Oh, I was so ready to love this game. I was only mildly interested until I saw it running in an arcade and thought it looked pretty hot. After playing a round I was really enthused - it was super fast, silky smooth, and really looked to be the greatest thing ever. As long as the GameCube version matched the TriForce arcade version, anyway. The game was released yesterday (July 25th) in Japan, and I can tell you honestly that as far as I can tell F-Zero GX is every bit as good as F-Zero AX. I bought my copy, slapped it in, and played it for what seemed like, oh, a good two hours I guess, before I made the decision to get rid of it while it still had that new smell. The quick bottom line: If you liked the N64 version, you'll like this more. If you hated the N64 version, you'll hate this slightly less.
When the Super Nintendo was still so new to be magical, F-Zero hit like a bolt from the gods. It was everything that every other racing game wasn't. Easy to learn, tough to master, faster than anything before it, and it moved more smoothly than any game on a 3MHz system should have been. This was before the FX chips too - the raw, brutal power of the Super NES was here for all to see. We rented this game and played it practically non-stop until the time came to return it, and it never let you down. Several other games copied the flat-track formula on the SNES, but none were as smooth, as easy, or as gripping as the original.
It was with great excitement that we received the news of a sequel for Nintendo's N64 hardware. Many people loved this new sequel, but I wasn't one of them. I have some simple rules when it comes to racers, and one of them is "No fucking tubes." F-Zero X let me down in a hard way. The tracks that weren't on tubes were awesome, truly fun, and certainly some of the fastest polygons to shift on the N64. It wasn't often an amazing visual treat, sacrifices were made to keep the frame-rate running at top speeds, but the gameplay was great - until you had to race a course with tubes.
The same problem persists on the GameCube version. Imagine this all-too-common scenario: You're having a great series of races, you've kicked ass and placed first on three of five courses, stomping the CPU racers so soundly you might well be racing alone. The feeling of speed leaves you exhilarated, the graphics make your eyes tear up from sheer beauty, and your thumbs are sore from playing so fervently. Every race has been an excercise in bliss, wide open tracks perfectly suited to the incredible speeds of the game, carefully placed turbo pads and tricky but not impossible corners, and then it happens: the tube track.
The tubes totally destroy the flow of the game. Instead of smooth courses where fast-approaching corners and boost pads can be seen and anticipated, racing the tubes is an excercise in fog racing. Whether inside or outside the tube it's incredibly difficult to anticipate the track. From inside the tube you can only see one corner in advance, and since you can be anywhere on the wall of the tube, the same corner can be right, left, up or down, or any diagonal. Depending on your first approach, the next corner is different too - and the next, and the next. By the time you're through a twisty tube segment you feel like a ball-bearing after being thrown down a knotted garden hose: disoriented and no small amount of pissed off. Racing the outside of a tube is slightly better - you have a 75% chance of seeing which direction the next corner will take. Be on the wrong side just once however and a twisty tube segment will make you feel like the same ball bearing desperately trying to cling to a writhing python. An angry python that hates you.
Thankfully there are fewer of these than in the N64 version, but each one makes me so angry and spoils the flow of the game so completely that I can't bear to pay full price to own the game. Maybe when it's cheaper, or I find a used copy for half the price, but until then this is another disappointment from Sega.
Speaking of Sega, they certainly pulled out the stops with this game. Presentation is, as we've come to expect, flawless. Load times are minimal, graphics are excellent, the sounds are perfect. The music is relatively lacklustre in that instantly forgettable way that most recent game soundtracks have been, but at least it's not irritating.
Blah blah extra ships, make your own etc, buy parts yadda yadda. There's lots of replay value here if you can stand the game more than I can - and I have no doubt there are many of you who can. Rest assured Sega treated the license with respect, and the game is a bloody awesome update to the F-Zero legacy. If you thought the N64 game was kickass you'll be gobsmacked by this one, and if you have friends that doubt the power of the GameCube, this game should shut them up. It's a visual extravaganza, and the courses that don't include tubes feature some truly memorable moments.
The tubes suck though, and ultimately that's a dealbreaker for me. It's too bad, because in every other respect this game is never worse than good, and is frequently awesome. I whooped aloud more than once the first two hours I played it.
Super NES F-Zero
N64 F-Zero X
F-Zero GX: Hitting the Turbo
F-Zero GX: Where the fuck am I?