For over ten years now Nintendo fans have had to get by without their beloved F-Zero series. The futuristic racing franchise made itself scarce and currently there's no clear indication of when or if it'll come out of hiding again. The same applies to the similarly styled Wipeout, which has vanished from the scene with similar effect. The last console release for that franchise was way back in 2008, and although there was an offshoot on Vita back in 2012, Sony closed down Studio Liverpool, and given that they've created all the games in the series to date, it isn't looking promising for the franchise.
With all that in mind, it seems like bad times for those who enjoy thumping beats and furiously fast-paced racing. But then again, Munich-based developer Shin'en Multimedia has seen a widening gap in the market and has now delivered a worthy successor to Fast: Racing League for Wii (2011). Fast: Racing Neo fits nicely into the space that F-Zero and Wipeout used to occupy. This is a racing game that makes use of many familiar elements, including the style of the soundtrack, the precise controls, but most of all the sense of speed.
The game consists of three leagues, each offering four cups with four tracks. The higher the league, the higher the tempo, and the more skillful the artificial intelligence that you're up against. Nintendo-based racing fans will be familiar with the structure already thanks to Mario Kart 8. On each track there are acceleration pads, and these are one of two colours; orange and blue. To accelerate to the max and avoid slowing down we need to change our vehicle from orange to blue via the shoulder button, switching between the respective colour-coded phases and hitting the correct lanes (sort of like what you do in Ikaruga and Outland). Add to this there are turbo spheres dotted around the track, and they fill up a meter which can be used to increase our speed further.
In addition to the championship and the time trial modes, which, incidentally, also contain the best times posted by staff at the studio, there is the Hero mode. This is completely new and quite challenging. The turbo meter also acts as a health bar. If we consume all our turbo, we become extremely vulnerable even to the slightest of mistakes. And then, if our vehicle is destroyed, the race is over and we have to start over. At the same time we have to reach the first place to win here, and anything less won't be enough to progress. Various routes are also mirrored; the developers wants us thoroughly challenged. Therefore, this mode is only available once we've reached at least third place in every cup in the most difficult league.
The design of the tracks is varied, and most offer a few interesting peculiarities. We've raced through canyons with huge Dune-esque caterpillars, driven across snowy landscapes, barren deserts and winding jungle paths. It goes through futuristic cities and along stormy coastlines. On some tracks falling debris is waiting for us, while in others the designers have littered the road with containers, or have left us with small sandstorms on hand to limit our vision. There's so many little details to enjoy; the team has created a series of beautiful tracks.
You need to be paying attention, all of the time. From the track layout itself through to the obstacles that lay in wait. Even a lack of side barriers can be potentially hazardous to your health. On top of all that we need to be equally cautious of the competition, because our opponents will happily push us from our preferred racing line, which can be disastrous when you're racing at this kind of speed. What helps is that Fast: Racing Neo comes complete with crisp visuals. The blurring effects provide a great feeling of speed when you're at full speed, and it runs smoothly at 60 frames per second. In terms of visuals Shin'en has always been a capable studio, and once again they've extracted the best possible results from relatively weak hardware.
In addition to the three solo modes, there is also the opportunity for some multiplayer action. You can play locally in split-screen with up to four players, and if just two people are playing the high refresh rate remains intact. And then there's also online multiplayer for up to eight players, a mode that comes with a simple scoring system after each race (after a race this score is used to find the most suitable opponents for our next race). In multiplayer the only tracks available are the ones we've previously unlocked in the championship, so it's worth spending some time on the solo road with Fast: Racing Neo before starting the online multiplayer.
Unlike the local races, when playing online we have to deal with a couple of minor restrictions. In Fast: Racing Neo we can only choose whether we want to compete against the world, or against friends. Then we can choose one of the up to ten vehicles, those we've unlocked in the championship. It makes track selection by committee more confusing than it needs to be, and perhaps there might still be an update somewhere down the line that could add a few more options.
The music is pretty good, even if this is one area that could potentially be improved. The sound effects were to our taste, although in this regard Wipeout might be further ahead. However, if we consider that this is a download title, the whole package is impressive and the quality is high across the board. The only thing we really missed was an indicator telling us how far the next opponent is away from us. In addition, a detailed post-raced overview for each contest would have been nice. But these are minor points and at the end of the day all we have is praise for Shin'en Multimedia and Fast: Racing Neo. Simply put, it's one of the best racing games available on the Wii U.
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