F-Zero X is the long-awaited follow-up to the classic F-Zero on the Super NES. Back then, the limits of the hardware meant that the futuristic hover-sleds of the game were limited to zipping around a flat track that span around the player like a Monopoly board on a record player.
Now, fabulous advances in microchip technology mean that you can play exactly the same game - only in 3-D!
That sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it? It's more or less what Nintendo has done with every N64 game it's produced -take an old classic from the days of the Super NES and spruce it up with amazing visuals and analogue controls. As Yoshi's Story proved, it's not always a winning formula. How well does F-Zero X hold up?
Initially, F-Zero X doesn't seem all that special, because the game looks... well, 'retro' would be the kindest description. Old Nintendo hands will talk admiringly about all the visual cues it shares with the SNES game, but those whose eyes aren't clotted with nostalgic cataracts might not be so happy about their latest purchase looking like a seven-year-old 16-bitter.
Start playing, though, and it doesn't take long to work out exactly why everything is so barren. Detail hasn't just been sacrificed for speed, it's practically been burned alive. F-Zero X maintains a consistent 60 frames per second speed, which is at least twice what most games manage, and when you realise that there are 30 cars on the track at once, all jostling for position, it's quite a feat.
It's so fast it makes your eyes water. Literally. That's an observation borne out by experience. Everything blasts past so insanely fast that it becomes almost hypnotic, and after a while you begin to realise that you've been staring intently at the screen for five minutes without blinking and there are flies stuck to your gummy eyeballs.
The large number of opponents is part of what makes F-Zero X a different experience to any other racer. The cars are all pretty evenly matched, so gaining places comes down to skill, quick reactions and well-judged use of boosters. The short races (three laps) mean that you're battling for position right until the end.
There are 24 race tracks, plus the Death Match circuit and the special X course, which randomly generates a new track each time you play - you have to be a pretty damn good player to access this, though. F-Zero X does apparently have 64DD 'hooks' for the expansion disk, which (if it ever appears) will feature a track designer, but for now you have to make do with whatever the X track throws at you.
Considering the opportunities presented by proper 3-D tracks, it's quite odd that more advantage wasn't taken of them. Although there are a few vertiginous sections where the track dreams of Mr Alton Towers, producing a proper feeling of queasiness as you struggle to keep your bearings, there aren't nearly enough. Extreme G recognised the potential of having the courses spend nearly as much time going up and down as from side to side, but F-Zero X is sparing - maybe too sparing - with its loops and rolls.
The amount of pop-up and fogging is also quite a shock, since the amount of scenery is so sparse. Normally you don't notice it while you're playing - your mind is otherwise occupied just trying to stay on the track - but on a couple of tracks things suddenly spring into existence right in the middle of the screen, which can be distracting.
For a Nintendo game, the in-game artwork is surprisingly ugly. Nintendo usually can't be faulted for their presentation, but the characters in F-Zero X look as though they've been drawn by a fifth-former whose ambition in life is to paint an Iron Maiden album cover. The cars they drive (30 in all) do look rather good though - each one is different, and even at speed on the track it's possible to pick out individual racers at a glance.
The music... well, it depends on whether you like West Coast plank-spanking rock or not, wailing twiddly guitar riffs screeching out in a blatant attempt to appeal to the American audience. This is one area where Wipeout 64 should definitely have the upper hand - even a mere MIDI rendition of Firestarter or Atom Bomb would be ten times better than the 'biddly-iddly-iddly-iddly-waaah-wah-wah-wahhhl' guitar shredding that F-Zero X inflicts on your ears.
Out of Your Gouraud
So, does F-Zero X make the grade? It is, after all, enormously late - only Zelda 64 has been longer on the waiting lists - and by the time it gets a UK release in late October, the likes of Extreme G 2 and Wipeout 64 will be on the track as well. The lengthy delays don't seem to have made much difference to the game, since the final version is, bar a few minor touches like the glossy shading on your car, all but identical to the one at Space World last year (see issue 9).
Fortunately, F-Zero X has enough going for it to make the hold-ups tolerable. Just. You're not likely to see a game this fast anywhere else, yet it never feels as though you've lost control, which happened quite often in Extreme G as you bounced helplessly from one side of the track to the other.
While the multiplayer game only has four cars on the track at once, which is a bit of a letdown considering how many vehicles the game is capable of throwing around, it's just as fast as the regular game, and can get as competitive as Goldeneye. Opportunities for cruel play are frequent, because once you get fully acquainted with the controls you can pitch your rivals off the track and watch long-term friendships evaporate in bursts of furious swearing.
There are a few disappointments, though. The Death Match game (see boxout) is Nintendo's only real concession to the current trend for racing with violence, and simply engaging in a high-speed dodgem car chase doesn't have the same visceral impact as blasting your enemies from the track with missiles and heavy machine guns. Nintendo's recent conservatism is also heavily in evidence - like Lylat Wars and Yoshi's Story, F-Zero X is more of a graphical update of the old SNES games than a genuine sequel. It's hard not to wish that a few new features had been included in the game instead of the designers just going, "It worked before, so let's not change anything."
