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FAST Racing Neo review

Martin Bigg On February 28, 2017

Nintendo's reluctance to resurrect the F-Zero franchise is bewildering. Widely regarded as one of the most fabled futuristic racing game series of all time, it’s been well over 10 years since we saw the series cause controller casualties on the GameCube with the notoriously hardcore F-Zero GX developed by Sega. A new instalment of the forgotten futuristic racer would undoubtedly be a system seller for Nintendo that would please players seeking a more challenging alternative to Mario Kart.
 
There is, however, an alternative to F-Zero available on the neglected Nintendo Wii U - and it's called FAST Racing Neo.

FAST Racing Neo screenshot
 
Developed by German studio Shin’en Multimedia, FAST Racing Neo is the sequel to the forgotten WiiWare title FAST Racing League, which now looks tame by comparison. While FAST Racing Neo is clearly inspired by F-Zero, it has more in common with WipEout, from the craft designs to the floaty physics requiring you to lean into turns in comparison to the tight controls of F-Zero.
 

Sonic speed

What sets FAST Racing Neo apart, however, is its unique switch mechanic – this is more than just an F-Zero and WipEout mash-up. As well as collecting orbs to fill up your boost meter, each of the 16 available tracks is scattered with blue and orange pads which give you a temporary speed boost if you fly over them.

The twist is that you need to manually switch your ship’s engine “phase” to the corresponding colour as you pass over the pad. Get it right, and you’ll get a temporary speed boost. Get it wrong, and it will slow you down. It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s a challenging test of reflexes which becomes essential to success, particularly in the later, tougher tracks where blue and orange pads are alternated rapidly, and additional portals requiring the correct phase colour are thrown into the mix.  
 
Combine these elements together, and FAST Racing Neo certainly lives up to its name – these races are frighteningly fast. The capitalisation of “FAST” in the title is duly justified. A solid 60fps frame rate and use of blurring effects create a spellbinding sense of speed that will keep you on the edge of your seat: you’ll need fast reaction times to navigate the courses without constantly grinding into walls. Futuristic racers don’t get much faster or more intense than this. The only downside is that there are only 10 ships on-screen compared to F-Zero's packed grids of 30, so the races can sometimes seem sparse. 

FAST Racing Neo screenshot
 
The Wii U has never been a graphical powerhouse compared to its console competitors, but FAST Racing Neo looks ravishing in motion, with sharp visuals, detailed environments and impressive lighting effects that reflect sun glare when light hits the camera which is a nice touch. Look closely, however, and you can spot some of the cutbacks that were necessary to optimise the game. Resolution is limited to 720p, the menu presentation is bland and bare-bones, and there’s a noticeable lack of anti-aliasing, causing the environments to look pixelated in places. This is all nitpicking, though. FAST Racing Neo is easily one of the best-looking games on the system with consistently smooth performance, which is no mean feat considering it isn’t a first-party Nintendo-developed title. Plus, you’ll be racing at such ludicrous speed you won’t notice any of the blemishes.  
 
Craft designs are disappointingly generic, but each of the game’s ten ships has different weight, top speed, and acceleration attributes which you can use to your advantage. Heavier crafts are better at knocking out opponents but harder to handle through the twists and turns, while lighter ships have better acceleration but are more vulnerable. Some of the craft are difficult to tell apart, however – some vehicle customisation options would have helped here.

Vehicle handling is intuitive once you learn how to approach corners while compensating for the lean of the craft, but it doesn’t quite have the finesse or depth of WipEout. There are no powerups either, putting all the focus on the racing and your reflexes. You won’t be complaining, however, since you already have enough to contend with. FAST Racing Neo was clearly made on a budget, though, so don’t expect any flashy cut scenes or pilot personalities fleshing out the backstory.
 
As with the crafts, the track designs could have been more creative. You’ll soon start to notice that each track has similar recurring elements such as sharp banking turns, sudden drops, and dynamic obstacles to avoid such as waterfalls and falling rocks, and while some do have alternative routes, there aren’t any shortcuts.



There's plenty of variety in the locations, however. Each of the 16 tracks is set in distinctive, sci-fi-esque environments, ranging from deserts and jungles, to outer-space. There’s plenty of spectacle breathing life into the environments as well, from overhead ships cluttering the skies to a giant mech spider stomping across the track and a worm monster smashing up the scenery.  
 
