For futuristic racing, there’s no power greater than GX.
In reviewing F-Zero GX, it’s impossible not to start out by commenting on the game’s speed. The game is just really, absurdly fast. It has a fluent, satisfying kind of speed that doesn’t rely on any gimmicks to fake acceleration or depict a sonic boom. When the speedometer shows 1500 kilometers per hour, the game engine makes your eyes believe it. As long as it got this one vital thing right, F-Zero GX would be secure as a worthy entry into the franchise. But of course, it goes much further than that.
At its core, the gameplay has changed very little since the revolutionary F-Zero on Super NES, more than a decade ago. The racing is pure and straightforward; the tracks are definitely not. GX contributes an impressive new class of tracks which bring new ideas while sticking to the game’s style. Amusement Vision went back to the original Super Monkey Ball philosophy for level design, so you can be assured that the various evil twists and jumps aren’t corrupted by switches or puzzles. A couple of levels are a bit too bland, actually, but most are very interesting and challenging. And despite each track looking fantastic and usually sporting some original concept, there are tons of tracks to race on (more than twenty).
Combat is limited to side-swipes and a crazy spin move. Basically, your only weapon is the hovercraft itself. I’m still unconvinced that combat of any kind is warranted in this series, but at least F-Zero GX makes it optional and keeps it simple. Knocking out your rival is certainly a viable strategy, but it’s difficult enough that the use of force doesn’t become an easy way out of tough situations.
The overall difficulty of the game is worth noting. F-Zero GX is a skill-based game, so you will get better the more you play. Don’t expect to jump in and beat every cup on every difficulty level right off the bat. Developing your skills and reflexes takes patience and a good bit of experimenting with cars and customizations. The later courses and higher difficulty levels can be brutal, but the game has a way of making you want to improve and keep trying.
New to the series is a story mode which follows Captain Falcon through nine special missions. It’s a completely optional mode, but you’ll unlock a ton of stuff for completing the levels. Each chapter is book-ended by CG clips which border on ridiculous, although they at least look much better than those in Super Mario Sunshine. The actual story of story mode is disjointed and pretty awful; the real purpose of the mode is to let you play non-standard races. Some of the offerings include a scavenger hunt, one-on-one racing duels, and a tense escape sequence. Story missions tend to be very difficult, and a couple of them are nothing less than excruciating. Overall, the story mode is an admirable attempt to spotlight the franchise’s various characters, but it focuses too much on Captain Falcon, which means that you are forced to use his car in every mission.
Another F-Zero first (unless you count the obscure 64DD expansion disk) is the chance to build your own hovercraft. There are all kinds of parts available in the game’s shop, and you can piece them together in the garage. The parts, most of which have to be unlocked in other modes, have a wide range of stats and appearances. The best part is that they fit together really nicely, so your custom machine looks just as cool as all the pre-built ones on the track. It’s possible to play through the entire game and never mess around with this feature, but if you are the tinkering type, you can put together a highly competitive craft with just a few decent parts.
It’s a shame the LAN mode had to be dropped late in development, but split-screen works great in its own right. The tracks scale themselves down in detail and geometry depending on how many people are playing, so performance can be kept up to par. You probably won’t notice any difference in your smaller side or corner of the screen, and the sense of speed is no less dramatic than in single-player modes. The only disappointment for multiplayer is that AI bots can only be added to make the total number of racers reach four. It feels like a big step down to go from thirty-car Grand Prix races to four-car multiplayer races. Still, if you have a friend or friends who are about as good as you, split-screen can be a lot of fun.
F-Zero GX is a deep game with several gameplay modes and a trove of unlockables. Adding in the level of difficulty, you can expect to be playing this one for a long time. It’s a wild ride that lives up to the series in every way and manages to add a few new ideas to the F-Zero playbook. It also happens to be the best racer on GameCube, a title not to be ignored for the lack of strong competitors. As long as you’re willing to invest some effort into developing your skills, F-Zero GX is worth buying even if you don’t normally get into racing games.