Ah, F-Zero. The futuristic racing series that’s so fast that even Nintendo appears to have lost track of it. While it’s true that Nintendo hasn't really done anything new with the series since it last released the Japanese exclusive F-Zero Climax way back in 2004 (the last game we got was F-Zero GP Legend during the same year), it has digitally re-released some of the older titles and featured elements of the franchise in other games such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Nintendo Land.
While fans have been begging for a new instalment for years now – their demands of which have yet to be answered – the arrival of Game Boy Advance games on Wii U does at least provide us with the opportunity to experience an F-Zero title that hasn't appeared on any of Nintendo’s Virtual Console services to date (with the unusual and exclusive exception of the 3DS Ambassador Program). The only problem with this one is that all of its original multiplayer modes have been lost in the process, and it’s a very noticeable omission.
F-Zero: Maximum Velocity was originally released in 2001 alongside the GBA. Although it followed F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64, this game harks back to the style and design of the original F-Zero on SNES. Much like how its 16-bit predecessor touted the power of the SNES, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity served a similar purpose of highlighting the GBA’s graphical capabilities, and it also uses the classic Mode 7 approach to provide a pseudo-3D visual effect. It may not look particularly impressive when compared against what today’s handheld systems can provide (especially when it’s blown up on an HDTV), but it nevertheless serves as a poignant reminder of Nintendo’s unrivalled ability to always get the most out of its own hardware.
Where F-Zero: Maximum Velocity does differ from its SNES counterpart is in its premise. The original line-up of pilots and vehicles, including the legendary Captain Falcon, are nowhere to be found. Instead, it focuses on the next generation of F-Zero pilots and takes place roughly 25 years after the original.
It’s a brand new contest, but the rules and gameplay format of old very much still apply. The single-player incorporates a standard Grand Prix setup in which you must compete across a number of tracks. Each race consists of five laps, although you must rank above a certain position in each one in order to qualify for the next lap. This particular setup can be quite punishing if you make even just one mistake, meaning that mastering the gameplay mechanics and memorising track layouts are of the utmost importance if you want to win.
This, combined with the surprisingly nuanced control system, means that F-Zero: Maximum Velocity requires a pretty high level of skill. Coming to this game as a complete novice, it might feel like you don’t have much control over your vehicle, and it doesn't take much to for your vehicle to enter an unintentional slide and crash into walls. Thankfully, this isn't down to poor controls, and rather the game demands a certain degree of finesse from you.
Holding either the left or right shoulder button will make your vehicle lean to one side, which makes a huge contribution to tackling some of the tracks’ tighter turns. In addition to this, you need to be mindful of your throttle control; beaming it full speed around a tricky bend is a recipe for disaster, especially because your vehicle can only take so much damage before it explodes. Therefore, you must rely on a technique in which you quickly tap on and off the gas. It sounds simple enough, but attempting it while simultaneously holding down one of the shoulder buttons and steering with the D-Pad feels surprisingly difficult to pull off at first. In addition to this, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity’s track designs are remarkably challenging in places.
There are four cups, each offering five different tracks, although the fourth cup is only available upon completing the first three in expert mode (which is no easy feat). Sudden right-angled bends, narrow strips and hazard-laden gauntlets all put you through your paces, and it can be very hard to come back from a collision on a winding piece of track, mainly because it tends to bounce you around like a pinball. Overall, it’s a tough challenge, but the fact that it demands a lot of skill while you're learning the courses makes it a rewarding one if you invest a good amount of time and master it; it's not as immediately accessible as the Super NES original, however, due to this level of difficulty.
Aside from that though, there isn't a lot else to do; in fact the only other modes are practice and a now-limited time attack challenge. It has already been stated quite clearly by Nintendo that system-link multiplayer modes in digitally released GBA titles on Wii U wouldn't be supported, which in F-Zero: Maximum Velocity’s case means that a considerable portion of the game is missing. It is worth noting that the original version required multiple GBA systems and a link cable – a prerequisite that most could probably never meet in the first place – but it's disappointing that it can’t be experienced in some form.
Also missing is the ability to trade track times with other players (which was also done via the GBA link cable), although posting screenshots of your times to Miiverse is at least a decent alternative. The loss of this, as well as multiplayer, highlights a loss of value in this iteration of F-Zero: Maximum Velocity; given that it costs the same as other GBA titles in Europe ($1 less in North America), we can’t help but feel that you’re getting a little less in comparison to some of its VC contemporaries, though the content you do get delivers a nuanced, high quality racer.
As a strictly single-player experience, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity still holds up today as a result of its smooth, skill-based gameplay. There may only be four cups in which to compete, but the varied difficulty and surprisingly steep learning curve when it comes to mastering the vehicles and tracks make this a game you want to keep coming back to. However, aside from the relatively limited practice and time attack modes, that’s all there is, and this makes the game’s lack of multiplayer functionality as a result of it being on Wii U all the more noticeable.
It’s a shame, because this is undoubtedly well-made and impresses in the technical department. Compared to other single-player GBA titles available on the eShop it just doesn’t offer as much in terms of value for money but, if you’re really keen on the series or don’t care about multiplayer, this is an enjoyable dose of the franchise that also highlights what the last Game Boy could really do.