“Review”: F-zero GX

So, this’ll be my first “review”, which means it’s likely to be some sort of template for coming reviews. Why I write “review” inside quote-signs is that it’s not the “I’ll just write what I think about it and put a number on it”-kind of review. No, I’m going to write more of the smart and silly choices the designers made, how it all ties together, how the game could change if you switched a feature for another and finally sum it all up in one sentence, which will act as the rating.

But why F-zero GX? Wouldn’t it be better to take some more hyped up and recent game, like Portal? It would be easier, yes, but it wouldn’t make as good a first-review. This is one of my personal favourites, and I’ll describe why further below. Also, it’s an out-dated game but not yet classic, which is what I intend to focus on.

So, to describe why the design is smart in this game, let’s begin with the first moments of it, those moments that has to drag you in and not let you go. This is done by the story-mode. You start off with the first chapter on the easiest level, serving as a quick-tutorial. After doing the tutorial, you’re send to the in-game shop to unlock the next chapter, which requires tickets. To get these tickets, you must play the game’s Grand Prix-mode. So to get further along the story, you must get outside the story and get better of the game! And at the second or third chapter, it’s already so difficult that you need to visit the Grand Prix to practice so you can even beat the chapters themselves. And for every chapter you beat, you get a more difficult level of the chapter, and beating that gives you the hardest one. And for every harder level of a chapter you beat, you unlock something in the shop you need tickets to buy.

So, you’re forced to play a lot to beat the story, but thankfully the game is both fun and deep. On the surface, it’s just a sci-fi racing game where you race five stages in a cup against 29 Computer-controlled players to win. These players are fairly tough, and on expert – the third difficulty-level – you’ll start to truly feel challenged, but it’s still just a fun little game. You drive around one lap, and use your boost-power a little now and then on the two other laps, and heal up on the energy-regaining surfaces. That is, until you unlock the fourth level, Master. Then the game becomes so much more. To beat it, you must find the best path to drive, and you must learn where your boosts gives the most reward, you must find the best racer for your style and you must set the right balance between Acceleration and Max-speed before every race. If you lean towards acceleration, you can turn quicker and accelerate faster, but you’re max-speed will be reduced. If you lean to max-speed, it’s the opposite. So racers leaning the the former will have advantage in a stage with many curves, while the latter will be at advantage with many stretches. This leads you to think through how the stage looks, how it’s played and how much you should lean to either side.

All this good stuff being said, the game’s not without it’s small flaws. One thing is the one-question “F-zero TV”-interview you get once you beat a cup. Although it’s probably intended to make the world feel deep, it only feels odd. The game tells you that F-zero is the biggest thing in the world, but the reporters have time for only one question with the very winner. And then you need to play the cup again to get an other, questions answered. And the story doesn’t even feel F-zero is enough being the most popular sport of the world – no, the story tells that the very essence of the world is manifested in two belts that’s connected to it, making the sport about the very essence of the world! Some writer must have had a bad day when imagining the story, if there even was any. And the AX-cup (from the arcade-game) is way easier then the other cups, which is odd – why have they taken AI for the AX-cups intended for the Arcade to the Game Cube version? Unless the AI is build at driving to certain checkpoints at certain times, but the other levels doesn’t feel like using any such system.

So, what would happen if you added something like power-ups, Mario Kart/Wipeout-style? It sounds like it would become a lot of fun on the surface – a really fast racer with a constant fear of being nuked – and that it would make it more competition-driven, but I don’t think it would be a good idea. This game is closer to Formula 1 then Wipeout, and it would probably reduce the feel of needing to practice to beat your friends in favour of trusting to get that power-up in that race against your friends instead. It would, in other words, be more luck-driven.

So, what if there was an on-line-mode, like many of today’s games? Wouldn’t it be sweet to connect and play against 29 other guys and gals, all with their own racers? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. Firstly, it would increase the need for racer-balance, as some can feel overpowered to others, unless you made your own, which would need new parts to constantly be added, and after awhile building your racer would become more confusing then deep for the new players. But the hardcore would surly love it. Especially if they could play Grand Prix and having the non-players or dropped players filled out with computer-driven players.

What about voice-chat, wouldn’t a competitive game need some sort of communication. And, as they can’t write, wouldn’t voice-chat be just great? Dunno about that, either. Sure, it would create a community and all that stuff, but it would make it more likely to make players mislead and insult each other, unless they can make guilds so they can co-operate and help each other out. But now it’s starting to sound like an MMO-racer, isn’t it?

With all this being said, I haven’t said a word about the speed-feeling yet. By having small details on the tracks, a lot of lightning by the engines, thunder when boosting and stuff like rain flying towards the camera and speed-lines around the racer and velocity-meters showing thousands of km/h it creates a feeling of the game going extremely fast.

Sentence: F-zero GX is a quick and fun racer on the surface, deep and challenging under it, and great in both cases.

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