Beautiful, exhilarating, challenging—these are just a few words that come to mind when I think of FAST Racing NEO. This upcoming racing title from Shin'en Multimedia captures the best qualities of the genre and uses them to carve a prominent resting place among science-fiction racers. Though comparisons to F-Zero are bound to be made, FAST Racing NEO deserves to be recognized for what it is, not what it's like.
At its core, FAST Racing NEO is a fairly simple concept: players choose one of ten anti-gravity vehicles and race against the others competitors in a high-speed race to the finish. Each vehicle has unique stats, giving it a different feel from the others. These stats affect your top speed, acceleration, and handling, so even if you master one vehicle, you may still have problems with others. There are total of sixteen courses that span many diverse environments from the jungle to the desert to the urban. These courses are truly a sight to behold, even as they whiz by at 60 frames per second. Each track also contains unique hazards, such as asteroids, giant mechanical spiders, and icicles, among others, further allowing each course to feel unique. In the game's main career mode, these courses are broken down into four different cups and you can challenge each one at three different difficulties. The opponents within each league are challenging, but with enough practice they aren't too much trouble. Even on the easiest difficulty, however, I initially wound up in second or third place with a minuscule point advantage over the position behind me.
Though the main focus of FAST Racing NEO is racing, it also tests your perception and reflexes. At any given time, your vehicle exists in one of two phases—a red phase and a blue phase. Your current phase can be determined at a glance by looking at the color of your thrusters or boost meter. You can quickly switch phases with the press of a button, allowing your vehicle to take advantage of specific opportunities on the tracks. Within each course lie a number of colored boosts and jumps which the racers can take advantage of. To do so, you drive over these areas while matching your craft’s phase to the corresponding color—while in the red phase, you will activate red boosts and jumps, while the blue phase activates the blue regions. There is a massive penalty for being in the wrong phase, however. Driving through blue areas while red, or vice versa, your car will quickly undergo a significant decrease in velocity. While these areas activate automatically upon your entrance, your boost meter can be stored for use at any time. This meter can be charged by picking up the strings of orbs placed around the tracks.
The name of the game is speed, though careful driving and good controls are a must. After all, it is possible to wipe out on each course, whether by hitting certain obstacles or flying off of the track during a jump. Wipeouts are as devastating as they sound, often causing a significant drop in your current placement, or, if occurring in the latter half of the race, preventing you from placing in the top five. Fortunately, FAST Racing NEO features tight controls with the GamePad, though motion controls are available as well. If using a Wiimote, however, motion controls are automatic and unavoidable. This isn't inherently bad, though I did feel it was too easy to lose control of your vehicle at times.
FAST Racing NEO contains a nice progression system, unlocking new vehicles and modes as you progress. Coming in the top three in the first three cups unlocks the next cup, while completing the last cup unlocks the next difficulty. Time Attack mode can be unlocked by completing the courses in Championship Mode, while beating the Hypersonic League will unlock Hero Mode. For a truer F-Zero experience, this is where you want to be. Your boost meter is replaced with a shield meter, and depleting this will cause you to be eliminated. After you unlock everything, however, there isn't much of a reason to redo Championship Mode. FAST Racing NEO has no story whatsoever, leaving me with a number of unanswered questions. Why are we racing in the first place? Who are these companies that sponsor the vehicles? Even a little bit of information about these topics would have gone a long way.
Multiplayer is also an important facet of FAST Racing NEO. You can compete against others both online and offline. Online play pits you against up to seven others from around the world. The online functionality ran incredibly smoothly and proved to be a blast, though I wish empty spots could be filled with AI. FAST Racing NEO shines when racing against a large number of opponents, but this feeling fades when faced with a 1v1 race. On the other hand, local multiplayer supports up to four racers and can be adjusted to include AI as well as a specific number of laps per track. The splitscreen effect from the TV is mirrored on the GamePad, which makes it hard to see—but as long as you have use of the television, it's a minor issue.
FAST Racing NEO is the F-Zero game we may never get, but there's enough here to let it stand on its own merit as well. Those familiar with the franchise will feel right at home, while newcomers will likely struggle a bit in the beginning. However, the mechanics are easy enough to pick up that, after a few races, these troubles should go away. The phase-changing concept is well executed and provides an interesting twist on the genre. Championship Mode can be a challenge in itself, but those who triumph and are looking for a bigger challenge can always find one in Hero Mode. Between unlocking all the single player content and challenging others online, I'll certainly be playing FAST Racing NEO for a long time to come.
FAST Racing NEO launches on the Wii U eShop this Thursday, December 10, at a price of $14.99. Nintendo provided us with a copy of the game for the purposes of this review.