Complimenting the intense racing action is a pumping electro soundtrack, which, while a tad generic, suits the scintillating speed and sounds like a throwback to music from old-school arcade games. Similarly, the cheesy announcer, who condescendingly tells you that you “failed like a pro” if you finish below third place, sounds like he was teleported from the ‘90s or ‘00s. If he sounds familiar, it’s the same voice actor who played the announcer in F-Zero GX.
 

Race with the devil

As well as its sci-fi aesthetic, FAST Racing Neo also inherits F-Zero's devious difficulty. Split between three increasingly tough tournaments, championships are split-up Mario Kart-style, requiring you to win four successive races in each cup.

Races can’t be restarted without quitting and restarting the entire championship, so any progress you’ve made in the first three races can be made redundant if you scupper the final race. In a generation where some players take flashbacks for granted, the steep difficulty will be alarming for some, particularly as FAST Racing Neo doesn’t make any concessions for beginners - a momentary loss of concentration can cost you the entire championship. It harks back to an era where arcade racers were punishingly difficult and took skill and perseverance to beat. At least F-Zero eased you in gently.

FAST Racing Neo screenshot
 
Right from the first race, there is zero margin for error in FAST Racing Neo: unless you thoroughly memorise the track, hit every boost pad, collect every orb and don’t crash, securing a podium finish seems out of reach, even in the easier cups that only require you to finish in third place to progress. The later Supersonic and Hypersonic Leagues up the ante considerably; just when you thought FAST Racing Neo couldn’t possibly get any faster.  Sadly, some players won’t have the patience to see it all through, but you will have at least experienced every available track in the beginners league.   
 
The relentlessly demanding difficulty ultimately hampers the fun from the initial adrenaline rush, and FAST Racing Neo devolves into a frustrating experience as you progress through the career. Blatant AI rubber banding makes securing a podium position unnecessarily difficult, as opponents often blast past and snatch your position just as you approach the finish line. This would be more forgivable if FAST Racing Neo had a catch-up mechanic if you fall too behind like in Mario Kart to ease the frustration, but you have to live with your mistakes. To add to the frustration, most tracks are also littered with obstacles to dodge such as icicles, and moving fans and crates to catch you out, but you’re usually better off restarting the championship if you hit them since it takes too long to reset your back on track. The animation when your craft gets destroyed and erupts into flames also leaves a lot to desired since there’s no visible vehicle damage.
 
Track memorisation is key to success in FAST Racing Neo. In the absence of a single race mode, the self-explanatory Time Attack allows you to learn the intricacies of each track, though don’t expect an easy ride here since you’ll be trying to beat times set by the developers.

As a reward for conquering the most difficult cup, dedicated players will unlock a separate Hero Mode, which is FAST Racing Neo’s equivalent of a hardcore difficulty level. If you were put off by the merciless difficulty of the main game, Hero Mode will tip you over the edge: all the tracks are reversed, and your boost doubles as a shield gauge which destroys your craft if you make a mistake. Oh, and you also need to finish every race in first place. Still, if you’re looking for a challenge, FAST Racing Neo has it in spades.
 
As with FAST Racing League, FAST Racing Neo supports split-screen multiplayer for up to four players, albeit with a compromised frame rate of 30fps. For the first time in the series, FAST Racing Neo also supports online multiplayer for up to eight players. While the experience is lag-free and joining a game is swift, its execution is unusual as you can’t filter the track and difficulty options.    
 
As a package, FAST Racing Neo offers great value for money at £10.99, and it’s also worth purchasing the excellent Neo Future Pack DLC which adds eight more unique tracks bringing the total up to 24, as well as two new cups and 18 new audio tracks - and it costs around the same as your average car pack.
 
It's a shame FAST Racing Neo isn’t available to a wider audience because PS4 and Xbox One owners are missing out on one of the most intense futuristic racers released in years. Its old-school structure and punishing difficulty won’t appeal to everyone, and it lacks the production values and iconic status of rival games that inspired it, but FAST Racing Neo is a challenging, adrenaline-filled futuristic racing game that successfully fills the void of WipEout and F-Zero with enough unique mechanics to set it apart, all for a temptingly cheap asking price. Clearly, Nintendo needs to hand over the F-Zero license to Shin’en. 

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