Looking back on the 16-bit wars between Nintendo and Sega nobody ever thought there would come a day when Sega published a game for a Nintendo console, but then 2001's Sonic Advance for the Game Boy Advance came along and broke down all the barriers between old enemies, turning them into new friends. It was only natural that before long the two former rivals would team up to create a game together, and here it is: F-Zero GX. Amusement Vision, one of Sega's development teams, worked with Nintendo to create this 2003 update of the F-Zero franchise for the Nintendo GameCube. The game is much faster and more detailed than any previous F-Zero title and may cause motion sickness in some people. Be warned!

The core of the game remains the same as it ever was: compete in a series of tracks and earn more points than your competitors. This is the Grand Prix mode where thirty racers speed around five tracks in five cups. The tracks are based on the classic F-Zero levels such as Mute City, Big Blue, and others. The racers are the same competitors from the Nintendo 64 F-Zero X and include familiar characters such as Captain Falcon, Samurai Goroh, and others. Initially only four racers are available, but by doing well in the game players can purchase the remaining cars. Yes, purchase. While other games may award unlockables after goals are met, F-Zero GX requires you to not only meet certain goals but also save enough tickets in order to purchase the bonuses. Aside from the Grand Prix mode we have the new Story mode in which our hero, Captain Falcon, must meet certain racing challenges in order to advance the plot. Full FMV sequences depict the storyline and new chapters of the story can be purchased as the game progresses. Adding to the fun are the usual multiplayer mode, time attack, a practice mode, and a garage mode where players can build their own custom racers from a wide variety of stock parts. In some cases it's possible to create a car more powerful than the thirty pilot cars, but doing so costs many tickets.

Speaking of these tickets, how does one earn this futuristic currency? Thankfully the game hands out tickets for completing most any goal in the game, and you can even replay levels to earn more tickets. Tickets are awarded at the completion of a Grand Prix circuit, finishing a story chapter, or beating a specific time attack record, for example. The better one's performance in Grand Prix mode, the more tickets that are awarded. For instance, completing a Novice level circuit will earn you ten tickets, but completing a Standard circuit will cough up twenty. There are even bonuses for destroying a certain number of cars during the race. Destroying cars? Yes, that's right. During races it's possible to swerve or spin your car in order to knock your competitors off the track. For every five cars you send to the trash heap, you'll earn an extra car. This is important to take advantage of because in later difficulty levels your competitors will actively try to knock you out, so it's kill or be killed.

One of the more interesting aspects of F-Zero GX is how it links up to its arcade counterpart, F-Zero AX. The AX version of the game features new tracks and new racers along with a memory card slot on the unit itself. Insert your GX memory card into an AX machine and you'll be able to race your custom cars on the AX tracks as well as unlock the AX tracks you complete once you return home to GX. As a bonus the AX machine will award you with twenty GX tickets each time you play. If you can't track down an AX machine in your area, do not fret. It's possible, with enough practice and skill, to unlock all the AX bonuses on GX completely independent of an AX machine.

So how does the game look? Quite sharp. The game runs at a fluid sixty frames per second and the cars move so fast that if you blink, chances are you'll probably veer off the track and smash into a wall. Tracks exist in all kinds of locations: futuristic cities, shiny casinos, industrial complexes, lush forests, sewers, and lightning zones. In fact, some places contain so many flashies and blinkies that it's easy to become distracted and crash. The techno rock music of past games in the series remains, although now it's bumped up to be a thrilling speedfest as beats thump and tempo races along with the cars. It's also possible to unlock remixes of past game music if you save your tickets and meet certain goals.

F-Zero GX is one of the most addictive games in recent memory and, despite it's steep difficulty curve, it's a joy to play. I have yet to come across any examples of the CPU cheating, and each time I lose a race I know how it's my fault and not that of the GameCube. If there's any lingering doubts I can check the instant replay of a race and see just where I went wrong (plus I can save replays for later study as well). While the game works just fine with a standard controller, it also supports the Logitech Speed Force steering wheel controller, although at $80 for the full set this may be a steep investment for some. Take heart, as the game comes with a rebate coupon for $10 off the wheel or $15 off the accessory pack. However you play it, just play it. This is not a game to be missed. Captain Falcon is waiting.


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