3, 2, 1…
AND WE’RE OFF!! Racing games are all about feel so I’m gonna try to commentate a lap here. I’m driving the Spaarc Unlimited which is lighter than most crafts, but ideal for Hypersonic, the fastest speed class in the game. I pushed the gas as the 2 button faded, the same timing as Mario Kart 8. It’s nice how they considered Wii U players experience for this game. My opponent also got a great start, and to my shock a third racer shot in front of us both. With a slightly higher top speed he edged away a tiny bit heading towards the first boost. I stuck to the right as to not lose any speed, and made sure I had the blue phaser equipped for the blue strip on my side. Pressing the X button cycles through blue or orange phase of your craft, and you have to match the colour of the boost to gain advantage from it. The main thing to consider is not using the wrong colour over a boost, because if you have the wrong colour it will cut your speed and potentially destroy your race.
Did I mention this game is FAST? All of these thoughts happened in the space of 1 second. Hard to believe but I’m just a really fast commentator, don’t question it. After the first boost strips I collected some orbs on the track. These are tiny round things that fill up your boost meter, for use any time with the R button. The corner here was not very difficult, so instead of wildly turning with the stick to collect the orbs, I just tapped the shoulder buttons gently to shift my craft sideways and keep my speed and balance. I was still in 3rd, with a big temptation to use my boost right away and reclaim 1st. However, I knew this track. Another driver passed me with a boost and I was back in 4th now, but I had a trick up my sleeve. There was a branching path section coming up and if I could nail the left path with a boost, I could fly through the water and not lose any time.
WOOOOO!! I nailed the timing and lined up the next orange boost perfectly, phase colour already set up. Emerging in 2nd place, I knew this other racer was good and it was going to be a 2-way fight for the lead all the way up until the end. The end of the lap has a really tight section with close walls. This section is no big deal in the lower Subsonic League, but suddenly it’s a deathtrap on Hypersonic. I’m fighting for 1st place now and we’re bouncing off each other, nervously tapping the walls trying not to lose speed. Keep it straight, Chris. I’M AHEAD. HE’S AHEAD. I’M AHEAD AGAIN.
Now imagine 2 more laps of this, and that’s exactly how fast and ridiculously competitive this game is. Every race is a fight for the racing line, for the orbs, for the boost pads, and your survival. It’s pure arcade racing joy. For the purpose of my pride and making this writeup slightly more interesting, let’s just say that I won that race. However if I did come 2nd, it would not be the end of the world, because anything in the top 3 is a good result in Grand Prix mode. The CPU can be tough in the races but to my surprise, never unfair. The CPU racers hate each other just as much as you, and there is never one CPU racer who steals all the points.
Alright, so I’ve described the feeling of a race, but is the game any good? I would say yes, without a doubt it’s an incredible racing title worth owning, but for slightly different reasons to what I expected. Firstly I have to confess something, my favourite mode to play is actually the lowest speed. Hypersonic is an amazing, ridiculous showcase of the potential of videogames, but it’s almost too intense for a casual play session. It feels so fast that the game becomes more of a twitch based rhythm game than an actual racer. I like difficulty in races, but these are pretty much decided by mistakes. Want to win the Grand Prix? Simply don’t crash. Make the least amount of mistakes. I’m not saying it’s easy by any means, but it requires a different kind of focus.
If you blink right here you will miss the jump. Also note the blur effect, this game is very heavy in graphical “tricks” to make it look amazing with Shin’en’s small budget. They are technical geniuses but this game is almost too clever at times with effects flooding the screen, most apparent at Hypersonic speed. The 60fps stays in tact, but textures get blurry almost like they are sliding off the screen instead of whizzing by. While this never looks bad, it gets to me after a while and creates an uncanny, almost nauseating feeling when you immerse yourself in it. I’ve never had any problems with motion sickness in games, but this is the closest I’ve felt. I had a lie down after mastering all 4 Hypersonic GPs in a long session, and got this horrific feeling that I was going to faint. Of course, it might just be my destructive “all-or-nothing” style of play that made it worse, but this game’s highest speed is definitely unique in the way it made me feel. The other speed classes are fine though, still very fast and very enjoyable.
I seriously do love the concept of Hypersonic mode because it’s just that impressive to witness the speed, I think it’s worth the price of admission alone just to see it and do a few races. While not a more impressive game than F-Zero GX, it’s unquestionably a faster one. It’s also faster than Wipeout, and any other game I’ve played. Too fast? Maybe, but we have options so I would not put that as a mark against the game. It might be something you can get used to, but I can’t imagine playing this mode for hours without dropping dead. Just imagine one of those heated “life or death” moments in Splatoon or Mario Kart, where time slows down for a second. Except this is a constant feeling for 2 minutes. What’s strange is I don’t think it’s that difficult from a gameplay standpoint, the CPU isn’t that bad and if you memorise the corners you’ll do alright. The difficult thing is just taking in all the visuals at 60fps. The game looks too good.
