It's been a long time since the last F-Zero game. The last one to make its way to the West, F-Zero GP Legend, was released outside Japan in 2003, and we haven't heard a word from the series since, other than its character inclusions in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
While we wait for Nintendo to finally announce something, we're more than happy to play Shin'en's FAST - Racing League, which is quite similar in some regards, but also adds some special things of its own. Like F-Zero, you pilot one of six different flying vehicles, four of which must be unlocked, in an attempt to seize the gold in a bunch of racing leagues.
Each of the selectable vehicles handles a bit differently, some favouring acceleration over top speed for example, but in the end you'll usually want to go for the fastest one you can pick, as your opponents will never be too easy-going, even on the lowest difficulty.
The game's got three different leagues which have to be unlocked in order, each featuring four tracks, which take place in four different environments like your typical desert and snow worlds. There are three difficulties, with you starting out on the first, and you'll have to win all leagues on the lowest difficulty to unlock the next difficulty, where you'll have to win them again to unlock the hardest one.
Difficulties work a bit like the CC level in Mario Kart: not only will your opponents be better drivers, but the vehicles, including yours, will all be faster, requiring you to be a bit speedier reaction-wise. Like Excite Truck and Mario's Wii kart racer, you'll have to hold your Wii Remote sideways and tilt it to steer.
Aside from being able to defy gravity and fly upside-down, and being able to attack other racers, F-Zero didn't really have too many special elements, but in FAST you'll have to look out for a number of things during your races.
Probably the most important are long strips of black or white material, which look somewhat similar to the energy recovery strips from F-Zero. If you fly over these, you'll get a speed boost while you're over them, and they're also magnetic, so at times there will be one above you instead of below you, and you'll have to latch onto it in order to cross a pit.
Of course, there's a catch. At all times, your vehicle is coloured white or black, and it must be the matching colour in order to receive the boost and be magnetically attracted; if the colours don't match, you'll be slowed down instead. Luckily, you can change colours any time you want by pressing Up, but this costs one part of your bar with energy, This bar has ten parts total, and can be refilled by picking up spheres strewn around each course, which you should try your best to get, as missing them could cause you to be forced to take a plunge into a pit. You'll respawn where you fell with five free bar parts, but of course, you'll lose a lot of time.
There are also jump pads, which are colour coded just like the boost strips. Like the strips, they can also sometimes be in front of pits you need to cross, so don't think you can just ignore them. Another tidbit about the bar is that any time you have five or more parts of it filled, you can do a boost by pressing Down. It'll consume the required parts of the bar, however, so don't empty your entire bar right before you need to switch colours.
No video game racing track would be complete without some big walls to smash into, so don't worry, you can count on those as well. Big metal plates that make you crash on contact, no matter your speed, appear on just about every track, and a bunch of them also rotate around a pole to make your life just that little bit more difficult.
Once you're done with the main game — which can take a while, as the higher difficulties are pretty brutal — you won't be completely finished just yet. There are 21 challenges on offer, in which you complete small tasks like collecting items quickly, or simply reaching the exit in a short amount of time.
They're divided into three sets of seven, and will have to be unlocked by clearing the previous set. Interestingly, every single one of these challenges takes place on its own unique track instead of one of the existing ones, meaning that you could potentially argue that there are 36 tracks in the game total, counting the three tutorial courses.
Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer, but the game does support 4-player local multiplayer, so you can play against your friends if you want to. It's all simply skill-based, so no cheap items that knock you from first to last place in an instant.
Graphically, the game is another masterpiece, which is no surprise coming from Shin'en, joining the studio's other games as one of the best-looking titles on WiiWare. The soundtrack is a bit more subdued but features some cool racing tunes. You can unlock a jukebox to listen to them anytime you want as well, though this is one of the later unlockables, so it might take a while.
FAST is another success for Shin'en. It's another amazing accomplishment for WiiWare graphic-wise, but like its previous games, it has the gameplay content to back it up. The three leagues, which you'll have to do thrice, will keep you busy for a while, and after that, there's still the challenges and potential multiplayer with friends. A new F-Zero can wait a bit longer — this will keep us entertained.