If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s racing titles, then you’ve probably played some game in the F-Zero series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a fast-paced futuristic racing game which features plasma-powered vehicles on windy tracks. Up to 30 racers compete and the difficulty tends to be a little higher than others in the genre due to sharp turns, pinpoint accuracy, and aggressive AI.
They’ve never been as popular as the Mario Kart series, but F-Zero games had a fairly steady release… until 2004, that is. The last major console title, F-Zero GX, was released for the GameCube in 2003. F-Zero Climax released for the GameBoy Advance the following year. Since then, the series has been in hiatus, with Nintendo showing disinterest in the series beyond cute nods in Mario Kart 8. As great as Mario Kart is, sometimes you just want something a little more intense. But, how do you get that when the intense racer just isn’t available? Cue Fast Racing NEO.
I feel like I just sat through an onslaught of Sega Genesis blast processing ads or a Maxell cassette tape.
If Fast Racing NEO looks crazy fast, that’s because it is. It’s pure high octane assaulting your eyeballs at 60 frames per second, and it’s gorgeous. While it looks like a pretty good recreation of F-Zero, FRN is actually so much more. I’d argue that it adds more to the F-Zero formula, but I have nothing recent to even compare it to… other than a few Mario Kart 8 tracks. [I might be a little salty about this]
FRN has the type of modes you’d expect from a racing game, like cup competitions, time attacks, multiplayer and online play, but with one addition: Hero Mode. In Championship, there are four cups to compete in, all with four courses in them; 16 in total. If you place in the top three at the end, a new vehicle and cup will unlock, and you’ll be able to play those in Time Attack. If you beat all four courses this way, you can move on to a higher difficulty.
Hero Mode takes that and increases the difficulty by making the requirement placing first in every course, with a stepped up difficulty level. Sounds like it’s not that big of a deal until you actually play the game. It basically forces you to play the game perfectly. And I cannot stress enough just how perfect I mean. I was playing easy mode last night, because you’re forced to start there, and didn’t do too terribly… but it was hard. I’m getting ahead of myself though; let me explain why.
The mechanics of the race are interesting. Vehicles have preset weights, speeds, and acceleration rates; which you’d expect from a racing game. During the race, you’ll come across little orbs that refill your boost meter in addition to orange and blue booster strips. Here’s what’s interesting, you have to change your booster to match the color of the strips in order to get a boost; otherwise, you end up noticeably lagging. There are a few times in which you need to match the correct booster color in order to perform necessary jumps to other parts of the track. Steering requires delicate touches and the assist of left/right leans in order to make precise turns. It’s not hard to get thrown off and slam into a few walls.
While you’re worrying about all that, there’s more you need to concentrate on too! Weather effects will affect how your vehicle handles. They affect your view point. Levels will present hazards, like icicles, spinning fans, falling rocks, or robots that stomp across the track, shaking the ground and dropping boulders.
So, to recap: Drive really fast car, avoid all other drivers so you don’t spin out, make sure your boosters match the strips, collect boost orbs, avoid environmental hazards and asshole death robots. Oh, and did I mention that if you screw up in the slightest bit, you’ve basically just lost the damn race? Because you will. I was in first, didn’t land a jump right (and I mean, I was barely off by a hairline) and I ended up in last place.
How do you deal with all of that? Well, with patience. Lucky for you, Fast Racing NEO is balanced well. It plays like a dream. Everything is beautiful to look at, and in glorious HD 60 fps. The vehicles have a fleshed out feel to them. They’re weighted and you can feel it when you steer, but they also glide with ease. Handling is smooth. And despite the high speeds, nothing feels uncomfortably fast; even when you use a boost. The environment blurs momentarily, but not to the point where anything is indistinguishable. It all feels realistic. It’s just a game that takes a little bit of practice and perseverance to master.
Fast Racing NEO deserves far more attention than it’s receiving. For $15 on the Wii U eshop, it’s worth every penny. And while we can sit here and complain about how it’s called “fast racing” and what a dumb name that is, it could have literally been called Butt Racing NEO and I wouldn’t have cared, so long as the final project was as good at this.