The third F-Zero in the series is an all-new game and probably the toughest one yet. If you didn’t get F-Zero for the GBA launch, it may be time you checked it out.
F-Zero Maximum Velocity is a stunning addition to the series and a game I can’t stop playing. It’s taken me awhile to review, though I have yet to grow tired of it. Maximum Velocity is set 25 years after the original game. It is a time when the races of old have been outlawed, then re-instated… This is a whole new race and a completely different F-Zero. It’s still no-holds barred futuristic racing, fast and furious, but everything else is changed for the Game Boy Advance.
The GBA has often been compared to a portable SNES, but Maximum Velocity looks highly superior to its 16-bit predecessor. The tracks display a variety of futuristic backgrounds and colorful scenery. Buzzing traffic on streets several stories below the road ebbs and flows and almost looks like currents on a microchip. Other levels feature landscapes with psychedelically animated glowing lakes of goo or lava bordering the track. Not gobs of detail to soak in background-wise, but things move so fast that it doesn’t matter. In fact, to fully appreciate the graphics, you actually have to slow down… A lot. The vehicles also display some cool animation & detail as they turn or get damaged.
Whereas F-Zero 64 re-did the original soundtrack in the style of heavy metal rock music, there is an all-new score this time. The music is fantastic and different, with various futuristic sounds and beeps working as instruments. Some of the songs are noticeably better than others but the entire score is very appropriate. Sound FX include crashes, shocks and makes great use of the Doppler effect as cars speed by, or zoom past. Audio is so enjoyable that I’ve taken to hooking my GBA up to my computer speakers. In fact, F-Zero is the game that prompted me to try this. Naturally, headphones work great too and are highly recommended.
Control is one of the most different aspects of MV, as there is a lot more controlling to do for this outing. It’s a good idea to review the controls by viewing a tutorial demo on the start-up screen by hitting select. You can rev your engine before the race starts, which can give you a boost or cause you to overheat depending how it’s executed. Slowing down and tilting your vehicle and tapping the accelerator are all necessary to executing the many hairpin turns successfully. Boosts are awarded for each completed lap and activated by hitting both shoulder buttons at once. Using boosts can be crucial to help pull ahead at the last minute but can also lead to disaster if misused.
There are 8 total vehicles, with 4 available at first and the others you unlock. Some vehicles are more accessible than others but once you get a handle on the controls and practice, you can use almost any of the vehicles and win.
Three Cups (Pawn, Knight, Bishop) must be won to unlock the elite Queen Cup. There are initially three levels of difficulty too: Novice, Standard and Expert. Once you beat the initial three settings, “Master” is unlocked. In Master Class you have to almost make NO mistakes to remain on top, and even then you have to be tricky and watch out for your opponents. Master class allows for almost no mistake and every turn to be taken sharply. The boosts you need just to qualify. Truly, you must be a master… no simple feat, even after a summer’s worth of playing. (I’ve come real close to finishing Pawn on Master…)
The game is challenging… It took me awhile simply to get a grip on the play control, let alone beat the first circuit. When I’ve let non-gaming friends play Maximum Velocity the first time, I’ve had a couple of them hand it back to me within a few minutes. “Too hard.”
Practice is necessary to progress. You won’t master F-Zero Maximum Velocity if you rent it or don’t play it frequently. If you do not have a firm grasp on the play mechanics, you will lose frequently and not rank highly. Learning each course also becomes crucial, or the track itself becomes your enemy. Turns must be taken perfectly and sometimes the slightest mistake can spell your doom. There are all sorts of tricks and traps littered on every racetrack, increasingly so as the game progresses.
Meanwhile, the other racers are highly aggressive- bumping, slamming and all too frequently right on your tail, hot in pursuit of victory. AI opponents are tough, but not invincible. They will make mistakes, and sometimes even crash out themselves.
When your craft’s energy decreases, you will crackle, fizz and decrease in speed. This leaves you as a sitting duck for passing opponents and makes sharp turns all the more lethal. There are green strips that replenish energy but these are short and actually work to slow you down.
It’s hard to survive all of this and often, you won’t. Even when you do you have to stay competitive each lap or you’ll rank out prematurely. Out of 30 racers you must stay among a bracket that decreases each lap, from 15 to 10 to 7 to 5 to only the top 3 by the final lap. You can’t hang back and pull ahead at the last moment—you’ve got to remain on top all the way.
What makes Maximum Velocity’s profound challenge acceptable, even welcomed, is the portable nature of the game. Original Game Boy has outlasted and outsold every game system to date and has only recently been succeeded by the GBA. A GBA launch title, Maximum Velocity packs in enormous replay value and ongoing challenge that may endure as long as the handheld itself.
Along with the main Grand Prix, there is a Championship Mode in which features Time Attack or a Replay of the best time, but it’s only one track, Synobazz. There is also Training, where can practice on any track you’ve accessed, which is great for a quick run.
Adding to the replay is F-Zero Maximum Velocity’s multiplayer modes. With one cart, there is only one track selectable, “Silence”, and no music during the race. This seems limited, though it is definitely fun to have some human competition, and a friend and I played several matches without tiring of the seemingly limited options. Exploding cars even turn up in multiplayer. With more than one cart, all tracks are available and in-game music runs on all GBAs; multiply the fun & options and it may be very well worth hunting for some friends with the game for some 4 player...