While the Wii U itself may not be the best console that Nintendo’s released, it’s home to some of the very best iterations of its classic franchises. New Super Mario Bros U has managed to supplant Super Mario Bros and Super Mario World as my favourite platformers featuring the moustachioed plumber; Mario Kart 8 is very probably the finest Kart racing game ever made, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is sublime – and the list goes on and on.
Just about every one of Nintendo’s classic franchises has not only been represented on the Wii U, but given a shiny modern makeover. There’s one series that’s been conspicuous in its absence: F-Zero. Nintendo’s other racing game has been wholly absent on any of the companies platforms for over a decade, leaving Captain Falcon in limbo for far too long. There have been rumours and suggestions that one is in the works at a third party working for Nintendo – but if that’s true, they need to stop. They needn’t really bother; Shin’en has made any such efforts redundant with Fast Racing NEO.
It’s a futuristic, blisteringly fast white-knuckled racer in the vein of F-Zero (or Wipeout – just without weapons, if you grew up on the PlayStation side of the fence) that has you screaming around a track at the sort of speeds that should see you bending light. Whenever I play a game of this sort, there’s one thing that sucks me in – and that’s a genuine feeling of speed.
Shin’en has nailed that aspect here, with giving you that gut-wrenching, exhilarating feeling of acceleration and momentum that makes your brain really believe that coming to sudden stop would have disastrous consequences. And they do. It’s not helped in that regard by the obstacles that present themselves; falling rocks, giant mecha spiders and spinning fan blades that threaten to end your speedracing career prematurely.
While it sounds a little pedestrian and safe on the surface, there’s an interesting phase mechanic in play that takes its inspiration from games like Ikaruga. You can change phase at will, switching from orange to blue at the press of a button. When you move over boost pads that share your current phase, you get an increase in speed, with the converse applying as well. There are gates that operate the same way; going through one of them when you’re travelling at a million miles an hour when you’re in the wrong phase is only a little less devastating than going headfirst in to a wall.
It’s pretty simple in both presentation and execution. Don’t misconstrue that statement; the game is gorgeous to look at, with looking a little like what you’d imagine a brand new Wipeout might – but there’s very little in the way of superfluous fluff. It takes its menu and presentation cues, I suppose, from Mario Kart, offer a simple array of options to get you racing.
As with Mario Kart, the single player mode has players racing through a series of four races in each cup, with difficulty increasing with each successive group of races. Playing through the single player unlocks new cups, and more vehicles to race them with. Level design here is borderline genius, capturing the very spirit of F-zero with its winding turns and jumps. With a game so fast and fluid (it runs at an unwavering 60fps on the Wii U), pinpoint control is imperative, and that’s precisely what you’ll get, no matter which of the Wii U’s myriad control options you opt for.
There’s online racing too, which works quite nicely and four player split-screen to even things out. There’s not really very much else to say about Fast Racing NEO, other than to wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves futuristic racing games. Now please, Nintendo – let Shin’en make us a new F-Zero. Fast Racing NEO is available on Nintendo’s eShop for $15 or your local equivalent. Her in SA, it’s very much worth its R220 asking price – and at a wizardly 590MB, won’t dent your data cap.
Last Updated: January 7, 2016