F-Zero Room for Error.
In 2014, Mario Kart 8 beat out super-serious sports and racing titles NBA 2K15 and Forza Horizon 2 to win Best Sports/Racing Game at the inaugural Game Awards. And the Mario Kart team deserved that win wholeheartedly; after all, Mario has had eleven kart racing titles split between consoles, handholds, and arcades to perfect the formula. But how many does Captain Falcon get? Only five. (Or ten, if you ask Japanese gamers, because they use the metric system. I jest.) And if there was one highly anticipated title at last year's E3 that's still anticipated now, it was definitely not Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
F-Zero still hasn't made a modern appearance in over ten years in North America, with its last entry in the States being F-Zero: GP Legend for the Game Boy Advance in 2004. Coincidentally, Captain Falcon has been in every Super Smash Bros. endeavor since appearing as an unlockable fighter in the original game in 1999. Whether or not the recession of the popular futuristic racing franchise came from an intense lack of Captain Falcon's glorious gluteus maximus, F-Zero has long been one of the most clamored-for series admittedly due for a revival at some point on the Wii U. Bu this will have to continue to wait, as F-Zero will not be joining the new lineup in any form.
In the meantime, may Shin'en Multimedia interest you in an equally-as-tantalizing FAST Racing Neo? The entree may look as succulent as an eighth-generation F-Zero, but it definitely tastes like some freezing and microwaving may have been done on the proverbial meat. That's not to say you don't get used to the taste difference after a while.
Based on the intro screen of FAST Racing Neo, the first compelling thought that probably jumps to mind would be visions of Mario Kart 8's downloadable Mute City track realized in full Miyamoto-sama glory, but while racers won't quite be able to “show me your moves,” they'll come pretty close to it. The details found in every track, from freshly-fallen snow to beautiful underwater glass tunnel portions of track, are created in simple yet majestic glory, even as they whizz by at over 300 miles per hour. If there is racing in the future, it does feel like Shin'en was able to jump through time to take a photo backdrop for the game.
Luckily, they were able to capture the music of the future as well, because if this what the future sounds like, then racing is my new favorite sport to watch. This soundtrack kicks. While this can be said about many games, specifically futuristic games, specifically high-speed games, FAST Racing Neo's soundtrack marries the sci-fi and racing elements in an energy-pumping, heart-pounding noise orgasm akin to what a James Bond flick might sound like if they're still making James Bond flicks in the year 20XX. (Hint: Yes, they will be.)
The A/V tracks may take the checkered flag in FAST Racing Neo, but the tracks themselves might have needed one more small pit stop before hitting Nintendo's eShop. On paper, the game's primary defining mechanic, the orange and blue boost pads and jump ramps, works as an innovator. Each car has a set of built-in orange and blue tint jobs (especially lovely when your racer has a green body on it like mine did) that match the boost pads and jump ramps. Match the colors up and you'll pick up speed and airtime. Fail to match them, and you'll lose speed and time. To riff on Portal: “Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out, but only if speedy thing matches ramp colors.” Now you're racing with portals!
The practicality of this primary mechanic doesn't always hit the mark when flying at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. There were several times I definitely saw the pads coming up to me, but there are many others when I also definitely saw them as they sped by me, whizzing past without even a half of a second thought. When I did get that split second I needed, it wasn't enough time to analyze and think “Do I need orange tint or blue tint? It might make sense that after an orange boost pad there would be a blue boost pad, so yes, I do need to change from ora—” and I missed it. More often, the exchange went along the lines of “Oh sh*t a boost pad!!” and instinctively hitting the button without realizing I already had the right color tint on. Many tracks liked to repeat this trick two or three times over for the most comedic effect. Oh, did I laugh… as I remembered how much it would be to replace a thrown Wii U Gamepad.
The other fun prank the tracks of FAST Racing Neo liked to play is what I call “WHEEEEEE! NO GUARDRAILS!”, flying down the piers of Mueller Pacific at over 300 miles per hour. Who needs guardrails from keeping these racing metal coffins from plunging into the sea? NOT FAST Racing Neo, THAT'S WHO! And there are several ways to plunge to your doom—off a pier, over the sides of a futuristic metropolitan freeway system—the possibilities are endless. And don't worry, whenever you aren't flying over the side of something, you'll be crashing directly into it. In any racing game, this would be scientifically classified as “a real downer,” since the goal of most racing games, as Sonic would say, is to “go fast” and crashing is not fast. FAST Racing Neo throws in the added bonus of your 300 mile-per-hour race rocket turning into a 300 mile-per-hour fireball of death because your car is damage-prone, and everything is in your way when you fly over 300mph.
The tracks are the real stars of the show, and they're not afraid to remind you of that fact. And they're not afraid to remind you that this is no Mario Kart—these tracks are beautiful but deadly, and demand skill instead of chancing it out with a well-placed banana peel. One wrong move and you're over the edge or head-first into a mountainside and the game will not shed a single tear for you. The upside to this, if there is one—and yes, there is one—is that although FAST Racing Neo demands lightning-fast reflexes, grace under fire, and a racing skill that recognizes the difference between a gentle touch of an analog stick versus a gross overturn, spinning you around mercilessly for all others to laugh at you, once the racer has achieved these skills, the game rewards you with marked improvement.
In fact, it was only when I realized that I was overturning, and that a less forceful touch of the stick was what I needed, because FAST Racing Neo recognizes the difference between a graceful turn and whipping the wheel back and forth, that I went from last place (tenth) to a decidedly-better seventh. (Little victories, people.) And while my immediate dissatisfaction stemmed from the immense difficulty of the game, it was legitimately assuaged by the concept that I had forced myself to get better and improve in a very limited amount of time and my reward was (somewhat mediocre) success.
It's this challenge vs. reward dichotomy that makes FAST Racing Neo worthwhile. It's not quite F-Zero; it may look similar, but only in the way that cousins do, even though one's favored by the family, so the other one punches you when you're not looking for no reason. But even though it's not exactly like an F-Zero, it certainly deserves a place at the family dinner table. It's a futuristic racer for gamers who are serious about their racing, even when we hit the future at over 300 miles per hour.
Review code provided by publisher. Exclusive for the Nintendo Wii U.