F-Zero AX Impressions

We check out the upcoming Tri Force-powered arcade incarnation of the classic franchise.

Nintendo showed off a fully operational F-Zero AX arcade cabinet yesterday. The arcade counterpart to the upcoming F-Zero GX, the game was developed in conjunction with Sega's Amusement Vision development studio and is powered by the Tri Force board. The Tri Force arcade hardware is based on GameCube hardware, which allows for some unique connectivity between the GameCube and arcade games.

The cabinet is shaped like Captain Falcon's ship, with the chair simulating the craft's cockpit. A seat belt is included to keep you strapped in, as several motors jerk the chair around as you play. The control setup features a wheel with triggers to activate the left and right air brakes and a boost button in its center. You'll use foot pedals to accelerate and brake. To your left, you'll find four colored buttons that let you toggle between four separate camera views, much like on the old Daytona USA arcade units. Also to your left, you'll see a red "motion stop" button, which is one of several safeties built into the arcade unit for the queasy gamer. The left side of the unit will also feature a slot for a GameCube memory card and a dispenser for the magnetic cards the game uses to keep track of player data. The card system in F-Zero AX is similar to the one used in previous Sega arcade games, such as Sega Club Kart Racing, Initial D, and Derby Owners Club. The card system serves several functions, including allowing unique content to be exchanged between the arcade and GameCube games. When you first start a game, you'll be prompted to insert your existing card or create a new F-Zero license card. You'll also be asked if you'll be using a GameCube memory card, which lets the game know if it will need to transfer data when you've finished playing. You'll be able to customize your license card by entering a name that will be used in the game and printed on the card. Once you've personalized the card, the game will provide you with a randomly generated racer and vehicle. If you have a GameCube memory card with an F-Zero GX save on it, you'll be able to use vehicles from your garage in the arcade game. Custom touches such as decals and color schemes will also transfer over to the arcade game.

After you've raced, you'll be rewarded with tickets that you can use in the shops in F-Zero GX. If you managed to win your race, you'll also have the option of transferring your racer to a GameCube memory card for use in F-Zero GX. When your card is returned to you, updated information on your performance will be stamped on it. All told, the card will track your custom ship data, the total distance you've traveled in miles, and the number of pilot points you've earned. Pilot points are points you'll earn by racing with a bit of style and aggression. You'll earn some points just by racing, but you'll be able to earn more by finishing in the top tier of racers, destroying opponents on the track, and finishing races with a good amount of health. Racking up pilot points lets you purchase parts in the arcade game and beef up your craft's abilities. As you play the game, you'll also be rewarded with more tickets and special parts you can use to create custom vehicles in both games. The only catch to the magnetic cards is they expire after 50 uses. But completionists shouldn't fret since your data can be transferred to a new card. The Japanese version of F-Zero GX will actually come bundled with a magnetic card for use in arcades. Whether that will also be the case with the US version is still being decided.

In terms of the actual game, F-Zero AX will offer 10 unique pilots and vehicles not found in the GameCube game, as well as four common characters and vehicles. The tracks in the game will also be unique, featuring all-new designs that will keep you on your toes. You'll find two main modes to play through: race and time attack. Race is an arcade-style competition that challenges you to clear a track before time runs out. Time attack challenges you to beat the best times on each track. Performing well in time attack will also reward you with a code to enter on the game's Web site, which tallies the performance of players around the world.

The graphics in the game are similar in spirit to the impressive graphics featured in the GameCube game, offering clean, detailed visuals that provide an excellent sense of speed. The environments feature dramatic flourishes such as rain, lightning, and thunder that bring them to life. The track designs are inventive and feature stomach-churning twists and turns that will test both your racing skills and your constitution.

The audio in the game is strong, thanks to solid sound effects and music. The game's audio components are complemented by speakers built into the headrest of the arcade cabinet chair that blare at you enthusiastically during a game.

F-Zero AX is expected to begin shipping in September. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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