F-Zero may be all about speed, but another GBA game already? Bloodworth takes a spin with the import.
Coming right on the heels of F-Zero GP Legend, which only came out last month in the US (and just about a year ago in Japan), F-Zero Climax is somewhat of a surprise. It continues to tie in with the TV Tokyo anime series, so it will probably be a while before NOA makes any mention of a US release. In any case, I obtained a copy of Climax from our partners at Lik-Sang before I even had a chance to finish GP Legend.
For the short amount of time between the games, it is somewhat surprising how much has changed, especially in terms of graphics. The look clearly fits the style of the previous 2D games, but the tracks are more detailed, background graphics are larger, and there is a much more noticeable separation between the track and ground below. The thick fog featured in the Mist Flow tracks returns, and is expanded upon on one of the Sand Ocean courses in the form of a raging sand storm blowing across the track – too bad it doesn’t seem to affect your craft in any way. Perhaps the most noticeable change is a blue or red fireball that encompasses your machine when you boost. The effect not only lets you better gauge when your boost is active, it also applies to other players, showing you when they’re boosting as well.
The control system has been overhauled in some ways too. The most striking is the removal of the ability to rebalance your acceleration and max speed before each race, preventing you from fine-tuning your vehicle’s performance. In addition, cornering feels a lot stiffer, making it more likely that you’ll seek out cars with an A-rated Grip attribute. There are four pre-set control schemes, but the default places accelerate on A and boost on B. Side attacks are mapped to a double tap of the shoulder button, and the new (for 2D) spin attack is activated by pressing L+R. If the pre-sets don’t suit your liking though, you can thankfully assign functions to any button you wish. This is especially important in Survival mode, where it helps to have a brake button for some challenges.
The boost system is a combination of the original one-boost-per-lap system and the suicide boost mechanism introduced in F-Zero X. Basically, you’ll gain the ability to boost after the first lap in a race, and each boost takes away a set amount of energy from your shields. On top of that, you receive one even faster double-boost after each lap that can be activated by pressing the boost button again before the regular boost fizzles out. Learning just where to double-boost on a track can really make all the difference in a race. You can also use a boost during a spin attack to give a little extra beating to other cars as you pass by.
F-Zero Climax features several modes in addition to the Grand Prix, but unfortunately the Grand Prix itself, which should be the staple of the game, is woefully lacking. On the standard difficulty, I whipped through all three circuits in no more than twenty minutes. The new tracks are all far too short for their own good, clocking in around twenty to thirty seconds per lap. Plus, the developers also reduced the races from five laps to three. Combined with the low difficulty and re-used environments and music, it all ends up feeling rather unsatisfying. You do unlock a Platinum Cup that is much harder than the other three cups. However, the tracks in Platinum Cup are just slightly altered versions of tracks from the original F-Zero and many of them were also in GP Legend. The Expert and Master settings do offer a more challenging experience, but even on the highest setting, there is a huge difficulty gap between the new tracks and Platinum tracks.
Zero Test returns from GP Legend, appropriately tucked away within Time Attack. Zero Test is easily the most difficult section of the game, trying your abilities within short stretches of track, forcing you to hone your turning and boosting skills. It can seem almost impossible to get even a bronze in all of the thirty six trials, and many players likely won’t even try to shave off another second or two for silver or gold rankings. Players that do go for the gold certainly deserve their bragging rights.
The story mode from GP Legend has been eliminated, but in its place is Survival mode, which is a series of random challenges with specific passing criteria. There are ten types of challenges; however, the track you compete on and the opponent you face can vary depending on the difficulty level. Death Races call for you to destroy your rival within three laps. Some races require you to win the course without dropping below 800 KPH. No Crash challenges put you on a track with an empty life bar, and the nasty Braking challenges put you on a short dead-end track without guard rails, requiring you to beat your opponent and brake just at the edge of the track without flying off – nobody says you can’t “tap" the other driver off the course first though. Completing a Survival series will unlock your driver’s profile and a page summarizing an episode from the anime, encouraging players to attempt each setting with every character.
The final addition to Climax is the new Edit mode which allows you to build up to thirty custom courses. Building a track is very simple. You select a background such as Big Blue or Red Canyon, select the shape and size of the piece you want, use the L and R buttons to scroll through all the different variations with pit zones, boosts, jumps, etc., and place the piece on the grid. Each piece is worth a certain number of points, and you have 255 total points to use for your track. Unfortunately, you are limited from doing things like doubling back and jumping over a track, but other than that, you’re free to build just about anything you want.
Once the track is built, you can take it for a test drive or watch a field of CPU cars race on it. The Watch Race mode isn’t all that exciting, but you can set up three cameras along different points on the track, switch to follow specific cars, and even rotate around the cars at will. The freedom in the camera control is quite unexpected in a 2D game, but aside from that, watching drone cars doing endless laps around your new track isn’t that fun. You can also take the tracks over to the Time Attack and try to do your best, but sadly, there are no options to race the custom tracks against a group of CPU opponents. It does seem likely that you can select the custom tracks in multiplayer, but we didn’t have another cartridge to try it out. Players can also trade courses quickly via link cable or over long distances through huge passwords in the neighborhood of 180 characters long. Despite the length of the password, it is nice to have the option to trade through online message boards.
As a whole, F-Zero Climax is a fairly complete package, especially for players that can get together and trade courses. However, even with the new extras, the short, lackluster Grand Prix mode puts a drag on the whole game.