Publisher: Nintendo (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit
First up on the release list we have the third game in the F-Zero series. Both the first SNES game and its N64 sequel were developed by Shigeru Miyamoto’s Nintendo EAD, setting up some high standards when it comes to futuristic racer games. This one was developed by a relatively unknown, low-profile company called NdCUBE.
And they did a pretty good job emulating the original F-Zero. Everything of note is here, as smooth as the original SNES game, just a tad smaller. It’s a pity I can’t say I like the result though.
I mean, sure, the Mode 7 graphics do look great (even now, but then I might have a sweet spot for pseudo 3D, who knows), it has some nifty music by Masaru Tajima (田島 賢) and Mitsuteru Furukawa and the slick, futuristic design of the game is nothing to scoff at – consistent, minimalistic and easy on the eyes. I can’t say I didn’t have fun playing it. Those few times when I wasn’t swearing or yanking my hair out.
You see, this game has rather weird race physics. Loads of inertia, making your ship turn like it’s a semi loaded to the roof with German porn videos. This coupled with some rather peculiar design decisions (the sides of the track act like bumpers in a pinball table, though these actually slow you down with each touch) makes the game rather not fun on anything above the Beginner difficulty level. The AI does not help this at all, it does not have catch-up like in some other racing games, but here it does not need catch-up. It will play almost flawlessly, leaving you to smell its exhaust fumes. There’s just no margin for error.
Which is a pity since the unlock system requires you to beat the game at the highest difficulty to access the additional tracks. Not the greatest of the ideas – we all love unlocks, especially unlocks that feel organic. And this one sure does not feel like that… Oh well, 15 tracks that are available on startup out of 20 should give me a good overview of the game, right?
Would I recommend the game? Well, this being the first game, there is no reason not to recommend it. It’s not the most complicated game under the sun, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game structure is made for handheld gaming – each race doesn’t take longer than 3 minutes to complete, and there are only 5 races in all four championships, so the whole run through it shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes. A major plus or a major minus, depending on what you expect out of it.
It’s not a classic, that’s for sure, but it’s not a bad game by any means. The game’s philosophy just doesn’t sit well with me for some reason.
F-Zero. Whoa. That’s, like, one number above F1, and we all know F1 is the most advanced racing series in the world. Apparently they’re even more advanced in the future. At least I’m assuming the game is set in the future, it looks futuristic.
All right, enough with being silly. I tried really hard to write in witticisms, but apparently I’m not yet prepared to do it for the span of few kilobytes, so I’ll have to settle for a mundane (not to mention rather poorly composed) “review” this time. I hope I won’t have to write reviews in the future, but it’ll have to do for now. It’s not a big loss, I have a bad sense of humour anyway.
So, well, the game. I like it. I like it in a way one likes a good time-waster. In a way, racing games are perfect for handhelds. You need just three minutes to play through one race and turn the machine off until next time. So the fact that the designers decided to make five-course series into a default play-through mode (they take a more significant amount of time to finish – at least fifteen minutes, assuming that you make a perfect run) instead of individual courses puzzles me quite a bit, as I feel it defeats the whole purpose. I’m not complaining, though, since I’m not even using a handheld right now. Besides, I like the game, did I mention that already?
I like the controls, for example. I started playing this the way I play all racing games, mainly, keeping the acceleration button pressed the entire time, trying to turn in whatever direction the track turns. The result, predictably, was also not unlike other racing games, mainly, my vehicle running head-first into track boundaries, which consist of some kind of magnetic barrier (although in fact, what I kept hitting was not only the boundaries, but also various kinds of obstacles, including bombs and other, much slower vehicles, which tend to appear on the track for some reason). This not only slowed it down, but also damaged it, eventually leading to a huge explosion accompanied by a totally redundant note saying that I lost. But. After a few tries I realized simply releasing the button for a short time (a few times in succession if necessary) is not only enough to make it through even the sharpest of turns, but also a valid way of doing it. It also appears to be a perfect way of stabilizing your vehicle during each and any kind of trouble (Brakes? Who needs brakes?). Basically, I actually can just accelerate (almost) the entire time and navigate with two arrow keys (with other ones needed only incidentally), and neither the gameplay nor my performance seems to be crippled by it in any way. Making it easy for the player is something I can appreciate.
I really appreciate computer opponents, too. They actually fight for position, bump into each other and obstacles, their vehicles display their particular quirks (faster ones do go faster, low turning stats translate to taking wider curves on chicanes, etc.), they can even crash on heavily damaging courses. Of course, they also fight me for position, bump into me pushing me off the track and are usually way faster than me (at least on higher difficulty levels), but all they do seems to be within the very same mechanics that apply to the player vehicle. Forget all those zombie undamageable cars driving predefined paths that tend to haunt games of this kind.
Speaking of difficulty levels, the learning curve seems to be perfect. Going through all the base courses and difficulties in a natural order seems to be the ideal way of learning the game and getting better at it. While I skipped the beginner setting and struggled for several attempts to finish the first two courses as a result, after finally getting past them I could complete each subsequent one after one or two tries; still, there was always just enough challenge to keep the gameplay interesting and force me to improve my skills. This stopped being true for the, significantly harder, unlockable courses and the gap introduced by the hardest difficulty is pretty huge, but one can assume anyone who played that far into the game is already hooked on it enough to appreciate the newfound challenge.
Other aspects of the game are… well, solid. Say, courses. While their number is low enough to not get repetitive, they tend to be either bland or based on gimmicky obstacles. The music is hit or miss, and the graphics aren’t particularly thrilling, just a proper 2D I can’t complain about. But I’m not complaining. I had fun. Now I’ll gladly stop wasting my time on it and move on to new challenges. See you next week.