F-Zero: Maximum Velocity review
Now This Is Fast-Paced Racing
It seems that the commonly accepted vision of the future tends to carry with it ideas of technology advancing far beyond our current standards. Medical services will be able to tackle virtually any illness, laser guns will be the new choice of weapon for the armed forces and the Internet will be so heavily integrated into society that it will be impossible to escape from it.
Another common view of the future is that we will leave our ground-bound cars behind and start zooming around in flying, or at least hovering, vehicles of varying designs. It is this that forms the basic concept of F-Zero. It is a race to the finish in vehicles that float just above the track surface at speeds that would tear any lesser craft to pieces from the sheer forces.
The goal of this game is no different than most racing titles, as you race to beat the opposition to the finish line across 5 frantic laps. Along with the standard accelerate and brake buttons there are a few extra features for your chosen craft. The shoulder buttons will tilt the craft depending on which one is pressed (L shoulder for left and R shoulder for right), which is used to turn more sharply into corners. Using these buttons isn't an added bonus though. In fact, failure to make use of these in addition to careful braking will cause you to smash into the sides of the track. Having a craft travelling at over 400 kph to turn into normal corners is bad enough, but these are some challenging corners that simply cannot be taken at full speed.
That's really what the main focus is here. Each craft can reach such insane high speeds that track features zip past in the blink of an eye, and it is the aim of the player to respond to changes in the track as they approach. There is little room for mistakes or hesitation as these changes will be upon you very quickly. For each lap completed you are awarded a boost activated by pressing both shoulder buttons at once, which boosts you speed for a brief period, although this naturally makes turning an even more difficult task.
The track design compliments these wonderfully, as each track presents a wide array of difficult corners to try and get your vehicle around safely. Many tracks also present other hazards and features, like dirt and ice patches, mines and jump ramps. Negiotating these different elements while keeping your speed high is the challenge of the game. There are also a lot of tracks in the game, although they are grouped into a smaller set of groups that determine the theme of the tracks (one group may challenge with jump ramps as the main focus, but the layout of the tracks in this group will obviously differ from one another).
You're not racing around the tracks alone though, which is where the competition comes in. There are a lot of other cars on the track at the same time that will be trying to occupy the same space as you when flying around the tough bends. The pack gets pretty spread out, so you can expect back-markers to get in your way as you compete with the high end drivers. Speaking of which, those higher skilled drivers are quite ruthless in their assaults, as they will punish mistakes even at the lower settings.
The back-markers can be a little frustrating though, as they tend to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Trying to get around the game's difficult corners while a moving barricade is swaying back and forth ahead of you is not the most ideal situation to get into.
Falling off the track is not normally possible unless you launch off a jump ramp at the wrong angle, in which case it is instant death for you. Most of the time though, running wide will slam you into the forcefield that surrounds the course. This isn't quite as punishing as instant death, but can still cost the player a lot of time as striking this barrier at speed (and let's face it, when are you ever not travelling at such speeds?) will cause you to bounce off, which can then send you smashing into the barrier on the opposite side of the track. It's easy to be passed by a few cars before you've managed to recover.
Hitting this barrier will also drain the energy gauge. Represented by a solid green bar, this depletes whenever you take damage, such as hitting the barriers, hitting other crafts or running over the mines. If the gauge is emptied then your vehicle is destroyed, but you can restore energy during a race by driving over the green strip that is sat on every track (normally near the start/finish line). This feature punishes reckless driving and adds to the difficulty of the game.
However, that is potentially a turn-off for the title. The game is ruthlessly difficult. Even picking the first race series and the easiest setting will present a racing experience that is difficult to even keep up, at least until you've become accustomed to the way the game plays. Even then the game is extremely difficult to work your way through as the tracks become harder as you go through and the computer becomes even harder to beat.
The visible screen contributes to this as well. The small screen of the GBA has an effect on the game's draw distance, and when combined with the high speeds of the game and the tough handling (can you really expect these vehicles to turn smoothly?) then sometimes you won't see turns until you're right on them. It doesn't make the game unplayable but it does make things a little frustrating.
There are a fair few vehicles to pick from to throw around the various corners and hazards. You initially start with just four, but you can unlock more by working your way through the grand prix mode. As well as looking different each vehicle also handles differently, whether it comes down to their top speed, their acceleration or just how well they turn into corners.
There's generally a lack of variety when it comes to the game modes. The Grand Prix mode forms the main meat of the single player. Here you choose from one of four racing series named after chess pieces (although one must be unlocked first) and then choose a difficulty setting. You then race through a set of 5 races in order. At the end of each lap you must be placed higher than a certain position to continue racing, and this number goes up until the final lap, where you must place in the top three to progress. Surprisingly there are no points awarded in this mode; rather all you have to do to win is to finish in the top three.
Fail to finish in a qualifying position or get your vehicle destroyed and you'll get a chance to replay the race, although only as long as you have spare machines around (you start with 4 but lose one everytime you restart a race).
The only other game modes offered for the single player are Training and Challenge, with the latter needing to be unlocked first. Training is an ideal way to practice on the tracks you've reached in the GP mode without interference, although you can also set up a single computer opponent to race against. You can't have time trial ghosts to race against, but the ability to practice the hard tracks is welcome. I wish all tracks would be open from the start though so you could practice a whole race series before heading into it in the GP mode.
Challenge is rather disappointing though. It takes place on a special track but that's about it. A simple time trial race on one track. Nice at first but I quickly lost interest when I found out that there was literally nothing else to it.
There is a multiplayer game in here, and it also supports single cartridge gameplay for taking on each other in high speed racing. As expected multiplayer gaming is intense and a whole lot of fun as you try to push past your mates to reach the finish line first.
Visually the game is a treat to watch. Despite blazing along at very high speeds (and without a hint of slowdown either) the tracks themselves look fantastic. The way the action twists and moves along is expertly handled, and the vehicle scaling used based on their relative position to you helps to create an element of depth to the image.
Special effects are perhaps a little minimal but they do the job well enough, like where your vehicle becomes engulfed in electricity when flying over the barrier marker or the green flashing as you zip over the green repair strip.
The music track is fantastic, as it pumps out a wealth of high octane tunes that suit the high speed racing. Granted they are a little held back by the limits of the GBA speaker but they help to build upon the intense atmosphere of the racing. The sound effects seem more limited in appeal though, as the crashes and roar of the engines don't sound as bold as they perhaps should be.
F-Zero: Maximum Velocity is an excellent racing game, but the sheer difficulty of it can put off some gamers. If you're after a casual racing sim then this isn't it, but if you're looking for a challenging race experience that will really test your reaction skills then this is an ideal game to pick up.
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