FAST Racing NEO
Developer: Shin’en Multimedia
Publisher: Shin’en Multimedia
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: December 10th 2015
Links: Official Website
Shin’en’s FAST Racing NEO has garnered a lot of attention for itself for a number of reasons; notably, it received something of a push from Nintendo during their Treehouse Live @ E3 streams earlier this year, as well as in the most recent Nintendo Direct presentation. However, one of the major points of interest for this title is a rather lofty goal that has been thrust upon it; to fill the F-Zero shaped hole in our hearts. It promises similarly speedy futuristic racing action, but the question on everyone’s minds is, is it the new F-Zero that we’ve all been longing for? No, it isn’t; FAST Racing NEO is a compelling racing experience entirely in its own right.
I don’t feel it’s fair to judge this game based on what its similar to. Sure, there are many similarities between this game and Nintendo’s own racing series, both thematically and even in some of the finer details – for instance, FAST Racing NEO and F-Zero GX share an announcer – but I believe that the value of this game should be evaluated entirely on what it offers on its own, as a brand new racing title for the Wii U.
First things first; this a game that certainly lives up to the ‘FAST‘ in its name. Three different speeds are available, Subsonic, Supersonic and Hypersonic, each as increasingly speedy as the next. Now here’s the thing; Subsonic, the ‘slowest’ speed, is incredibly fast as it is, so there’s no open grid for rookies in Hypersonic mode. Whilst it sounds comedic, it’s almost TOO fast, reliant on the slightest movements and completing a near-perfect run each lap if you have any hope of placing first. Generally though, the level of speed is quite satisfying, especially when you perfectly chain together a series of boosts using the game’s ‘phase’ mechanic; much like cult favourite shoot ’em up Ikaruga, with the press of a button your craft can switch between a blue or orange phase; you’ll need to be the matching colour to each boost if you want to actually gain any speed from it (and in some tracks, to pass through jumps that will send you hurtling to your doom if your colour matches them). This is a nice gimmick that adds some variation to what would otherwise be a quite basic racer, fitting nicely into the track design as something to be memorised by anyone seeking to master this game.
Memorisation is a key element required if you’re aiming for success in FAST Racing NEO. As you’d expect from any racing game, each track’s layout differs considerably, with some of the game’s futuristic speedways consisting of very unpredictable twists and turns. Death-defying midair sections and tricky jumps that you’re unlikely to expect can easily catch you off-guard when you’re hurtling down the track at a breakneck pace and whilst this creates an awesome visual spectacle if you’re successful in passing these hurdles (even to the extent that the announcer may congratulate you for a particularly sharp landing), some elements of the track design come across as a little illogical; it’s not that they’re badly designed, it’s just that you don’t come to expect them unless you’re able to really focus on the layout of each course. After crashing or falling off-course, it’s easy to get thrown by the fact that the game re-spawns you before the point at which you were destroyed as opposed to relatively in the same place; again this isn’t necessarily a flaw, but it goes against the conventions of the genre and at times can be a little unexpected, especially when it more often than not means that taking the much coveted first place is now an impossibility.
Thematically, the tracks are absolutely brilliant and oozing with detail; even minor touches such as snow and frost gathering against the screen on the wintery Alpine Trust or the way your vehicle disturbs the surface of the swap-like waters of Kenshu Jungle are a real treat to watch even when travelling at an incredible speed, not to mention the various background details such as eruptions of industrial magna or gigantic alien sand-creatures that all work together to give a fantastic sense of scale and grandeur to each race. The natural obstacles that inhabit some of the courses are very satisfying to overcome, really enhancing the sense of speed as you power through them with your boost; however, collide with any obstacle, or even so much as clip the walls of the track as you come in for a landing and you’ll find yourself crashing out in a rather undignified fashion, losing both your acceleration and position in the race. The game’s ten available vehicles are nicely designed and appropriately futuristic, the fictional companies they represent creating a nice sense of lore to the game that’s unfortunately not developed on too much; if one comparison was to be made to F-Zero, it would have to be that there’s decidedly less personality in FAST Racing NEO, but that’s understandable considering the absence of a cast of characters as diverse and interesting as F-Zero’s.
Beyond the main Championship mode, a pleasant selection of additional game styles are available. ‘Time Attack’ is exactly what you’d imagine, a time trial mode that lets you test your mettle on any of the game’s 16 tracks. In a similar fashion to Mario Kart‘s ‘staff ghosts’, various record times set by Shin’en’s own developers are available to compete against. It’s a shame there’s no online leaderboard support, as I can imagine this would’ve been highly competitive much like in Shin’en’s earlier Wii U release, Nano Assault Neo. Both online and local split-screen multiplayer are present and are a lot of fun, the game suffers on a technical level during these mode but considering the speed and detail of the environments, this is understandable. Online mode contributes strongly to the potential replayability of the game and whilst it’s yet to be seen if this is a title that will maintain an online community far into the future, for the time being it’s easy to hop into a full race with little difficulty. ‘Hero Mode’ is the go-to option for people who are looking for challenging, F-Zero style gameplay; in this mode, the game is locked on Hypersonic speed, using boosts drains an energy bar as opposed to the usual boost bar present in the regular modes, and only a first place finish counts as a win. As if playing at Hypersonic speed wasn’t taxing enough on its own, the bar is set even higher here; those who can attain victory this truly brutal mode, in a game which already harshly punishes mistakes, can truly call themselves masters.
So, to stress what I said in the introduction, this game isn’t a new F-Zero; if you come to FAST Racing NEO looking for the same experience you had playing F-Zero GX on the GameCube, you’re going to go away disappointed. If you approach this game with an open mind, you’ll soon find that below the thematic resemblance to past racing titles lies an addictive, well designed and extremely aesthetically pleasing racing game that makes great use of the Wii U hardware for a brilliant sci-fi racing experience. It’s a game that lives up to its name in more ways than one; this game’s worth a play if only to experience it’s incredible feeling of speed. This one shouldn’t be missed by racing game fans.
A downloadable copy of this game was purchased for the purpose of this review.