One of the greatest mysteries in gaming over recent years is the absence of the F-Zero series from Nintendo. After a resurgence in popularity in the early 2000’s and three games being released in 2003 alone (including the fantastic F-Zero GX on the GameCube) the series has dropped off the map almost completely outside of lead character Captain Falcon’s appearances in the Smash Bros series and the F-Zero themed DLC tracks for Mario Kart 8. Many, myself included, have sorely missed the series when it skipped the Wii and DS consoles, and with no sign of a Wii U release in sight it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see it again anytime soon.
Thankfully, developer Shin’en Multimedia have arrived to fill the F-Zero shaped gap in our lives. I’m not familiar with any of Shin’en’s previous work and somehow missed out on the previous title, Fast Racing League for the Wii, which looks to have done much the same for that console. That didn’t matter at all however, because after getting to try out Fast Racing NEO at last year’s Eurogamer I knew that it was something that I’d need to get.
Unlike a lot of racing games these days, Fast Racing NEO doesn’t bother with a story or setup. There’s no underlying plot behind the racing that you need to do, no personal rivalries between the pilots. You just pick your ship and off you go to race. It’s rather refreshing in a kind of old school way, simply because it isn’t really done very often.
You compete against eleven opponents in each race, and as well as fending them off there are also a number of environmental hazards on each track which will result in your vehicle being destroyed if you fall foul of them – you respawn on the track, but usually it’s at a loss of a great number of places.
The other main elements on the track are the boost power pickups (which, unsurprisingly, fill up your boost gauge so that you can move faster) and a number of coloured boost and jump pads. Unlike F-Zero, these don’t fill the boost gauge but instead boost you immediately, as long as your vehicle is set to the correct colour – the pads come in orange or blue colours and you can change the ship colour to match.
Much like the majority of cup based racing games, completing each cup unlocks the next one, with each league having four cups with four unique tracks in each. Completing all four cups in the first league unlocks the second, faster league and so on. You’ll also unlock new vehicles as you work your way through the cups, with each ship having different weights, top speed and acceleration for different handling.
As you open up each cup, you also unlock each level for play in the time attack mode, where you race to beat a time set by one of the developers.
The difficulty seems a little steep in general. I’m far from a novice gamer and while racing games aren’t my main area of expertise I usually don’t have any problems getting all gold on the ‘easy’ league of most racers. Without exception I failed to get a gold on any of the cups the first time through (though I did get it the second time) and the faster difficulties are even more tricky. I’m always happy to be challenged by a game, but I do rather prefer a racer to ease you in to it and I do wonder if this will turn a lot of players off early on.
Control wise, again it’s quite similar to F-Zero. You have your standard movement with the left analog stick, and the triggers on each side act as an air brake allowing you to make tighter turns. The steering controls thankfully are very responsive, a good thing considering the speed the ships travel at so you don’t end up smashed into every wall in sight. Due to the airbrake accelerate is then one of the face buttons which feels rather old fashioned in these days of accelerate and brake on the triggers, as well as controls for activating boost and switching the ship colours. And that’s about it, keeping the controls nice and simple. There’s also a motion control option that uses the gamepad like a steering wheel much like Mario Kart, but much like in Mario Kart it didn’t really do anything for me as I prefer more traditional controls.
During gameplay in single player, it’s pretty stunning. It seems to run in a solid 60 frames a second which is great for such as fast paced title. It does seem to suffer a little on the anti aliasing front, but that’s only really an issue if you’re not moving very fast which is absolutely something you shouldn’t do. The resolution does drop a fair bit when playing multiplayer on the same console to keep the speed up, however. The various tracks are all nicely detailed with distinct looks for the different types of tracks, and the vehicles all look slick and shiny.
Aside from their different looks and performance, there isn’t really anything noteworthy about any of the vehicles. They all have bland and uninteresting names, and the lack of any characters as their drivers or really anything at all to differentiate them make them all feel very samey.
The presentation outside of gameplay is also quite poor generally, with basic menus and a laughable victory celebration at the end of each cup. It’s clear that all of their effort went into the racing (and rightly so) but a little more polish on other aspects would have made the game feel like a more premium release than it does.
The music for each stage is pretty decent and totally appropriate for the genre, very reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d hear in other futuristic racers like Wipeout. An official soundtrack hasn’t yet been released however, so much of the music is somewhat lost under the (also pretty great sounding) hum of the ships engines and ships smashing together. The only downside in terms of audio is the random announcer who sometimes pops up to tell you that something you’ve done is ‘totally awesome’ and the like.
I’ve mostly played single player so far but have also dabbled in the online. The matches I’ve played so far have all been lag free, but I need a lot more practice to not get dominated by the competition, though that’s more my problem than the games. At least given Nintendo’s lack of voice communication I don’t have to suffer listening to the people who beat me, which makes it less miserable.
If you don’t mind a challenge, there’s certainly a lot of fun to be had from Fast Racing NEO. It’s very much a throwback to the good old arcade racers of the 90’s and of course F-Zero in particular and is highly welcomed in my library. The high difficulty however does mean that it’s probably not going to be the most enjoyable experience for more casual players.
Fast Racing NEO is available now on the Nintendo eShop for Wii U.