The multiplayer is something I’m not qualified to review, but I’ll just summarise everything I’ve seen. I haven’t played local multiplayer because I have no friends. Forget that, I’m a lone wolf racing champion who trains alone for maximum efficiency. Anyway, I have played the online mode but unfortunately it’s a broken mess at the moment. Firstly, the Wii Wheel does not work and crashes the game every single time I try to use it online. I currently use the GamePad as my main controller so this isn’t an issue anymore for me personally, but it’s a pretty big problem for a game that boasts support for multiple controllers that don’t work. It may also effect the Pro Controller since that’s also external, but I don’t have one of those to test. Now while the GamePad did work for a good 10-12 races, I then had one pretty scary crash that has stopped me playing online entirely. Instead of locking up the system, it “slowed” down the game. Time was ticking normally but all the graphics, sounds and inputs were slowed down like a video buffering. It became SLOW Racing NEO and I could not find the FAST setting. Here’s the scary part. I managed to exit the game and go back to the Wii U menu, and now that was moving slowly. This Indie game on the eShop somehow managed to slow down my entire Wii U. Even with the game closed, there was something holding back the operating system. Miis creepily walked to the middle of the plaza in slow motion like zombies, and there was lag in every input I made.
Luckily, all was fine when I rebooted. Shin’en have acknowledged this and there’s a patch coming in January. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my Wii U do that, and makes me wonder what ridiculous tricks they have used to get all this power out of the system. Maybe they are stealing some of the OS’s 1GB of RAM? Who knows. I’m not technically smart enough to solve this, so I’ve made the personal choice not to play online until the patch. I’ll update this review (just with a short line saying whether it works, or not), and maybe post some new impressions about the online mode if it becomes playable. I am very keen to get back into the online mode so here’s hoping.
The few online matches I did play were amazing, it must be said. The lobby filled up quickly with 8 people, and it has the same “spectator” mode as Mario Kart 8 if you join mid-race, although without the option to cycle through cameras. The coolest thing was how the races themselves unfolded. Unlike Mario Kart there are no items to close the field up, so I feared somebody would drive off into the distance and be untouchable. Not the case, as all the races I played had numerous lead changes. The game is so fast that it came down to mistakes, and while it’s frustrating to crash in single player GPs or Time Trial and lose everything, in multiplayer it was a fun concept with everyone else flying off the track giving you an opportunity to catch up. Other players positions also seemed reliable, as I managed to do some passes with no strange collision detection. It looked almost exactly like single player which is a huge technical accomplishment. It was a pretty amazing feeling to see players spinning out just in front of me, and be able to avoid them as part of the natural race. I also had an epic moment where I crashed into the same rock as someone else, from different sides of the track. NICE!
I thought I would love motion controls in this game, but I’ve turned them off after discovering most of the turning is done with the shoulder buttons. It’s playable with motion controls just fine, but they are just not useful. The minor adjustments I love about the Wii Wheel in Mario Kart, are just not a thing in this game so I prefer the analog stick for a quick tap. It’s a similar approach to F-Zero games, a series born from the dpad. It feels very different to F-Zero GX however, there’s more sliding and you can’t turn or adjust at sharp angles without the L+R sharp turn seen in GX. The tracks are designed suitably though, so you don’t really feel like you’re “missing” that maneuverability, it’s just different. The track design is honestly not amazing, but every track has impressive environments and a very good rhythm with cleverly placed obstacles, boost pads, orbs and jumps.
One more thing I have to hype up is the music. It PACKS the hype big time, with a German Techno Dubstep approach that compliments the futuristic style perfectly. They’ve gone to great lengths to make each track dynamic. On Sunahara Plains, it doesn’t just up the tempo on lap 3, but the entire key of the song changes. Combined with the ridiculous speed, it creates this “fuck yeah, videogames” feeling. From a presentation standpoint they have not left a stone unturned with this game, and the soundtrack delivers some great original compositions.
While I’ve spent a good chunk of this review talking about flaws, the most important thing about it; the core gameplay, is absolutely amazing. The crafts feel great, the controls are good, the sense of speed is undeniable, and I’ve been replaying Grand Prix mode a lot just for fun. It’s SO refreshing to say that about a racing game in 2015, because it’s been so long since I’ve played one that wanted to be played. FAST has no career mode, no convoluted unlocking system, no bullshit EXP grinding, just pure racing from the get-go. You do have to unlock the highest speed, but that happens just by playing GPs naturally.
I absolutely love this game, but I have to end this on a real note and publicly disagree with the 9s and 10s reviewers have casually been throwing around for it. Racing is one of my favourite genres, and I acknowledge that most of my praise comes from that personal bias. This review would have been a lot easier if the online mode worked properly, but I wanted to paint an honest picture of the experience. I would still recommended it to anyone, but you are going to be disappointed if you expect F-Zero GX or Nintendo polish here. It’s almost unfair to put those expectations on it. Shin’en are a team of 5 people, and it’s a miracle this game even exists, let alone how amazing it turned out. It is not a perfect game, just a good one. It’s missing a few things like replays and leaderboards. I feel like Shin’en reached for the stars with this game from the outset, and maybe punched a bit above their weight by including an online mode. Even without that, FAST Racing NEO is a brand new futuristic racer that runs at 60fps in HD, has great controls, an amazing soundtrack, stunning graphics and every lap brings a stupid amount of joy to my face that you can not put a price on.