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F Zero | GX | review | game | Lollipop
(Nintendo for GameCube)
by Mike Delano
Nintendo got the ball rolling with the whole outer space hovercraft-racing genre when they released the original F-Zero in the early days of Super Nintendo. Over a decade later, their take on futuristic hyperspeed grand prix is hardly the only one on the market. There have been imitations, improvements, triumphs, and disasters, but anticipation has always been high for the next installment of the beloved originator. Is F-Zero GX for GameCube the return of the king?
Maybe, but it's a dusty throne to claim. The Wipeout series on PlayStation was the definitive space racing game of its time. It had a jarring sense of speed, intuitive control, excellent track designs, and a fitting, timely, electronic music soundtrack with names like Underworld and The Chemical Brothers. Unfortunately, the series never made any giant leaps forward in its three sequels (the most recent, Wipeout Fusion, for the PS2), so its solid and dependable, but not ambitious.
F-Zero GX can be approached in much the same way. It's a snazzier version of Nintendo 64's F-Zero X. It maintains the game's teeth-grating speed, busy races (in GX you compete against 29 opponents on the same track), and smooth design, but aside from some secondary extra features and a visual upgrade, it's a pretty safe update of a well-worn formula.
The basics are unchanged from earlier versions: Pick from a stable of racers with varying strengths and weaknesses to compete in increasingly difficult cup tournaments. Bonus: This time around, the drivers show their appreciation when you select them, including an unsettlingly violent pelvic thrust from one grateful participant.
Each cup has five courses, and there are 20 overall. On the track, the only determining factors for victory (besides your skill) are boost pads and a turbo option that kicks in after the first lap. It would've been nice had GX incorporated a weapons system similar to Wipeout, but at the speed the game runs, that kind of chaos could be overwhelming.
There's no doubt the futuristic city and planet landscapes are downright stunning, but it's all just so much eye candy. The original Super Mario Kart has GX beat in terms of environment interaction. The tracks do sometimes expand into a half or full pipe, but those changes – the full pipe especially – make the control so unruly and frustrating that it's not even worth it.
The best of the generous secondary features is the Story Mode, where you can complete certain objectives to unlock the ridiculous, hilarious story of the F-Zero racers, which contains not a few muscle-bound he-men in tight-fitting body suits threatening each other. Serviceable two to four-player split screens allow you to race against other players, and Garage Mode lets you tinker with every tiny spacecraft detail to your heart's content.
F-Zero GX doesn't take a gamble on its name like Metroid Fusion did, and it doesn't have the same satisfying payoff of that title. It's a sleek, solid, and dependable continuation of the series, but if Nintendo doesn't make more of an effort to keep things fresh, a hungry young developer is very likely to leave them in the dust.