The Dark Souls of Podcasts
Not every genre of video game appeals to every player, and in my case, I’ll openly confess to not having much time for racing games. It’s not that I hate racing, either in concept or execution, but I’m not particularly a gearhead, and one or two games aside, find it tough to sit and play racing games for any great length of time. When it comes to FAST Racing NEO, which recently found it’s way onto Nintendo’s eShop to moderate fanfare, I find myself unsure whether I really want to play more – but either way, I can’t.
I’ve never suffered from motion sickness in my entire life, but FAST Racing NEO pushed it. It was a pretty rare occasion that I could sit down and play for longer than twenty minutes without developing some kind of headache or nauseated feeling in my stomach. FAST Racing NEO certainly lives up to its name – and even at lower levels, it may just be faster than any other racing game I’ve ever played.
The natural response to looking at a game like FRN, is to compare it to F-Zero, a long-dormant futuristic racing franchise that is also exclusive to Nintendo. Despite this, I wouldn’t go so far as to call FRN a straight-up F-Zero clone, in reality, it’s more like a meeting between F-Zero and Sony’s Wipeout series. Visually, certainly, it’s more reminiscent of the latter, but from a gameplay standpoint, it’s clearly taking pointers from both.
Perhaps the most key distinction between Wipeout and F-Zero is Wipeout’s use of weaponry, and while FRN doesn’t explicitly have weapons, it does have it’s own methods for going on the offensive. Levels are dotted with little pickups that give you speed boosts. While on the surface these are purely for gaining extra speed, there’s a deeper tactical implementation for them too. Boost into another racer, and you force them to spin-out, or crash. Boost just as an opponent is trying to knock you off course, and your boost will double as a shield. It’s a cool addition to the game, and it makes FRN feel unique.
There’s also a mechanic by which you can switch what “phase” your machine is racing in. Throughout each course you’ll find F-Zero style boost strips, which’ll be coloured either blue or orange. Hitting the L button will trigger a change in your “phase” from blue to orange, and passing over a boost strip while in the wrong phase will actually slow you down. It’s a neat idea, and it certainly adds to the already frantic atmosphere of the game.
Of course, being a racing game, control is imperative, and again, FRN feels more like Wipeout than F-Zero in terms of it’s handling. Vehicles do feel different, however the only stats the game surfaces are your craft’s top speed and acceleration. It’s a weird oversight, but it’s one emblematic of probably FRN’s biggest flaw – it’s lack of content.
Sure, there’s a decent number of tracks, most of which are fairly varied – not that you’ll see much scenery, given the speed the game runs – and a handful of crafts to pilot, but the game is frighteningly barebones in terms of available game modes and presentation. There’s no local multiplayer here – inexcusable for a racing game – and in my experience, the online multiplayer wasn’t terribly stable (although my internet connection is, admittedly, not wonderful). As far as single player goes, you’ve got a smattering of cups at different difficulties, which unlock tracks for use in Time Attack mode. There’s also Hero Mode – unlocked after beating the game – where tracks are even faster, mirrored, and where you must finish first to advance. While there’s not a lot of modes on offer, at least there’s a handful, considering that the game has literally zero options outside of the default settings.
The controls aren’t great, they’re mapped in the style of a PS1 racing game, with accelerate on A and brake on B, and it just doesn’t feel good, especially if you’re playing on the Wii U GamePad. You can’t change the controls either, so you’re gonna have to get used to ‘em if you’re planning on getting seriously invested.
FRN is a pretty decent game – especially given its cheap price point – but there’s also just not a ton of depth to the experience, and at times, the sheer speed of the game is physically draining. I like it, really I do, but I can’t see myself playing it much longer. It’s the kind of game I might reach for for twenty minutes while on a Skype call, or during a podcast recording break. In bite-sized chunks, FAST Racing NEO’s a great experience, but if you’re looking for a long term replacement to F-Zero, you may be waiting a while longer.