F-Zero GX Hands-On Impressions

We take the final Japanese retail version of the Sega-developed racer out for a spin.

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We just received the final Japanese retail version of Nintendo's F-Zero GX, which was developed by Sega's Amusement Vision studio. While the visual aspects of the game will probably be more than enough to entice most GameCube owners, F-Zero also boasts an impressive sense of speed and a surprising number of modes.

The story mode in particular is interesting for a number of reasons. Outside of the mini-comics found in the previous games' instruction booklets, this is the first F-Zero game that legitimately tries to develop the characters in its universe. Unfortunately, the story mode focuses specifically on Captain Falcon and his adventures in the galaxy, so you can't play as the other characters in this mode, but the variety in the missions and the tracks more than makes up for it. For example, in one of the early missions in the story mode, Captain Falcon meets up with Samurai Goroh in a canyon area. Naturally, Goroh challenges Falcon to a race. However, this isn't a normal point-A-to-point-B race, as boulders come cascading down the sides of the canyon, forcing you to maneuver around them to avoid being crushed or pushed off the side of the track. In addition, you need to use your boost sparingly, since it depletes your shields and increases the risk of a boulder smashing your craft. As you start to win races in the story mode, additional CG cutscenes will play in between missions and you'll be awarded points that can be used to purchase additional missions.

Points also come into play in the customization portion of F-Zero GX. There are three separate options to choose from when entering the customization area--you can build a new machine, create a unique logo using the emblem editor, or purchase new pilots and custom parts in the F-Zero shop. Obviously, when you're building a new machine for the first time, you won't have access to high-quality parts, so your craft will probably have less-than-stellar handling and speed capabilities. But you can improve your machine's performance and overall look by purchasing additional parts. When you're all done building, you can mess around with the color scheme of individual parts and place premade emblems (or a custom creation) on almost any part of the machine. If you don't want to take the time to build a machine from scratch, you can venture over to the F-Zero shop and just purchase new pilots and machines for use in the other modes, such as the grand prix mode.

If you've played the previous F-Zero games, then you probably have a good idea of how the grand prix mode functions in F-Zero GX. You can select between three difficulty settings and three cups--the ruby cup, the sapphire cup, and the emerald cup. The ruby cup has the most-straightforward tracks, or at least the ones with the fewest surprises and sharp turns, while the tracks in the emerald cup will put your F-Zero racing skills to the test. Of course, you can practice on these tracks before going up against serious competition by playing in the practice or time attack modes.

But no matter how well you know the tracks, or how often you've played the game, the sense of speed remains pretty intense. Amusement Vision has largely succeeded in creating a racing game with a foundation on speed, as opposed to realistic handling or even combat. That's not to say that there isn't a little bit of both of those things in F-Zero. Each machine has different ratings in categories like body, boost, and grip, and braking is somewhat important on some of the more-difficult tracks. In addition, you can attack other machines on the track by either slamming them into walls or obstacles (such as mines or pipes jutting into the track) or executing your machine's spin attack. But ultimately, it's all about maintaining speed, hitting almost every single speed-boost pad, and using your boost power efficiently.

In a certain sense, this sense of speed is what makes F-Zero GX so pleasant to look at. The game isn't pushing around a lot of polygons, and there is some draw-in on the green plant tracks, but the lighting, track design, and special effects all seem to blend together exceptionally well, creating the appearance of complexity. Moreover, the game sports a very clean and vibrant look overall, and it's certainly worth mentioning that the frame rate never budges from 60 frames per second. The split-screen multiplayer (which supports up to four players) maintains this frame rate, but at the cost of some major details in the background.

F-Zero GX is scheduled for release in North America in late August. Check back soon, as we'll have more on F-Zero GX in the coming days.

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