It's been 25 years since Captain Falcon, Dr. Stewart, Pico, and Samurai Gorah piloted their hovercrafts and still their legends live on. Some have tried to end these very dangerous races set on tracks high in the sky, but there is a new generation of pilots who are eager to get out there and risk their lives for fame and fortune at speeds topping 500 kph. F-Zero lives on!
If you ever owned a Super Nintendo or a Nintendo 64, there's a good chance you played one of the best and most innovative racing games ever devised for these systems: F-Zero. As one of the Game Boy Advance's launch titles, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity is the third in the series (in North America, anyway) and keeps the fast hovercraft racing action going strong.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
If you haven't played any of the F-Zero games before, the control will feel pretty odd. However, if you have played before, you'll have things under control pretty quickly. The control and general gameplay in F-Zero: Maximum Velocity are in the style of the original SNES F-Zero with only a couple of changes. You have your standard left/right motion which will turn left and right, and your accelerator and brake. You also have a lean (as in leaning over) control that allows you to slide or strafe left and right. You will get a turbo boost at the beginning of each lap after the first (up to a maximum of three at any one time) that can be used at any time.
Like the first two games in the series, in order to get a good feel for how this game controls you will need to utilize both the turning and leaning, and sometimes both together. You also still have the ability to 'rocket start'? at the beginning of each race, but timing is everything in getting it to work properly now. If you do it too soon, you'll burn out the engine and come to an almost complete stop. If you do it too late, you'll get a slow start like everyone else. One of the changes that proves to be quite annoying is the 'blast turning'? which you'll be required to learn and use if you ever want to win. In order to take almost any turn in the game without crashing into the sides, you have to continuously tap the accelerate button -- the sharper the turn, the faster the tapping. This is one change that should NOT have been put into the game because, while it does make the game more challenging, it is also murder on your thumb. You are guaranteed to get a cramp if you play this game for more than five minutes at a time. But I have to say it hurts so good; I found myself becoming addicted to this game regardless of that change. My thumb has been hurting for the past several weeks (even when I haven't played for a few days -- just because I played it so much in several close-together sittings), yet I keep coming back for more.
There are four vehicles that you can use at the start of the game. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and there are noticeable differences in how they handle. On the vehicle select screen you will see stats about the speed, boost, body strength, and turning capabilities. As you progress through the game you can unlock several more vehicles.
There are twenty-one total tracks in the game divided up into five tracks per league. When you start, there are three leagues available to you: Pawn, Knight, and Bishop. There is one additional track that can be unlocked and isn't in any league, it's called the Championship and will allow you to race against a ghost of the best lap time. You can later gain access to a fourth league called Queen by beating all three other leagues on all of the initially available difficulty settings. Once you have raced on a track, it becomes available to practice on in the Training mode. There are four difficulty settings but only three are available at the start of the game: Beginner, Standard, and Expert. The fourth is Master and can be unlocked for the league you're racing in by beating the other three difficulties in that league. The difficulty levels are aptly named; they range from easy to near impossible. The tracks range from easy to difficult and don't necessarily show up with the first being the easiest. As a comparison to the original F-Zero, the tracks in Maximum Velocity are definitely harder to navigate.
Each race consists of five laps total. You start at the line with three other opponents. After you finish each lap, you get a turbo boost (up to three total) that you can use whenever you want. In the upper left corner of the screen is the lowest position you can have when you finish that lap. As you complete each lap, that position gets narrowed down and ultimately by the fifth lap, you must finish in the top three to move on to the next race. If you fall below that position when you cross the finish line or if you run out of energy and explode, you will retire from the race. There are plenty obstacles on each track that will be glad to help you lose energy or slow you down. There are also some helpful items too. Some of these are boost pads (hope you buckled your seat belt), pit areas (they restore energy), mines (you cross over and go BOOM -- then you lose energy), jump pads (fly away, little hovercraft), and of course your opponents. There are others, too, that you'll find as you get to more tracks. As you get better and more familiar with each track, you might find that some of these objects could even help you take shortcuts. Unlike the original F-Zero, if you manage to find a shortcut, you won't be transported back to where you left the track.
When you first start the game, there are three file slots that you can choose from. Each slot will save your best ten race times for each track as well as any vehicles, tracks, and difficulty levels you've unlocked. After you finish each race, your time for each lap will be displayed and the total time is recorded and saved. When done racing, you can check the top ten best times for each track by viewing the records. You can also transfer best times between cartridges with a link cable.
There are two forms of multiplayer play in this game. One will allow up to four players to link with only one cartridge. All the other players then have to download the information through their link cables which can take up to about 30 seconds or so. You can only play one track and you all will use the same vehicle with different colors. There is also no music in this mode. While limited, it's a good way to see what multiplayer is all about without buying multiple cartridges. The other mode requires all players to have their own cartridge and will allow usage of all vehicles (that you have access to) on all tracks (again, that you have access to). This mode also has all the other bells and whistles such as music and saving best lap times.
In a word, Sweet! F-Zero: Maximum Velocity puts the Game Boy Advance's capabilities to the test and passes with flying colors -- and a lot of colors to boot! The graphics are very clear and bright (by GBA standards, anyway -- actually, it's pretty bright under a good light source). Since the GBA can't really do true 3D effects, they used a technique reminiscent of the Mode 7 rotation on the SNES F-Zero to rotate the track. This means that as the track itself gets closer, the graphics become blockier but you'll never notice it since it's moving past you too quickly. All the vehicles are rendered nicely and look great from all angles and they don't get blocky when they're close. The backgrounds and landscape below the tracks look incredible and the animation is really smooth all around. The nice animation also gives a good illusion of speed that really adds to the excitement of the game.
The music is in the same style as the original SNES F-Zero, although none of the songs are the same. Each track has its own seperate song and the music never seems to drone on and on or annoy. The GBA's internal speaker doesn't do this game justice. Give it a try with a nice set of headphones. The usage of the left/right channels is good, especially when passing (or being passed) by another vehicle. The sound effects are similar to the effects in the previous two games. They sound nice and are fitting for what's going on, aside from that there's not too much to say about them.
Even if you're quite familiar with the gameplay or are the F-Zero champ of the world with the other two games you should really read these docs. The main reason is that the documentation gives some simple tips on controlling the vehicle which are different from the other two games and very important to know if you want to win -- or at least don't want to keep banging into the side of the track.
Originality / Cool Features
Although the game concept isn't as original as it was in 1991 when the first in the series was released for the SNES, this is still a pretty original idea in the Game Boy realm. Sure there are lots of racing titles, but not very many (or any?) hovercraft racing titles -- the mechanics are a bit different from your standard racer, which adds to the fun once you get used to the controls. Another great feature is the ability to link up to four people with only one cartridge -- which is something someone should've done years ago.
If you enjoy racing games then you need this game, it's that simple. In fact, this game is the reason I went out and bought a GBA in the first place. The gameplay is rock solid, challenging, innovative, and a lot of fun despite the potential thumb pain you're likely to get. It looks great, sounds great, and plays great and for that reason I give this game a score of 90.