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A biased review: F-Zero X (Wii U Virtual Console)

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F-Zero X for the Nintendo 64 was the second installment in Nintendo's futuristic racing series. While it obviously benefited from polygon graphics that allowed three-dimensional course design, there were three other major changes in comparison to the SNES original. The boost system got overhauled: Instead of receiving one boost per completed lap, your energy bar now doubled as boost bar for the second and the final lap. It was and is a simple idea that is amazing because of how effective it is for adrenaline-inducing gameplay. While you go at breakneck speed, you have to constantly weigh if you initiate another burst or rather save up a bit of energy in order to survive a potential upcoming collision with the rails or competitors. Speaking of which, whereas the SNES game offered a very limited amount of true rivals and only four playable vehicles, X gives you 30 machines and puts all of them as equal threats on the race tracks. You aren't only dealing with two or three at any given time, but often find yourself in a bulk of ten or more. That was the second major change.

The third was the introduction of analog controls that got deeply intertwined with the boost system. Simply put, the faster you go, the more sensitive you have to steer, otherwise your vehicle starts to slide and suffers a significant loss in speed. This aspect of the gameplay is of tremendous importance because F-Zero X revolves around stacking boosts to get up to top speed and then ride it out for as long as possible. The difference between mastering this technique or failing at it is huge and can easily amount to more than five seconds on a lap time of only 25 seconds. And yes, most races are over in less than 90 seconds, but that isn't a negative point; it only makes the races all the more intense.

The controls are the crucial point of this review and that's because the Wii U is truly a piece of trash. I do not remember the last time I was so damn disappointed in this console. You see, the analog sticks are garbage. I suspected as much, so it didn't come as a surprise, but it's disappointing nonetheless. What you get on Wii U is basically a PlayStation analog stick which I never liked because it doesn't allow truly precise controls. Press the stick halfway in any direction and games already count it the same way as pressing it all the way, so the room you can work with for actual analog controls is very limited. F-Zero X is probably the most analog-dependent game ever made, so this creates a major problem. Worse, some of the nuances the N64 stick provided do not even seem to be present at all; and if they are, they must be as wide as a tenth of a millimeter when moving the stick, so using them in a reliable way is completely unrealistic.

What this means in practical terms is that your vehicle will inevitably slide all over the place because you cannot use the exact same angles as in the original N64 game. After playing the Virtual Console version for several hours, I've come to accept that it's usually not worth it to push the machines all the way to their top speed because they can't be controlled in a sufficient fashion. So it's better to stay one boost below top speed and ride that out, because that is actually somewhat possible after getting used to the pathetic Wii U stick. F-Zero X has an exploit in its controls: Double-tapping one of the shoulder buttons allows you to perform an attack to the respective side, but it also stabilizes your vehicle in corners; while you do this move, you can press the stick all the way to the side without having to worry about sliding. This doesn't solve the problem because you lose some speed, but it at least lessens it. Depending on the track, this technique can be almost as good as in the N64 game, but most of the time you are really working with a band-aid for a huge bleeding wound. The track Silence 2 starts with a 630° curve (yes, 630°) that constantly demands to change your turning angle back and forth; with the crappy Wii U stick you have no chance whatsoever to drive through the whole thing at boosted speed and the double-tap exploit is no solution at those angles either, so you are pretty much forced to settle with normal speed.

Despite these enormous shortcomings, it's still feasible to play through the core mode of the game (Grand Prix), but on the highest difficulty it becomes more or less a requirement to eliminate your closest rivals every now and then to make them score 0 points in a race, because the inability to ride out high boost speeds costs you seconds per lap. Time Attack features staff ghosts to beat, but that's going to be a lost cause on some selected tracks, like the very first Mute City. Said track is basically built for the core gameplay mechanic; no sharp turns, just high precision boost maintenance at top speed; I remember from the N64 that you had about 1.5 seconds room for error if you used the same vehicle as the staff, but on Wii U I see no chance to get even within five seconds of my best Twin Noritta time, so even in a best case scenario I would still finish 3.5 seconds behind the staff ghost.

In summary, F-Zero X is an amazing racing game that has aged wonderfully because it opted for stable 60 fps above everything else. The 24 tracks feature varied gimmicks and even the worst ones are still above average quality. There is also the X cup which randomly generates tracks, but what it spits out usually looks like that, so an infinite number of racing tracks is still inferior to the (in comparison) small number of high quality handcrafted ones. The 30 vehicles are all quite evenly matched, with each featuring almost identical acceleration and top speed; the more interesting stats are for body, boost and grip, but even there the differences are minor. An A-rating for grip was a good choice on the N64, but on Wii U it's almost a necessity to counter the lackluster controls as much as possible.

Verdict:

Controls: Insufficient, because the Wii U is a piece of trash.
Gameplay: Amazing.
Graphics: Very smooth.
Sound: Great.
Value: Satisfactory.

Final Score: 6.5/10

What a damn shame that three full points needed to be docked from the score, but the Wii U controls make F-Zero X feel borderline unplayable at times. A perfect emulation would have blown Fast Racing Neo out of the water, but as it is, I cannot recommend F-Zero X in good conscience. Should this be your first time to play the game, you would wonder why people call it good, let alone great. This could have been a glorious return for an awesome classic thanks to Europe getting the US version (original speed), but what returned instead is all the hatred for the Wii U I thought I had gotten over. Here's hoping that Switch will feature good analog sticks instead of the garbage that we got with Wii U.



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Have you tried drifting instead? I think it's less dependant on the analog stick.



Player2 said:

Have you tried drifting instead? I think it's less dependant on the analog stick.

You must be talking about setting the vehicles to max acceleration and then using the opposite shoulder button in corners. That is less dependent on the analog controls, but it still leaves three problems:

1. Most of the tracks aren't suited for this type of setting.
2. Even the tracks that are will require you to drive some segments in the conventional manner, most notably the exits of corners where you come out at high speeds after boosting during drifting.
3. Drifting is most effective with vehicles that have bad grip, so point 2 is more problematic than it seems at first.

Also, while you won't have to worry about sliding while you drift, making minor corrections to your angle is still tough. With that crappy stick it happens all too quickly that you go from "not pressing enough" to "pressing too much". I am convinced that some nuances from the original N64 controls do not exist in this emulation. Let's say the Nintendo 64 had ten in total, then the Wii U is missing every other (1, 3, 5, 7, 9). It really felt that way when playing Mute City in time attack, even with a vehicle that had an A-grip. Not possible to go all the way at top speed.



Legend11 correctly predicted that GTA IV (360+PS3) would outsell SSBB. I was wrong.

A Biased Review Reloaded / Open Your Eyes / Switch Gamers Club

Legit all time fav game. For a while it was the undisputed champ. Too bad it suffers on the Wii-U. Does the Wii-U version stiil have the Nintendo EAD staff times?



Chinese food for breakfast

 

Agreed, fantastic game but hard to play on WiiU, Wii or GameCube controllers. I was thinking of buying an adapter to connect my N64 control just for this game, but I also have the N64 connected to my TV so it's probably not worth it.



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COKTOE said:

Legit all time fav game. For a while it was the undisputed champ. Too bad it suffers on the Wii-U. Does the Wii-U version stiil have the Nintendo EAD staff times?

Yes, the staff ghosts are still in there.

The only content/features that get lost on VC games are multiplayer options for handheld games or online functionality in general, because that would require reprogramming or setting up new servers, respectively.



Legend11 correctly predicted that GTA IV (360+PS3) would outsell SSBB. I was wrong.

A Biased Review Reloaded / Open Your Eyes / Switch Gamers Club