Don’t blink, don’t brake, and don’t get bumped off.
F-Zero GX is the fourth installment of the twelve-year-old series, and it’s been polished up nicely. The game has been fleshed out with a variety of modes and extras, the music is excellent, the graphics are finally worth showing off in screen shots, and although speed has never been a problem, it’s been pumped up a notch too.
One of the first things anyone should know is that this game will eat your memory card. Your standard game data only takes four blocks, but there are a number of optional features that will use up additional space. Saving a time attack ghost will cost three blocks. Saving a full replay save uses anywhere from three to thirteen blocks, depending on the length. Each custom decal you make costs three blocks, and your garage of four custom cars weighs in at a full eighteen blocks. Another important thing to note is that the standard game data cannot be moved or copied to another card. If you’re the type of person that likes to keep everything together, you may want to go out and get a new memory card just for F-Zero; otherwise you can just keep the extras in Slot B.
There are five different modes of play. The majority of your time will be spent playing Grand Prix, which places you in one of several circuits with a series of five courses. Your rank in each race earns you a set number of points, and the racer with the most points at the end of the fifth race wins the cup. Versus mode allows you to play with up to three other people. Time Attack allows you to take each course without opposition and save ghosts of your best runs, and Practice mode allows you to take a run at any course, under any conditions. In Practice, you can set the difficulty, number of laps, or number of drivers to match the challenges you have to deal with in Grand Prix.
The story mode is an intriguing addition to the F-Zero franchise. A set of pre-rendered cinemas follows Captain Falcon through nine chapters, each with a specific challenge for the player to complete. The first mission is a tedious collect-a-thon, but the rest are quite varied and engaging, featuring narrow escapes, rivalries, and even a bomb right out of Speed that will explode if you drop below 700 km/h. Unfortunately, the opposite can probably be said of the cinemas. While the chapters start out as an interesting expansion of the F-Zero characters, towards the end, things take a turn for the weirder, with a race through hell, and something about championship belts being the key to the universe. The acting isn’t the greatest either, but despite its faults, the Story mode adds a great new dimension to the game that players can turn to when Grand Prix gets too frustrating.
Another great addition to the series is the custom Garage and Shop. Some may remember that F-Zero X on the N64 featured hooks for an expansion disk with car and track editors, but only a tiny fraction of people ever ended up getting to experience the features, since they were only available on the 64DD. The F-Zero GX Garage allows you to build up to four cars per memory card. You’ll pick from a variety of bodies, cockpits, engines, and pilots to build your car, but it can be very difficult to balance performance and style. Building your own machines also makes it clear that a car built out of A-rated parts isn’t necessarily the best thing. You’ll have to pay attention to things like how many thrusters your engine has or how much everything weighs. It can take a lot of experimentation with parts and drivers to put together a great machine, but going back in and re-tooling things is just part of the fun. You can also adjust your paint job and apply custom decals to your machine. I quickly threw together a PGC logo and stuck it on the front of a heavy black machine with blue flames and the number 4 painted on each side.
To get your parts, machines, and other items like story chapters, you’ll need to check out the Shop. As you complete races and story chapters, you’ll unlock items in the shop and receive a certain number of points to spend. You’ll use the points to purchase what you want, but most of the time there will be far more available than you can buy, so you’ll have to decide whether you want a new machine, new custom parts, or a new story chapter.
On top of all this, F-Zero GX is Nintendo’s key to re-entering the arcades. The GameCube game connects with the upcoming F-Zero AX, and if you take your memory card with you, you can bring home the tracks, drivers, and custom parts from the arcade. Being able to take cars from home to the arcade and vice-versa is a great incentive, but if you don’t live anywhere near the arcade, don’t be bitter that things are locked away from reach. What Nintendo doesn’t want you to know is that pretty much all the arcade goodies can be unlocked through other means; you’ll just have to be a “master" to do it.
What this all adds up to is a thoroughly complete F-Zero experience. It leaves you wondering what they could possibly bring to the table next time around. The return of the track editor or X Cup? A better storyline and better voice acting? With excellent control, track design, graphics, sound, and customization, this is clearly the best F-Zero game in the series, and one of the best games on GameCube overall.