Let’s face it; Fast Racing Neo is the game Nintendo fans have been desperately clamouring for for many years. Sure it’s not called F-Zero and there’s no Captain Falcon or Samurai Goroh in sight, but aside from those omissions it’s the futuristic racing game we’ve been waiting a decade for. Thankfully it’s great.
Fast Racing Neo doesn’t mess around with the fluff of background histories or a story of any kind. You’re thrusted straight into a wonderfully realised futuristic setting without much context. You don’t know if this is Earth or a whole other planet or solar system, but that doesn’t matter.
Initially upon booting the game up and selecting the main championship mode, you’re teased with three speed leagues; Subsonic, Supersonic and Hypersonic each in ascending difficulty. However, in order to play all the speed levels you must make your way through them one by one. There are four cups to conquer for each speed level (they’re the same cups throughout), getting at least a bronze in each cup will allow you to progress.
While normally I would be averse to making players go through this slow progression of unlocking the rest of the game, I think it’s necessary here. Fast Racing Neo is a difficult game and learning the tracks by heart in the slower stages is a must for success later on.
Upon selecting your cup you can then chose your craft. There are only three to choose from at the beginning but the rest are gradually unlocked after every cup progression. Visually all the crafts look great, they’re nice, chunky and have believability to them. Each of them has a rating for top speed, acceleration and weight, which really plays a part in how they feel on the track. You’ll soon begin to pick out your favourite one that suits you and your style. Personally I found the Mueller to be my go-to ship.
There are 16 tracks in total, a nice amount, in fact it’s more than I initially expected. There’s a wide range of environments explored in the game, from jungles to outer space and from deserts to the sea. Most of them are very distinct from each other and the ones that aren’t are only because they take place in the same ‘world’, like one track will be in the Sunahara Plains, while another will be in the Sunahara Desert. The tracks are very different from each other but this brings a cohesion to the world.
I will quite happily say I love 15 of the 16 available tracks; they’re crazy, unique, harsh but fair and visually stunning. There is one, however, that I absolutely despise. The afore-mentioned Sunahara Desert is by far and away the least likable of the tracks due to it also being way more difficult than any of the tracks put together. Why? Well because for some reason there are no barriers on the racetrack for the most part. Instead the sides of the track are covered in sand and boulders. Lots of boulders. Combining that with a face-ripping high speed and tight corners, you’ve got one very unhappy and constantly exploding me. “Well, go slow” I hear you say! I have done, but because the other racers can stick to the road like glue and still maintain speed, going slow got me nowhere.
Over 500 words in and I haven’t even talked about the actual ‘racing’ of a racing game! Fast Racing Neo tries to give its own little twist on the genre, alongside the standard ‘Go, Brake, Drift’ each track has strips/gates/jumps differing between blue and orange colours. Your ship also has the ability to switch between a blue and orange phase with a tap of the X button. If you are in the blue phase while on a blue strip you will gain a boost, if you’re in the orange phase then you will slow down. It’s an essence of Ikaruga and although it may sound a little daunting, it’s actually a nice extra little think about.
Aside from boosting via the coloured strips, you can boost yourself manually too. As you’re racing through the track you can pick up orbs which add to your boost power. Collecting orbs can be fairly tricky and precise so manual boosting is a scarce resource and choosing when to utilise it add strategy to each race.
I will admit, at times I often got muddled up between the boost and the switching. Sometimes when I wanted to boost I would press switch, when I wanted to switch I boosted off into oblivion. It takes a while to get your head around it.
Many people have commented on the difficulty and it’s certainly something that should be mentioned. Subsonic League will be manageable for most gamers even without fully getting to grips with the switching and boosting mechanic. The next two speed levels are where it gets seriously tough. The opponents are more competitive than ever and keeping your ship from slamming into the ocean or a place that’s not the track, is more difficult thanks to the eye watering speed increase.
Although each race may be brutal and unforgiving, it’s still possible to make progress as long as you’re consistent with yourself. It’s very much possible to finish 4th in every race and still get the bronze trophy for the cup thanks to the AI being inconsistent from race to race. The winner of the first race is just as likely to finish last in the second one, giving you enough to scrape through. I’m not going to lie, I finished 10th (bottom) on the track I previously mentioned hating, yet I still won the gold for that cup thanks to the AI messing up as much as me.
Hypersonic (the fastest speed) is the most difficult and yet the most fun. Blistering past every race in the blink of an eye is stunning and tense. You’ll be holding your breath for most of the race, especially when from some luck and skill you’re out in the lead. And that’s the game as a whole: Lots of skill and lots of luck if you want to succeed. It was worth every drop of sweat when I got that final cup and unlocked the sound test.
Outside of the main mode there are time trials for every track on every speed level where you can try to beat the developers times and there’s even a Hero mode which is far too brutal as you might expect. The tracks are mirrored and you now have a life bar which is shares the same energy as your boost. Good luck with that. For masochists only.
There is online play too which is something I expect will be the main mode players will keep coming back for. I only played for an hour or so online, but thanks to my dodgy internet the connection wasn’t brilliant. Online gameplay for me is usually terrible thanks to Chinese internet, so I can’t judge it fairly enough.
I have very few complaints about Fast Racing Neo apart from that one pain in the arse track. There is one track I really like, however it is littered with unnecessary jumps that can give you extra boost orbs, however I found them more of a detriment as they more than likely propel you into the broadside of a bridge, plus they’re more difficult to avoid than hit. Another would be the boost you can achieve at the start of the race. Like any good racer, timing your acceleration with the countdown can give you the advantage early on. The trouble here is that out of the starting grid, the only craft that doesn’t boost start is the numpty right in front of you, so instead of gaining the advantage, you instantly slam into the back of him causing you to lose a lot of momentum.
It may have taken a while but the folks at Shin’en really know how to present an indie game that could be mistaken for a big budget release. It’s well up to snuff with anything else on the Wii U and each track is seemingly polished to perfection. The presentation is simple but it doesn’t need to be anything more and the soundtrack is really enjoyable with it’s techno, rock mix. It may be a little generic and clichéd for the genre of game, but it works well and it definitely stands out.
Overall, Fast Racing Neo has been well worth the wait. It’s not quite F-Zero but it’s enough to satisfy that quench, at least for a while. The game is tough but manageable and the gameplay is exhilarating and tense, although can be occasionally frustrating. Considering the size of Shin’en, it’s remarkable what they’ve achieved here. There’s a nice amount of content for what was initially a worryingly low price. This definitely a must buy for Wii U owners.
– Exhilarating gameplay
– Brilliant visuals
– Decent content for a great price
– That one bloody track
– Annoying jumps