It has been 12 years since F-Zero Climax, and so, when Shin’en Multimedia announced that they would be tinkering away at their own futuristic racer, heads rightly turned. That Nintendo would allow their series to whimper over the finish line with a Japan-only Game Boy Advance release has mystified to this day, with Shigeru Miyamoto sharing early last year that they would need to “create a new type of controller interface” before they would be satisfied for it to make a return.
But, enough about F-Zero. FAST Racing NEO may be an undeniably opportunistic move on Shin’en’s part, but care has evidently been taken to craft it with an identity away from the void that it aims to fill.
That sees the German developer draw on lessons learned with WiiWare’s FAST Racing League, but, empowered by the technological advances that the shift to Wii U brought, carry the experience far beyond expectation. Their largest success comes in Neo’s exhilarating sense of hypersonic speed, players thundering around an eclectic assortment of 16 tracks that see you blazing a trail of glory through wintery climbs, down breathtaking canyons, and in the midst of peltering meteor showers.
Several game modes will diversify the time that players will spend in the driver’s seat, with Championship namely being the route that most take in familiarising themselves with vehicles and tracks alike. Here, tiered leagues will see you progress from novice difficulty right through to more nail-biting extremities, in which Cobalt, Xenon, Titanium and Neon Cups each present four tracks for you to tackle against CPU drivers. These are consecutively unlocked by ranking in either first, second or third in the previous cup, and also see successful players rewarded with a steady stream of new vehicles to take for a spin.
Away from comparing top speed, acceleration and weight, victory in any race is more thanks in part to coloured boost strips and jump pads that are placed along their treacherous paths. At the touch of a button, players can switch their vehicle between emitting an orange or blue glow in response – a correct match granting an immediate speed boost, or seeing your vehicle soar out of harm’s way. It’s all part of the thrill, that extra gear shift sending the experience into an overdrive of unrivalled glee.
Where FAST Racing NEO‘s execution is more up for debate is in handling, which requires some adjustment. While the controls are simple to grasp in themselves, players can only swerve their way around corners by leaning left or right. This shunting can help you nudge your vehicle in line with pads when on the straight and narrow, but doesn’t feel entirely sufficient enough to be gracefully weaving your way around each track. Practice makes perfect,
Beyond the already challenging Championship mode, players can try to beat Shin’en’s fastest laps in Time Attack. Whereas Hero Mode offers an elimination game type that largely replicates F-Zero’s manic wares, in which boost energy acts as a life meter and once your ship explodes you’re out of the race. It’s hair-raising stuff, introducing a whole other level of tension to the game as you battle it out to cross the line first.
That naturally lends itself well to multiplayer, which can be enjoyed either locally with up to four players or in the online arena where you will race against eight opponents. Those can be found either by searching through ‘Everyone’ playing or for any ‘Friends’ that you have spotted online. When widening the net over the weekend, I was often only pitted against two or three players and the remaining slots aren’t populated with CPU opponents. With my competition having far more honed skills, I was left trailing at the back with no way to catch up – aside from wishing that they accidentally span off the course.
FAST Racing NEO‘s futuristic soundscape entrances and the graphical fidelity is sublime, but under the hood it’s clear that this isn’t the perfectly tuned engine that many hoped it would be. But, there’s an unbridled thrill in the arcade roots that it looks to emulate, and that accomplishment is more than enough to celebrate.