Not since Metroid Prime have I been able to enjoy a GameCube title as much as I enjoy F-Zero GX, and yes that even includes Zelda: the Wind Waker.
F-Zero was always one of my favorite Super Nintendo titles, even if back then it was basically a showcase of the system’s Mode 7 scaling engine. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable racer for its time and I still go back to it on my emulators on occasion. Sad to say I never had the opportunity to play the N64 sequel, so I cannot really comment on it, and the GBA "re-imaging" of the SNES classic was good, albeit difficult to see on the dark screen.
A few years ago there was talk of the Triforce Arcade System, created as a joint venture between Nintendo, Sega, and Namco, and one of the titles slated to run on Triforce was an arcade version of F-Zero. In addition, Sega’s Amusement Vision jumped on to develop a home version for the Nintendo GameCube. It would seem to be a match made in heaven since Sega is well known for their racing titles (despite the best of the bunch produced by co-development team AM2).
The latest F-Zero adaptation features 30 competitors each with their own unique machines. These machines are rated on three key factors: body (durability), boost (faster speed during boosts), and grip (tighter handling on turns, and they all will compete in 15 unlockable courses (divided into 3 classes) at the start.
The course design might seem tame at first (such as Mute City: Twist Road), but when you get to the higher class courses, they are the work of Satan himself. Lightning: Half Pipe is a bobsledders nightmare where one missed turn sails you over the lip, and no course can be better named than Big Blue: Ordeal (90 degree turns, jumps that come out of nowhere, other racers banging into you like there’s no tomorrow).
Races consist of three laps, but a new strategy comes into play after lap two, when the booster is applied. The booster will allow a two second burst of speed, sort of a futuristic NOS, but at the cost of some energy. Too much use of the boost without an adequate recharge (located on pit strips along the track) will result in a destroyed machine.
While a majority of the game will take place in the Grand Prix mode (a series of five races using a NASCAR-style points system), a new Story mode has been added involving unique mission-style races (such as a one on one showdown while dodging boulders rolled from a cliff). The only catch is not all the missions are made available, as you have to earn tickets which are won during Grand Prix races.
Tickets don’t only purchase new missions for Story Mode, but they also open the way towards more machines, and even parts used to customize a machine from scratch. In addition, it is reported that a GCN memory card can be used to link into F-Zero AX to unlock more cars and tracks, but since I have not laid eyes on an arcade F-Zero AX cabinet (save the one at E3), I can’t confirm this.
One word of warning though, F-Zero GX is difficult"VERY DIFFICULT. Not only do the other racers put up a heck of a challenge, but the evil course design will be too much for some people. F-Zero junkies will eat it up, especially considering the visual jump from the N64 version. Not only are all the tracks visually detailed with full backdrops and interactive setting (love the giant R.O.B. on the Port Town: Aero Dive stage), but everything moves on an unbreakable 60 frames per second. Amusement Vision takes the ATI graphic engine of the GameCube to the test, and I can only see what would happen if they made a port to the Xbox 2 when it comes out (another ATI-based engine).
The soundtrack is also a wonder to hear, it is always good to hear a remake of the original SNES themes (as displayed again in the Mute City tracks). Not only that, but every racer has unique theme music, WWE style. The voices though are very strange, almost comedic in a way, again similar to the WWE (especially in the post race interviews).
While up to four racers can compete on a single screen, I only wish that there was online racing for up to 30 people, but we can only blame Nintendo for being non-existent on their online strategy. It doesn’t however detract from this game. I’ve been saying that Nintendo is on a do-or-die setting and if F-Zero GX is any indication, this would seem more like a "do," with other unique titles like Rebel Strike on the way.