Last year's SpeedX 3D brought Gamelion's endless tunnel racer from the mobile phone market to the 3DS, adding a third dimension and physical controls and proving that mobile games can make excellent eShop experiences. Now the race returns with SpeedX 3D Hyper Edition, and while it's still a whole lot of fun, it's neither the sequel nor the clearly definitive version of the game we were hoping for. Hyper Edition boasts some notable improvements, such as better graphics and an unlimited boost, but it's also missing several features of the original release.
For players that missed out on the original SpeedX 3D, the concept is simple: you'll race towards the horizon over a constantly evolving course, avoiding obstacles from a low-down, first-person perspective. There aren't any other vehicles to worry about, and the goal is purely to go as far as you can. It's basic, but lots of fun, not least because it more than lives up to its name: SpeedX can be very, very fast.
The track design here, like in its predecessor reminds us quite a bit of F-Zero X and its GameCube sequel, with flatland sections that twist themselves into half-pipes and both the inside and outside of full-pipes, which are just as fun to fly along here as in Nintendo's racers. The big difference is that you won't need to worry about turning in SpeedX; you'll move left and right along the track, but it's only to steer clear of the edges and the geometric obstacles that pop up frequently along the way. These stationary shapes and bouncing cubes are easily spotted by colour-coded sections of the track leading up to them, and while navigating around them starts out easy enough, whipping back and forth quickly gets much trickier with the serious speed you'll pick up as you go.
Thankfully, passing over orange power-up tiles will charge your shields, allowing you to smash through obstructing obstacles with impunity up to four times. If you're feeling particularly brave, holding down 'X' or 'B' will activate the new 'hyper mode', an unlimited, breathtaking boost that shoots you along much faster in exchange for a 1.5x multiplier on your score.
In addition to the shield pick-ups, you'll find a few power-ups scattered around the track: running over red tiles will give you a super bomb that destroys all on-screen obstacles, blue fields temporarily slow down the pace, and green fields negate the effects of the tunnel's Hazard Zones. These dicey areas are announced in advance, and each complicates things in a different way. 'Blackout' mutes the track colours and gets rid of the helpful trails before obstacles, 'Gravity Well' distorts your vision and affects your handling, 'Hue Shift' and 'Dark Nebula' change the cube and track colours, and 'Plasma Cloud' introduces a super-obstacle that will take away both a shield and a power-up.
In its original mobile release, SpeedX 3D utilized tilt controls, but has smartly switched to the Circle Pad on the 3DS. Navigating the continuous course is smooth and responsive, with a pleasing sense of momentum that makes flicking back and forth around obstacles especially satisfying. For right-handed stylus-fans, the touchscreen can be used to trigger power-ups or pause the game, and the face buttons serve the same purpose for lefties or those who prefer physical controls.
The combination of an endlessly twisting track, a steady stream of shapes to dodge, and the insane sense of speed make SpeedX 3D Hyper Edition a blast to play, just as the original was. Unfortunately, it's also missing a few key features from the first eShop release. Most noticeably, there are no longer any modes or difficulty levels to select from - you'll simply start up the game and hit "Play" to start an endless race. There's a nice, gentle difficulty curve that gradually ramps up in speed and challenge as you play, but that also means you'll have to start out from the beginning every time, even if you're already a veteran speed demon. The previously optional motion controls are also nowhere to be found in the new Hyper Edition - and though we weren't particularly enamored with them, it's another odd omission worth noting for players who prefer tilt to touch.
One major improvement from the original release, however, is that the framerate is now rock solid, and that makes a huge difference; the incredible sense of speed is one of the game's main draws and it never stutters for a second, fixing one of our main complaints with the first version. Graphically, SpeedX is very simple, but very stylish. Its minimalist look takes design cues from the über-cool WipEout series, with futuristic fonts and a track awash in bright, blurred neon. It also makes phenomenal use of the 3DS' stereoscopic display - twisting around the inside of tunnels looks amazing in 3D, and this is one game where maxing out the slider adds immensely to the experience.
Turning up the volume - and ideally plugging in a pair of headphones - has a similar effect, as SpeedX's electronica soundtrack is a perfect fit for the action. There are five new tracks, ranging from pulsing techno to dance beats and bass-heavy shuffle, and you can switch between them whenever you like with the shoulder buttons. As with the original's soundtrack, they might not be tunes you'll find yourself humming once you've put the game down, but they create a fantastically hypnotic atmosphere while you're careening down tunnels at breakneck speed.
In terms of replay value, fewer game modes and difficulty levels mean there's a bit less to keep you coming back to Hyper Edition when compared to the original. There are no online leaderboards, or even local ones - the game only keeps track of your highest score - but the core game is such that score-chasers will still find plenty of fun in trying to top their best run.
SpeedX 3D Hyper Edition is a fun and seriously fast tunnel racer with an alluring neon aesthetic, and it's a great showcase for 3D done right. It's also not the unequivocal upgrade from last year's release that you might expect, because along with the improved graphics and a lower price-point comes a drop in gameplay modes, difficulty levels, and control options. The framerate improvement alone is enough for us to recommend this as the version to pick up for newcomers, but it's a shame that it comes at the cost of a reduced feature set. For those who already own the original, it's much harder to justify what is essentially a repurchase, especially when you're losing nearly as much as you'd gain from the "upgrade". Still, if you're looking for a blink-and-die endless racer - and if the original isn't already on your 3DS - SpeedX 3D Hyper Edition is an excellent choice.