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F-Zero GX

Developer: Amusement Vision | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1 to 4 Player Game | Release Date: 08/26/03 | Genre: Driving

The fourth true F-Zero game, F-Zero GX bears a lot of anticipation and expectations. The first game in the series, F-Zero, was released on the Super Nintendo in 1990 to much appreciation. It was the first game to use the new Mode-7 graphics to give the player a pseudo-3D experience. F-Zero was both a technical wonder and a well designed racer. Hovercrafts racing at death-defying speeds was an exciting proposition. Many would say that it is the "father" of all futuristic racers. The awesome (at the time) graphics and extremely fast racing was a new experience. It wasn’t until 8 years later that a sequel was produced for the Nintendo 64. F-Zero X successfully brought the series into 3D with wild courses that twisted and turned. It also featured an amazing 30 unique racers which could all be seen on-screen at once. However, F-Zero X lacked one quality that the first game had. Graphically, it was very bland (even for the Nintendo 64). The ships and courses lacked detail. There was almost nothing in the background. The game looked and sounded like a first-generation game. This was a disappointment to many, and despite good reviews, not as many people bought into it as they did the original. In 2001, to accompany the release of the Game Boy Advance, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity took the series back to its 2D roots. This time, it had more inventive track designs, and many more racers to unlock.

That brings us to 2003 and the release of F-Zero GX. Not only do we get completely awesome and wild 3D courses, but the game is absolutely gorgeous too. Each course is huge. Not only that, but you feel as if it is part of a real world. The tracks twist and turn through complex cities, forests, canyons, and more. Each track is set in an awesome futuristic sci-fi location. There is tons of geometry on screen. Huge structures tower over the track and many tracks feature lots of animated elements such as flying ships, holographic billboards, and more. The particle effects are dazzling. There is just so much going on as you race that it makes the whole F-Zero universe more believable. The texture detail and polygon count is top-notch. The limit to the draw distance cannot be seen and the game plays at a solid 60 frames per second. This is the best of the GameCube. It'ss a shame that you'll usually be going too fast to concentrate on the visuals, but you'll be amazed at all the details that can be seen. On top of all this, there can be up to 30 racers on screen at the same time! Each one is unique and they all race intelligently. They don't all act like identical drones that bunch up together and behave the same. Even in split-screen multiplayer, the game holds at 60 fps. Although, there can only be four racers at a time. I have to thank Amusement Vision for including progressive scan and widescreen modes. If possible, you should always play the game like this. It's just so beautiful. I wish more games were in widescreen. It's not necessary, but it makes the experience that much more awesome.

The game's audio can be cheesy or strange at times, but it's well produced. Many of you gamers will remember the hard rock music of the original. Well, F-Zero GX features a variety of rock and techno music. It's a bit cheesy at times, but each track matches each course very well. The menus also feature some nice music. The game also features profiles for every single pilot, and each one has their own music. It's strange for a Nintendo game, but some of the songs even have vocals. Again it's kind of cheesy, but it's kind of cool at the same time. Initially, I was disappointed that only a few classic F-Zero songs were present in GX until I found out that you can unlock some of the old music when you complete certain requirements.

One major feature of F-Zero GX is the all-new story mode. It's a computer animated cartoon of sorts, with mission-based racing challenges. Each chapter of Story mode opens and closes with an FMV. You will follow a story about Captain Falcon as he chases bounties and competes in F-Zero. Each FMV is well made. The animation is nice and on a 4:3 TV, it looks incredibly crisp and clear. In widescreen mode, you'll notice some pixilation in the FMV. The FMV's also have more of that professionally produced, yet cheesy music. This is where you hear the songs with actual vocals. Speaking of which, the voice acting isn't bad, but it's kind of cheesy too. Some will like it and some won't. I feel that it is supposed to be kind of cheesy. Older gamers will remember the comic that was included with the original F-Zero. It was a short story about Captain Falcon. The story mode FMV follows the same kind of style.

The controls will be familiar to those who have played F-Zero X. The shoulder buttons shift your craft to one side or the other, the Control Stick steers, 'A' accelerates, 'B' brakes, 'Y' boosts, 'X' is for side attack, and 'Z' is for spin attack. It's very easy to learn and comfortable to use. The attacks can be used to bash your opponents out of your way, and maybe out of the race. Each ship is unique. Although there are only four to begin with, once you unlock everything, you will have over 40 to choose from. That's a pretty impressive selection. Each one has its own attributes for handling, boosting, acceleration, and body strength. Along with various hazards scattered on the track, you will find boost pads which provide sudden acceleration. However, the player can also boost at will after the first lap is completed. You must watch your energy meter though. Each time you boost, some of your energy is depleted. Your energy is also depleted every time you bang into another car or a track wall. There are recharging strips placed at strategic locations throughout the track to recover your energy. It is extremely important to mange your energy so that you can boost when necessary to win the race. The computer controlled racers will also be doing the same. They have to follow the same rules you do. They can boost, but their energy also is depleted and they need to recover too. If a ship loses all of its energy and then gets attacked or bumps into something one more time, then it is destroyed. Of course, you also run the risk of falling off of the track far below on those huge, breathtaking jumps.

One thing I like about the track designs is that they really take advantage of the third dimension and the fact that you are flying special hovercrafts. It's not some cookie-cutter racing game. You won't really see flat tracks. They bend and twist in every possible direction. You do things that you can't imagine doing in other type of vehicle. They take the power of the GameCube and the setting of F-Zero and use them to their full potential.

