F-Zero GX Preview

We spend some time with the GameCube version of Sega and Nintendo's next entry in the F-Zero series.

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F-Zero GX is one of the bright lights on the GameCube software horizon. The game, which is being developed by Nintendo in collaboration with Sega's Amusement Vision, brings the old-school franchise screaming into the present with blistering speed and gorgeous visuals. After getting a brief look at what the game has to offer at E3, we recently spent some quality time with a new version of F-Zero GX that let us explore its plethora of modes and marvel at its insane difficulty.

Captain Falcon returns!
Captain Falcon returns!

The F-Zero franchise first hooked players with its appearance on the Super Nintendo in 1990. F-Zero impressed SNES fans everywhere with its speedy racing and use of Mode 7 scrolling. The next installment in the series, F-Zero X, brought the franchise into 3D in 1998 with a blazingly fast game on the Nintendo 64 that ran at a solid 60 frames per second. While the most recent entry in the franchise, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity for the Game Boy Advance was released in 2001, the 2D game offered a retro experience that drew on elements from the classic SNES games, rather than advancing the series. F-Zero GX combines the best elements from the previous entries in the series and takes the franchise in a new direction, with new modes and connectivity between the GameCube game and its arcade counterpart.

When you fire up F-Zero GX, you'll find four game modes: grand prix, versus battle, time attack, and story. The grand prix mode will offer an experience that is comparable to the previous F-Zero games, featuring several different cups to master by placing first in the races for each. Versus battle is a four-player showdown for you and three friends on any of the available tracks in the game. Time attack challenges you to beat the best times on each of the tracks in the game. The game's story mode will challenge you to go through 10 chapters as Captain Falcon. Each chapter will feature objective-based gameplay and revolve around racing at high speeds. The various objectives you'll have to complete run the gamut from standard to strange. For example, you'll be asked to beat an opponent to the finish line in a one-on-one race, complete a race with a bomb attached to your craft that will explode if you drop below a certain speed, or simply outrun whatever is chasing your ship. Going through the story mode is kept fresh by the different objectives and by the fact that you'll have to buy subsequent chapters in the game's shop using the tickets you earn in the grand prix and story modes.

You'll have to complete different races with different objectives.
You'll have to complete different races with different objectives.

You'll also find the practice, replay, customize, and player profiles options on F-Zero GX's main menu. Practice lets you familiarize yourself with the tracks in the game, and replay lets you watch whatever replays you've saved. The customize mode gives you three options: garage, emblem editor, and F-Zero shop. The garage lets you check out and tweak your vehicle, and the emblem editor lets you create your own emblems for your vehicle. The F-Zero shop lets you spend the tickets you've earned in the game in one of three shops. The machine store lets you buy new vehicles. The custom parts store lets you buy bodies, cockpits, and boost types that you can make new vehicles out of. The items shop lets you buy special items such as new chapters for the story mode. Finally, the player profiles option lets you read bios and check out character and vehicle models for characters you've opened in the game.

The Race of Champions

When you're in an actual game, be it a solo race or a competition against the very aggressive AI competitors, you'll find that F-Zero GX offers an accessible and addictive experience. The controls in the game are accessible for both fans of the franchise and newcomers. You'll accelerate with the A button and steer with the analog stick. The triggers will serve as your air brakes, allowing you to make sharp turns (which you'll be doing often). When held together, the L and R triggers will let you perform a drift move that is very handy. The Z button will let you perform a spin with your vehicle that can serve two purposes: In the midst of a group of vehicles, the spin will let you knock opponents around and jockey for a better position. When on your own, the spin can be tremendously useful for zipping through some of the evil, angular turns in the game. Although the game features a brake button, you won't be able to use it very often if you want to beat your opponents and break the lap records for the tracks.

Not everyone will race fairly.
Not everyone will race fairly.

As far as races go, the gameplay in F-Zero GX is as straightforward as ever. You simply have to beat your opponents to the finish line through skillful and sometimes dirty racing. The races start everyone on an even playing field by banning players from using their turbo for the first lap. Of course, you'll still be able to get a burst of speed if you can hit the special pads on the track that offer temporary acceleration boosts. After your second lap, you'll be able to initiate a speed boost whenever you like. The only catch is your craft's health meter drops every time you do it. You'll be able to recharge your health by racing over special sections of track that appear occasionally. The key to victory is managing your craft's health as you make your way around the track. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also choose to attack players using your craft's spin attack. While the gameplay mechanics are simple, you'll find there's quite a bit to master in F-Zero GX, which is a good thing.

