December 10, 2015.
If you are of a certain age, you may well remember a time when the arcade racer was king. These heart-pounding games were a mainstay of the arcades themselves, as well as the home console environment, where they were the ideal way to convey just how powerful a system was. From Outrun to Burnout, they’ve always been crowd pleasers, and the same was always very much true of Nintendo’s F-Zero, the futuristic racer that started life as a Mode 7-laden launch title for the SNES.
It might well be one of their most neglected series, but the futuristic high-octane joys of F-Zero and its sequels remain some of the best arcade racers around, with the SEGA-developed F-Zero GX/AX being the highlight of the series, and a bonafide classic. While Nintendo have been reluctant to return to F-Zero, fans have cried for more, and indie developer Shin’en Multimedia have stepped up to the plate once more, in their sequel to the 2011’s WiiWare title, Fast Racing.
Oh, and this is the most aptly-named game since Farming Simulator, because this game is fast. Probably the fastest game I’ve played in a very long time. Yes, ridiculously fast.
We’ve got the standard arcade racing setup here, with three difficulty levels/speeds: Subsonic, Supersonic, and Hypersonic. Subsonic is fast enough on its own, and I was knocked back when I realised that things got even faster with the later classes. Then you have 16 tracks split over four cups, all waiting to be conquered. All you need to do is get in the top three after four races in order to progress to the next cup, which almost sounds too easy.
But it isn’t, at least not initially. There are some great tracks here, and it excels when putting you on a track with plenty of straights with the odd slight turn, because it’s in these moments that you get to truly feel the speed at your disposal, piloting one of ten unlockable crafts that cover the gamut of speed, acceleration, and weight.
Meanwhile, your AI opponents are incredibly mean. Don’t expect to be reaching first place much, because all too often one racer will magically race ahead, and that’s the last time you’ll see him unless you perform an absolutely immaculate race. It’s quite frustrating, but you’ll discover it’s not the end of the world. Cleverly, there are quite a few avenues for increasing your usual speed, as boost spheres litter each track, filling up a bar that you can use to give yourself an immediate increase in speed. The road also features strips of orange and blue, and your ship has a colour-change function, manually activated by pressing X or L, and being the same hue as these coloured strips of road will give you a massive boost as well. However, driving over them in the wrong colour will slow you down. Grabbing all these boost spheres and hitting all of the boost strips using the right colour is the key to earning victory, as difficult as that can be sometimes. It’s fantastic, and it certainly sets FAST apart from its peers.
But as you only need to be the in top three to proceed, there’s a lot of leeway. You could consistently be in second, third, or even fourth and still make it to the next cup. It might be tempting to restart a cup if you have a less than stellar race, but there’s always the opportunity to make up for things in the next three races, which makes up for the almost inhuman ability of some of the AI racers. I’m sure there are plenty of masochists that’ll want to push for Gold in all difficulties and cups, and there’s plenty of challenge involved in doing that and more besides.
Going back to the track design, some of these races can be rather unfair, especially at the speed you’re racing at. There’s some very annoying instances where tracks have some incredibly difficult to dodge rocks at the side of the road that are so small but still able to destroy your ship. While you have infinite lives, exploding can have a catastrophic effect on your chances of getting points, as the delay in respawning can be excruciatingly long. This is one racing game where the brake becomes absolutely crucial, alongside your ability to memorise each track.
That said, I had finished all tracks, cups, and difficulties in a matter of hours, even if I didn’t finish all of them with a gold rank. The longevity of a racing game is only as good as its added features and modes, and it does attempt to extend gameplay after completion of the main cups. Hero Mode is a particularly devious addition, unlocked only after finishing the Hypersonic Cup. In this mode, FAST suddenly becomes even more like the legendary F-Zero, as your boost bar now equals your health, and you only have one life. Each prang depletes your bar, and you’re only a crash away from game over. Thankfully, you only play individual tracks (rather than cups) here, because it is rock hard. It’s also a very clever addition, completely changing the way you approach certain cups as you realise that sometimes maximum speed isn’t always the way to go.
As an authentic arcade racer, this is a rather bare-bones release. Although the important stuff like the racing and the handling is spot-on, the presentation around it is somewhat lacking. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine looking game, with an astoundingly consistent frame-rate, but in sticking to the arcade racer template to a tee, there lacks personality and uniqueness. F-Zero had a cast of weird and wonderful characters, Wipeout oozed cool with its iconic soundtrack, but FAST Racing Neo does little else than be a very competent racer. That’s not to be down on FAST, because for a rather small download, what is here is impressive. It’s just crying out for a little more showmanship to separate itself as more than an F-Zero wannabe.
But hey, this is an F-Zero wannabe that does what it sets out to do. With some pumping electronic tracks that invoke a feeling much like that of F-Zero GX, it nails the music down to a tee. Plus, the race announcer is one of the guys that did the voice acting for F-Zero GX, so it’s clear what Shin’en Multimedia were trying to achieve, and for the most part it’s successful, because with twelve single player cups, developer Time Trials, Hero Mode, and local/online multiplayer, there’s enough bang for your buck here.
It won’t be for everyone, but this is a brutal and unwavering assault on the senses, made for the most hardcore of racing fans. Very few games make my heart pump out of my chest like this one does and after this impressive performance, I’d trust Shin’en Multimedia with the F-Zero IP.
Boost mechanics add a ton of depth to the genre.
A worthy pretender to F-Zero’s throne.
It'll be too hard for some.
Maybe even too fast for its own good.
Presentation is a little too generic.
It won’t be for everyone, but this is a brutal and unwavering assault on the senses, made for the most hardcore of racing fans.