Moaning aside, F-Zero X doesn't disappoint. It's a racing game that is totally dependent on your own skill to win, which is quite rare on the N64! The sheer speed is enough to make your head spin, the tracks present plenty of challenge (once you've beaten the three regular difficulty levels, there's a hidden 'Master' level to try) and the varying characteristics of the cars offer loads of scope for players to find their perfect vehicle for their driving style.
A little more innovation would have been appreciated, but this is one case where a more or less straight update of the SNES original was all that was needed to produce a great game. The only question remaining now is whether or not the PAL conversion will be any good - even the Japanese NTSC game has borders, and there's not much point having a game running at 60 frames per second when our TVs can only handle 5ofps! We'll have to wait until October to find out...
F-Zero X DownloadsF-Zero X download
The fastest racer on Earth, and one of the most exhilarating four-player experiences you can buy. Fast, strong and very, very long.
F-Zero X hits the UK, but is it still "so fast it makes your eyes water?
The racing in F-Zero X, so the story goes, evolved from present-day Formula 1 Grand Prix and because of this some of the cars in the game bear a striking resemblance to the Fi cars of today. That's at least as far as the body of the vehicle goes anyway, because the cars in F-Zero X don't have any wheels! Instead they utilise something called a 'G-Diffuser System' which enables them to hover just above the ground and cling to most surfaces although their grip is tentative at best.
When you begin F-Zero X, you get a range of options to choose from. In addition to a full Grand Prix, you can race the various tracks against a timer with an optional ghost racer to keep you on your toes, and then there's the Death Race.
In Death Race mode, you race around a simple circular track, and the idea of the game is to wipe out the other 29 racers. Unlike Wipeout, the cars in F-Zero X don't have weapons. Instead they have two offensive 'moves'. Double-tapping the Z or R buttons makes your craft veer sideways and creates a temporary energy shield. Hit another car with this shield and you damage it. If you hold either the Z or R button and double-tap the other one, your craft performs a more devastating 'spin attack' which can knock competitors clear off the track.
The downside to this attack is that you lose speed so it's not advisable to use it too much in a Grand Prix race.
In addition to the shield attacks, your craft also has a boost facility. In Death Races you can use this boost immediately, but in Grand Prix mode you must complete one lap before it's accessible. The catch with the boost is that each time you use it it depletes your energy, so you need to use it sparingly. Fortunately each track has areas of pink... erm, stuff which regenerates your energy.
The F-Zero X Grand Prix mode is initially fought over three cup competitions, each of which has six tracks and can be played on Easy, Standard or Expert level. Finish all three cups on the standard difficulty setting to access the Joker Cup, and finish all the cups including Joker on Expert, and you get access to the X Cup. For those of you that still require further challenge, beat all five cups on all three difficulty settings, to get a new playing level -Master difficulty!
In total there are 30 cars to choose from in F-Zero X. However, when you first begin the game you can only access six. To get more vehicles, you need to complete the various cups and this gives added incentive to compete on the harder difficulty levels.
Dial 'X' For Excessive
The tracks themselves start off simple but soon get more and more outlandish and dangerous. You find yourself racing around the outside of huge tubes where too much boost sends you sailing off into space. Some tracks feature huge jumps, others have ice on which you lose traction (which is weird, since your car isn't actually touching the track) and mud which slows you down (see previous comment). In addition, while the early tracks have walls at the side to prevent you from coming off, the further you go, the less these walls appear.
Thankfully, the PAL version of F-Zero X is almost indistinguishable from the NTSC version as far as performance goes (okay, okay, so the text isn't in Japanese any more, but aside from that, no difference). The game itself is still great fun, the only complaint being that the Death Race, while fun at first, quickly becomes boring. Multiplayer mode is fast and surprisingly smooth, adding more to an already excellent game. Despite the challenge from Wipeout, F-Zero X still has loads to offer and race fans would do well to give it a try.
Fastest racer on earth. Great racing, great fighting and damn hard.
Killer Cheat: Do not use this code to open up all the tracks, difficulty modes and cars. Okay?
At the mode select screen, press L, Z, R, Top-C, Bottom-C, Left-C, Right-C and Start. A chime will sound if you manage the code correctly.
Change Car Colours: At the car customisation screen -where you adjust the acceleration/top speed ratio - press R to cycle through a set number of colours for your car.
Spinning Cars: Also on the customisation screen, press the C buttons to spin your selected vehicle this way and that Useless of course.
Squashed Cars: At the car select screen press and hold L and R With these buttons held, press Left-C and Bottom-C to squash all the cars.
Ridiculously fast and smooth update of the old SNES game. Unmatched control, four players and even a random track generator!