Retro Scope: F-Zero GX

Sam looks back at one of the best installments in Nintendo’s other anti-gravity racer.

By Sam Stewart. Posted 05/29/2014 09:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

With Mario Kart 8’s release only a few days away, many of my friends have replaying older titles in the series to sharpen their skills before race day. While I too have been doing my fair share of karting over the past few weeks, I have spent even more time playing a different game: F-Zero GX. Both are racing games published by Nintendo, but the similarities end there. Mario Kart is a wacky kart racing series full of wild characters and colorful worlds. F-Zero GX is a tough as nails precision racer where success is dependent on an understanding of stats and your ability to control a vehicle moving at breakneck speed. While F-Zero may sound like more work than play, fans of challenging games understand that overcoming difficulty can be just as satisfying as landing that perfect green shell to take a first place victory.

I was interested in F-Zero GX after watching this amazing speedrun of the game done at Awesome Games Done Quick 2014 (this run actually caused the price of GX to double in the weeks after it aired). While the runner in the video manages to complete the game’s nine story missions in right around 26 minutes (on very hard), it took a novice like me hours to do them on normal. Knowing how hard it is to create a good story in a racing game, GX’s developers decided against playing it straight and instead made Captain Falcon’s adventure absolutely crazy. It begins with Falcon training for the Grand Prix in his secret lair and taking challenges from rivals, but eventually spins totally out of control. One of the final missions involves Falcon racing this universe’s Satan in what I’m pretty sure is the F-Zero version of the underworld (it’s a racetrack, of course). Each of the nine missions offers a unique challenge, and each one is bookended by fully voice acted cutscenes that really add to the game’s bizarre feel.

But of course, GX also has something for fans looking for a more traditional racing experience as well, in the form of the Grand Prix modes. Grand Prix allows you to ditch Falcon and try some other racers. The three main stats, Boost, Body, and Grip, determine how a vehicle operates. Unlike some racers, GX actually does have a set of “best” vehicles, but it takes a long time to master them because their speed comes at the expense of their handling, meaning a single twitch of the control stick could send you flying off the edge of a track. When moving at the speed of sound, some turns might only take a nudge of the control stick rather than a flick, and mastering the three different degrees of turns (holding L or R turns sharply, holding L and R turns sharpest) is a necessity. Your vehicle health and boost meter are one in the same, meaning that every boost makes you more susceptible to a sudden crash and burn. By the time you attempt Master class, you better be able to cruise through any track without hitting any walls or wasting any boosts, because you will need to it outrun the skillful AI.

Luckily, there are four cups (16 tracks in total) as well as four different classes (Novice through Master) for you to practice on. Tracks start out as simple loops with a few boosts here and there, but eventually morph into something that looks more like a DNA strand, full of perilous twists and turns. Some of the tracks even send you airborne, requiring you to adjust your vehicle’s angle for optimal aerial speed. I’ve managed to beat most of the Cups on Expert difficulty (second hardest), but I don’t see myself tackling Master anytime soon.

On top of GX’s perfect “pure racing” feel, it also has some of the best graphics of any GameCube Game I’ve seen. The detailed tracks, the shining vehicles, and blur of the breakneck speed, and somehow it manages to run at 60 frames per second. I would even venture to say that F-Zero GX looked just as good as most early Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games despite being stuck at SD resolutions. As for the music, everyone knows the F-Zero series has always had top notch music, and GX is no exception. The high intensity tracks match the 1000km/hour pace of the racing perfectly.

It is for all of these reasons and more that GX continues to be the crown jewel of the F-Zero series. Fans have been clamoring for a full HD sequel on Wii U for awhile, and after having played GX I can see why.  Mario Kart 8’s new anti-gravity racing seems to be taking inspiration from the F-Zero style, but I doubt it will be enough to appease F-Zero fans. Still, I can’t imagine how daunting it must be to follow up a game like GX. After creating something so amazing, why risk its reputation with a follow up? Perhaps this is the question that Nintendo has been considering over the past 10 years. Hopefully it will be willing to take that risk sometime soon.

2 Responses to “Retro Scope: F-Zero GX

  • 819 points
    Toadlord says...

    Completely serious here: I play F-Zero GX best when I have a drink or two in me. Not enough impair my driving, but enough to calm me the hell down from how tense the racing can be.

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