At a time where we’re eagerly awaiting the return of Nintendo’s futuristic racer F-Zero, it’s nice to see it once again remembered with the arrival of its first Game Boy Advance instalment on Wii U’s Virtual Console.
F-Zero: Maximum Velocity is set 25 years after the original SNES version, where racers need to resort to the F-Zero races in order to make money. As such, it lacks the franchise’s more recognised characters of Captain Falcon, Samurai Goroh and all other fan favourites.
It also borrows the aesthetics and gameplay from the original. Rather than the mind-warping courses you may remember from the likes of F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64 or F-Zero GX on GameCube, this game has you speeding across various flat courses. Although that doesn’t mean that the courses are bland, each having obstacles such as mines, ice or damaging surfaces to level challenge at you, as well as incredibly tight course design and jumps.
When you start out, you’ll discover that there’s only a limited amount of racers at your disposal, with more opening up as you complete certain race series. There are three available to you initially: Pawn, Knight and Bishop, with Queen being unlocked after completion of the others. Each series has five races and you will need to be sure to clear the previous one to pass.
This isn’t similar to Mario Kart, instead requiring you to secure a certain position to continue. If you fail to meet that position you will fail the race, lose a life, and have to retry. In addition to that, as with previous F-Zero games, your vehicle has a certain amount of energy which will begin to dwindle whenever you collide with an opponent, hit the barriers or traverse across rough terrain. If this is depleted completely you will also lose a life and have to retry. Thankfully, you can regenerate the vehicle in various pit stops in each course.
The game plays very well and with commendably tight controls, but the handling all depends upon how skilled you are behind the wheel of each vehicle. As such, there is a Training mode where you can practice on any course you’ve raced on, so you can get a feel for the vehicle and the track. As you do so, you will find yourself really getting into it and feel a sense of accomplishment when you manage to do a tight corner without hitting the course barriers, bouncing around the corner.
Unfortunately, like many Game Boy Advance games, the multiplayer features are unable to be used which does make the game feel partly half-complete, as playing the four-player modes was always fun back in the day. That doesn’t really impede on the quality of the single-player mode, however.
Graphically, the game has its charm but does feel a bit dated, using the classic Mode 7 method of graphical representation to allow for the depth of field and various other 3D effects to work. This is a similar manner to how the SNES original worked. The sprites of the vehicles are fine, but the courses lack too much detail to differentiate from one another, aside from the colouration and background.
The music is classic F-Zero music that helps you get really into the game, putting emphasis on the fast-paced action and futuristic setting. You won’t find many serene pieces of music here, but you will find many memorable tracks. You will have a constant hum of your vehicle with you, as well as being able to hear the engine of your competitors as they approach.
On the whole, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity holds up rather well and delivers a decent classic racer to the Wii U. The gameplay is tight, with a decent learning curve and encourages you to improve your skills. It’s a worthy game of any racing game fan and is even able to help newcomers to the series acclimatise themselves with the mechanics.