Platforms: Wii U (reviewed)
For the longest time, Nintendo fans have been clamoring for a new F-Zero game. Maybe it was the way F-Zero GX so thunderously delivered years ago on the GameCube, with its diabolically good track design and crazy sense of speed. However, Nintendo has yet to fulfill this request for a new generation to enjoy – perhaps it's waiting for the NX to roll around before it gets back up to speed, so to speak.
No matter, as the team at Shin'en (Nano Assault) has somehow filled the void with its own incredible take on the futuristic racing genre, Fast Racing Neo. Everything you could want in an F-Zero-style racing game is present and accounted for here – wicked frame rate, fun track design – but there are also some new features that feel like fundamental additions to the genre. It's really something.
We're Going Fast – Like Really Fast
When you first begin a race in Fast Racing Neo, you'll find that it quickly lives up to its name. That's because of the brutal frame rate that the game delivers, as you'll reach speed well into the several hundreds as you master corners and make your way over boost pads. Shin'nen did a tremendous job tuning the game's performance so that it doesn't lose a single ounce of its momentum, even in the game's split-screen multiplayer (more on that in a second).
In addition, the gameplay has been optimized to make use of this speed properly. The use of the air brake system allows you to corner like a pro, although you'll still want to keep an eye on the road so that you don't hit any objects, like spinning pistons that can easily put an end to your ride. The boost system is also exquisite, as even just picking up one orb can give you an effort to get back into a first place lead against bloodthirsty AI opponents. Combined with precision controls, you really feel like you're controlling a rocket.
Plus, there's another factor to consider – a unique color change system. You can switch between blue and orange for your engine at any time, which is detrimental since there are similarly colored boost pads on the track. Match the color and you'll get a quick burst of speed. Go against it and your engine will grind just to get over. It's a neat element that adds a freshness factor to the futuristic racing set-up – and quite challenging to master in some of the later tracks.
Overall, the gameplay is splendid, and there's no shortage of opportunities to get back up to speed if you manage to wreck or hit a boost pad with the wrong color. That helps, because some of these opponents can be quite challenging.
A Splendid-Looking Machine
What really impresses about Fast Racing Neo, besides its sheer sense of speed, is its track design. This game definitely has some F-Zero-ish inspiration put into it, whether you're cruising through a desert populated by Dune-like sandworms, or jettisoning through a beautiful city landscape as the track twists and turns. It's really quite a sight, whether you're watching the display on your TV or relying on your GamePad for racing thrills.
The vehicles don't show much different in terms of looks – there's no definitive character design like you'd find in F-Zero – but no matter. They're still sleek looking cars that pack a punch, and watching them belt out multi-colored fumes while screaming down the track is really something.
As for the soundtrack, it's pretty good. Not as good as other racing soundtracks, but it has a future-like approach that keeps each race pumping with an upbeat flair. The sound effects are good too, with plenty of high-screaming racing engines to take in.
There are times when the default camera angle doesn't make some turns easy to see, but that's just part of the challenge that comes with the game. And, yes, you will cringe when you crash – but that's just human nature, c'mon.
Racing Fun For Everyone
What's genuinely surprising about Fast Racing Neo is how approachable it is on the multiplayer front, both in terms of online and local.
Online play runs wonderfully on the Wii U, and it actually doesn't take long at all to get connected to a race and fly down the track. Granted, this was done with pre-release testing, so the final game might have server issues once it releases. Thus far, though, Shin'en has done a bang-up job keeping servers, ahem, up to speed.
If you prefer local racing, however, the game also supports split-screen racing for up to four people, and is damn good at it. Sure, the frame rate stutters a little bit as a result, but the sheer momentum of each race remains completely intact, and there's hardly a loss of detail. This could be one of the year's most surprising couch multiplayer games, even if that means a friend yelling at you for bumping them into a piston. Hey, it's all part of the competition, bunky.