade game helps the coolness factor of this game.

Still, I wouldn’t have purchased this except for the fact no one else at 411 was going to. And SOMEONE has to take the role of martyr.

But then, I’m not a racing fan.

Ratings:
Gameplay: 7.0
Graphics: 10.0
Sound: 7.0
Fun Factor: 5.0

Short Attention Span Summary
Decent game. Better than Average game. Good game. All of those apply pretty well to F-Zero GX. Great game though? Sorry. Look elsewhere. This is a great addition to the Gamecube library and a worthy purchase once it goes down from the 50 bones pricetag. But not until then. Fine an AX cabinet and you can actually play in a mock up of the Blue Falcon. And use a steering wheel. And for much less than the 50$ tag.