The recent blog, Peace in the Era of Call of Duty really made me think about war games that dig deeper than simply a kill streak reward. The first game that came to mind was Spec-Ops: The Line and although I haven’t played it, I began to wonder if it did the war genre as...
That's pretty much what one can say about F-Zero X for the N64. This is the absolute and complete opposite of such heavy-weight racing games like Gran Turismo for the Playstation. Realism? Who needs it? Hours of preparation before the race even starts? Who needs it? No, this is a racing game where you want to get to the racing as soon as possible.
And it does that very well. In fact, almost too well. Anyway, let's get down to it. We're in the future, where hovercars is the norm (aren't they always...). Races are heldt on gigantic tracks built far -above- the cities and wastelands they're set in, which makes it rather dangerous to get off track. What you do is that you pick the circuit you want to compete in, then one out of up to 30 different drivers (whose cars are generally either good at cornering and weak in body or the other way around), then choose on a sliding scale whether you want accelleration or good top speed, and off you go. Didn't take long to get to the racing, did it?
Fans of the original F-Zero will definitely be familiar with the racing, even with the new 3D car models and tracks that now includes loops, tubes where you drive on the inside, tubes where you drive on the outside, halfpipes, and of course some jumps and icy areas and whatnot (how do hovercars slide on ice anyway?). From there, it's all high-speed driving action with 30 cars on the field.
The apparent lack of weapons could almost seem a bit out of place... But then again, is there a law that in the future, all car races will include weapons? Either way, you do have a little pushing trick that, if timed well, can pretty much make your opponent crash into the security fence so many times he'll be destroyed, or he'll fall off the track in the places without the fence. Still, it takes time to master, and with only 3 laps per race, you simply cannot ever win by ruining your opponents (There is a special track you can enter where the goal -is- to destroy all your opponents, though, if that's what you crave). You need racing skills, simple as that.
And of course, you need patience, particularly with the typical "impossible to gain a good lead on the computer opponent" cheat that is oh-so-usual. Already at this stage of the video game evolving, that one should have been wiped out. And on the harder difficulty settings, it's really tough to get any lead whatsoever, although that's rather more as expected, of course.
There is also a simple multiplayer for up to four players, but unless all players are roughly equal, it won't last for long.
Part of the fun here is really that the cars actually do handle very different. And with a new, unworn controller, they act exactly as they should. Handling a car that slides all the time is of course difficult, but possible, if you just use the stick much more carefully. And once you do, you will be able to win the ordinary three difficulty settings with just about any car. And then you'll be subjected to an incredibly simple ending, which feels a bit unsatisfying. I realise that 30 Grand Endings is out of the question, but I'd like to have at least something that feels like an actual reward here, you know.
Graphically, it's pretty much as expected on the N64 console, and thankfully without any frame-dropping even with all those cars on the track. The music is the continuitation of the typical futuristic techno style introduced in F-Zero for the SNES. I find it fitting, but it may grate the nerves of some.
In the end, this is best treated as a lunch-break racing game. Half an hour there, 20 minutes there... It all adds up to a very good amount of fast-paced Fun, even though it could have had at least a few more options. But start treating it too much like a serious racing game, and you'll be disappointed, and also missing the point.