Of course, the main thing you'll be concerned about in this game is racing. The Grand Prix mode lets you choose your ship and then you can race through a cup which consists of five tracks. In each race, you compete against 29 other racers. At the end of each race, you awarded an amount of points corresponding to the place you finished in. At the end of the cup (five courses), the racer with the most points wins. Each cup can be raced on Novice, Standard, Expert, and Master difficulty (Master must be unlocked). You start the game with three different cups (15 courses), but two more can be unlocked when you meet certain conditions. The Grand Prix is a pretty standard racing mode that's common in most racing games. There's plenty of excitement to be had here. The tracks are crazy and wild. You'll fly through huge gaps in the track, hurtle through tubes, cling to pipes, and more. Huge drops and loops will have your eyes popping out and your heart dropping into your stomach. There is an awesome variety in track design and plenty of challenge.

The Story mode is an interesting addition to the F-Zero franchise. As I explained, each chapter revolves around a story. To complete it, the player must fulfill a certain objective. A few of these are races not to unlike a Grand Prix race. However, there are also some more interesting missions. One will have you trying to escape an exploding building, and another will have you driving for your life as you are carrying a bomb that is set to explode if you drop below a certain speed. Again, the courses and missions are well designed. You can even go back to each chapter to complete a Hard and Very Hard challenge. The mission will be slightly modified to increase the difficulty. It's very challenging. Getting through the Normal difficulty on some chapters will take you a several tries, but it's the Hard and Very Hard mode that might have some really frustrated. I welcome the challenge because it's something that's missing from many games today.

So why would you want to complete the Story and Grand Prix on higher difficulty levels? Well, there are a lot of extra items to unlock in F-Zero GX. The game has more features then most racing games could hope to have. Aside from the standard Grand Prix, Time Trial, Practice and the new Story mode, there are also some really cool customizable features. By playing and doing well in the various game modes, you can unlock ship parts. There are over 1,000 different possible combinations of parts. Not only can you choose your ship's color, but you can even make your own textures. This is a really fun part of the game. The Emblem Editor gives you several drawing tools to help you make a texture as cool or as silly looking as you want. There is a pre-selected color palette you can use, but you can also create any color imaginable by selecting the amount blue, red, and green you want. There are even sample emblems for you to load and work with. You can them paste your custom textures on your own custom ship, or on any existing ship that you have unlocked. Best of all, textures only take up three blocks of memory a piece. You can make as many as you want and they can be saved and loaded to memory cards in both Slot A and B. You can have up to four custom made ships which takes up 18 blocks of memory. You can then use your custom ships with custom textures in the rest of the game. You can even take your custom creations to a friend's house to share.

The multiplayer mode lets you race on any track that you have unlocked with up to three other human players. The framerate still stays at a solid 60 fps. The only downside is that there can only be four racers in the game. Even if you are only playing two player, you can only have two other computer-controlled racers. It would have been nice if there could be at least 10 racers, but it's understandable given the game's impressive graphics.

Another interesting feature that we have yet to see is the interaction with F-Zero AX, the arcade version of the game. It features completely different tracks from the console version. However, you can bring you memory card to the arcade unit and earn new tracks, parts and ships that you bring home to F-Zero GX. F-Zero AX is supposed to be appearing at arcades during September, but for those of you who are worried about finding one, there are other ways to unlock the AX parts, ships and tracks, though it is much more difficult. Every single AX part, ship and track can be unlocked right in the comfort of your own home by completing certain (difficult) requirements. There is only one exception. There is one ship that can only be unlocked by playing the arcade version and transferring the date to your memory card. So almost everything can be unlocked just by playing the GameCube version, but it is much easier to unlock the AX material by playing F-Zero AX and bringing the data back home. It will be interesting to see how many people actually go out to the arcades to do this.

I honestly can't really find anything wrong with the game. The only complaint I ever hear is that it's too hard. The weenies at EGM even gave F-Zero GX average scores simply because it was too hard (or in my opinion, they sucked). While I do agree that F-Zero GX can be very difficult, I think that it is because it genuinely challenging, not because it is poorly designed. I agree that it might be a little too much for a complete beginner to swallow, but seasoned gamers should love this game. Many in the gaming community have been complaining that games have become increasingly easier due to the widening of the market. I feel that it's true; most modern games are too easy and devoid of challenge. F-Zero GX is a game where you will actually have to practice and try things a few time before you get it right. It feels like the more old school games of the 16-bit and 8-bit era. I think it's great, and it feels more like an achievement once you beat a difficult chapter or win a difficult cup. I think this should excite real gamers since it seems that many games of late have catered to the lowest common denominator. It's exciting and refreshing to actually be challenged again. I do not think that the game is unduly difficult. The computer does not cheat, and I think that starting out with the Novice class is not too bad. It simply requires steady hands and a steady mind. So in my most professional way, I'm telling GameSpot and EGM to suck it. They're babies. Gamers have been complaining about the lack of difficulty in recent games for sometime. It seems like some gaming journalists have become to comfortable with the games of this generation that baby them through each step of a game. They're supposed to be gamers, and now they can't handle a little challenge? It seems like they have forgotten their roots in gaming, or maybe they never had them at all.

I'm sorry about my mini-rant, but it must be said. F-Zero GX is challenging, but some magazines and sites are going to tell you that can't even play the whole game because of it, and I need to let you know that that's not true (unless you're a weenie).

F-Zero GX one of the best racing games ever created. Although it's feeling less and less strange, it's still a little odd to see Amusement Vision (Sega) and Nintendo collaborate, but something wonderful has been produced. You need to have this game in your library. Not only is it the most gorgeous racing game you've laid your eyes on, but it's also one of the most exciting. Racing against 29 other ships on tracks that twist, turn, loop, drop, and more through huge environments is an exhilarating experience. This is the best futuristic racer to date.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 09/07/03
ESRB Details: Comic Mischief, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes

Screenshots for F-Zero GX

A School for Gamers

NFL GameDay 2004