Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone



Nintendo's flagship racing series F-Zero has made its long-awaited debut on Gamecube. Developed by Sega's Amusement Vision subsidiary in conjunction with Nintendo, F-Zero GX represents a major step forward for the franchise. GX's frenetic speed, incredible backgrounds and elaborate courses make for an intense racer are substantially improved. There's also an elaborate story mode that adds more challenge and depth. Casual gamers should be warned that the difficulty level ratchets skyward quickly, which can be either frustrating or invigorating. It's unrelenting challenge might aggravate some gamers but, those with the skills will be rewarded with easily the most intense Gamecube racer to date.

In 1991, Nintendo released a revolutionary futuristic racer, F-Zero for the SNES. Featuring parallax scrolling, rotation and zoom effects, the title set new standards for intensity that spawned countless imitators over the past dozen years. Nintendo itself released a decent follow-up for the N64, which was just as intense as the original and also a conversion of the original F-Zero for the GBA launch. Now, the series has been reborn for and refitted to take full advantage of today's technology. From an aesthetic standpoint F-Zero GX represents a quantum leap forward for the series, with incredible graphics and technology that make for a truly immersive and intense experience. Unlike the comparatively Spartan environments of the SNES and N64 editions, F-Zero GX sports amazingly detailed, elaborate worlds. Each environment in the game has been rendered beautifully and showcases an impressive attention to detail with transparencies, metal grating, off-road surfaces and standard gravel beautifully rendered. The tracks are rich and evocative with detailed trackside objects that can easily distract and disorient players. F-Zero GX takes you through a variety of locales such as shimmering mega-cities, deep space casinos, exotic jungles and more. F-Zero GX's vehicle designs stay true to the feel of previous games, and they look spectacular with their engines' exhaust fumes illuminating the track. The course designs are quite brilliant and feature brilliant light sourcing, dazzling lighting and weather effects all running at a breathtakingly fast and incredibly smooth frame rate that doesn't let up. This creates an awesome sensation of speed that's pretty much unrivaled on any other console to date. This is especially true when you play in first-person perspective mode which is the best way to play.

While the graphics look amazingly sharp, players will find some familiar elements in GX. First off are the power-boost strips, which fill the vehicle's energy, and make the boost. Unlike previous games, where the boost was independent of the main energy, using the speed boost in GX will drain your power bar, so you have to use it wisely. However, the game adds to the challenge because you can't use the energy boost until the second lap, which means you'll have to rely on your skills in the first lap. However, you can run over the boost power-ups to give your ship a quick burst of speed. During each race, the other racers will fight you for position and can bump into you to try and knock you off the track. This causes you to lose energy, as does hitting the barriers on the side of the track. While the original game had relatively simple, rather flat racing environments, GX ups the ante with more elaborate courses. GX is state of the art and features massive jumps, long tubes, huge circular loops, steep drops and more. The courses are less predictable now with sudden turns and massive gaps that will challenge even hardcore F-Zero veterans. F-Zero GX's sophisticated race maps keep things fresh and mastering their layouts probably the most important thing you need to do if you want to win the game. Another familiar element from the original, are the jump gates that you can use to glide over the courses. One of the most challenging aspects of the original was trying to stay on course, since leaving the boundaries would cause your vehicle to explode immediately, which can be quite difficult in the harder racers. Once you lose, the game ends. You can't respawn from the same point and must restart the race. When you're eliminated from the race, you can start again as long as you have an extra ship, but these are limited and leave you little room for error, especially in the Grand Prix mode.

F-Zero includes several different modes of play to keep you occupied. Some of these are standard issue modes such as Practice, Single Race and Lap. The practice mode is helpful if you want to learn the layout of each course and is a bit easier than the main game since you can respawn if you lose all your energy or go off course. This is helpful training for the Grand Prix mode, where you have very little room for error. GP consists of four different cups with five races each. The cups themselves range from relatively easy to seemingly impossible courses. In this mode, you race against a full compliment of 29 opponents. After each race is complete, you earn points that make your ranking against the other players. You can continue on in this mode as long as you have extra ships, and can re-start a race if your not happy with your finish and want to improve your ranking but you need to be careful since your backup stock is limited. However, after each race, your starting position in the next is determined by where you finish. A good race starts you off near the back of the pack, while a bad finish near the bottom puts you at the front. Players can also challenge their best time in the Time Attack Mode, where you race against yourself using ghost data. F-Zero GX also includes a Versus Battle mode, where you and up to three other opponents can race using an impressive split screen mode that doesn't suffer slowdown and looks crisps. Versus mode lets you play as any vehicle you want, in any courses that have been unlocked. The game also allows you to view your best races using an elaborate replay mode that allows you to see the action from different angles and viewpoints. These modes are exactly what you'd expect, but GX has added a few surprises as well.

The single biggest change and addition to the series is the Story Mode. As detailed in the surprisingly elaborate and slick movies, players take the role of Captain Falcon as he tries to regain the F-Zero championship. Story Mode requires players to complete different objectives such as collecting all the energy capsules on a track before the timer runs out, charging your ships weapons up to full strength, knocking all the opponents off the track or beating a time limit. These missions start off easily enough, but can become quite challenging later on, and make for a deep satisfying experience that definitely sets this apart from other racers. Another big change for the series is the Custom Mode where you can build and modify your racer. Here, you can equip special parts, tune up your vehicle's handling and other personalization options. This further immerses you into the F-Zero world and give what could have been a superficial racer a surprising amount of depth.

All these varying modes add to the fun, but the racing itself is where the game really shines. No other game on the market matches the intensity of GX, and fewer still will pose such an intimidating challenge. F-Zero GX's controls are easy to understand and incredibly responsive, but some players may find them to be a little over-sensitive. Initially, you'll frequently bounce off against the sides of the courses but as you get better at the controls and physics, you should smoothen out after some practice. The best strategy to beat the game is attacking each course a game in and of itself, since you need a lot of concentration in order to avoid making mistakes. This is critical because GX penalizes players heavily for even small errors, especially later on, which means you'll have to become intimately familiar with each course layouts if you want a chance of finishing near the top. You have a limited number of chances and some courses leave you very little breathing room. The Cup stages can be annoying, since small errors can leave you hopelessly out of contention before you reach the half-way point. However, you can always rally by winning the next race, since the points awarded are relatively close together. There's little doubt that F-Zero GX can be frustrating at times, but players who persevere, practice and eventually succeed will achieve a strong sense of satisfaction that they've actually earned their top ranking.

While F-Zero GX's difficulty level can be intimidating, don't let that prevent you from purchasing it. The initial levels are easy, but the game becomes very hard quickly. It can be frustrating at points but the rewards are commensurate with the effort. The visuals are astonishing, and easily rank up there with the best GCN titles to date. Players will experience some incredible environments that are definitely worth the time it takes to unlock, and the extra Story Mode adds a lot of depth to the game. From a technical standpoint, few racing titles have approached the amazing sense of speed and intensity that GX does with ease. While a racer this intense might not appeal to casual racing fans accustomed to mindlessly pushing a button and steering left 4 times, F-Zero GX is a brilliantly designed sequel that will definitely please hardcore fans of the series who are up to the challenge.


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