So far, the game's various modes seem very promising. Grand prix, time attack, and versus battle are straightforward enough and offer some challenging, customizable races against some brutal AI opponents that will certainly keep you on your toes. The story mode, on the other hand, adds a cool new experience to the franchise. The mode is broken up into chapters that fill in Captain Falcon's back story and help you understand why he's such a badass.

F-Zero GX will be easy to pick up, but the game will have plenty of tricks to master.
F-Zero GX will be easy to pick up, but the game will have plenty of tricks to master.

The first chapter is a brief training level that charges you with collecting a set number of glowing capsules over the course of three laps. The chapter can be played in normal or hard, with normal offering a pretty user-friendly challenge and hard working you a bit more. Once you've cleared the first chapter, you'll earn 20 tickets and be informed that chapter two, Goroh the Vengeful Samurai, is available for purchase. The second chapter is a lot less easy on you, pitting you against Goroh in a race to the finish on a track littered with falling boulders. The key to success is managing your boost while avoiding the massive rocks coming down from the side of the track. You'll earn more tickets for clearing the second chapter, but you won't have enough to buy the next chapter. In order to rack up enough tickets to proceed, you'll have to try your hand at a grand prix race, which will reward you with enough tickets to buy the third chapter, High Stakes in Mute City. This chapter offers very cool experience, thanks to its retro-style track, which is very reminiscent in style and layout of the tracks found in the original SNES F-Zero. Unlike the new tracks, which feature insane, layered designs, the third chapter's track is flat and features jumps that are essential to victory.

Start Your Engines

Besides the obvious appeal of going through the various chapters, the story mode will feature CG movies that tie them all together. In addition to moving the story forward, the CG sequences give you a taste of the colorful world created for the game. You'll get a feel for the different locales you'll be racing in, as well as the game's eccentric cast of characters.

You'll race in different locales.
You'll race in different locales.

As if the game modes we've mentioned weren't enough, F-Zero GX will feature one more element that should give the game even more replay value. You'll be able to transfer data from the arcade version of the game, F-Zero AX, to the GameCube game and vice versa via a GameCube memory card. As far as F-Zero GX goes, you'll be able to take your custom ship and race it in the arcades. Using your ship in the arcades will earn you tickets and ship parts to use in the GameCube game. If you use the default ships in the arcade game, which are different from those in the GameCube game, you'll be able to download those ships--provided you win your races. You'll also be able to mix and match parts earned in both games to create your own custom ship. Finally, you'll be able to log on to a Web page and enter passwords given out by the games to be entered into the online rankings, which will track player performance all over the world.

The graphics in F-Zero GX are pretty outstanding. Unlike tracks we've seen in previous games (whose backgrounds were a little lacking in the polygon-count department), F-Zero GX's tracks are simply stunning. The game features a number of different environments that are brought to life by impressive ambient touches. In terms of weather effects, you'll see everything from thunderstorms to tornadoes taking place around you as you tear through the tracks at high speed. One of the coolest touches is the multitiered track design of many of the courses, which lets you see your opponents going about their business above or below you, provided you're willing to risk a look round as you're tearing along the track. You'll also see a nice assortment of special effects, such as particle and lighting effects. Throw in progressive-scan support and a blazing 60 frames per second frame rate and you have one impressive graphical package.

What would a futuristic racing game be without particle effects?
What would a futuristic racing game be without particle effects?

The audio in the game is also shaping up to be quite stellar, thanks to a rich soundtrack that mixes solid electronic music with some truly classic guitar rock that calls to mind the nostalgic goofiness of Sega's Daytona games. The sound effects in the game are also quite satisfying--power-ups and turbo boosts trigger satisfying dings and roars.

Based on what we've played, F-Zero GX seems like it could turn out to be an impressive, addictive game that should appeal to the speed freak in you. Thanks to its gorgeous visuals, a solid selection of modes, a ton of content to unlock, connectivity with the arcade game, and gameplay that will you have you wanting to squeeze in just one more race, the latest F-Zero game should have a lot to offer arcade racing fans when the game is released this August. Look for more on the game soon, as we also plan to check out the Japanese version, which will be released in a few short weeks.

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