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F-ZERO GX: Still places at the apex of arcade racers after 17 years

Content of the article: "F-ZERO GX: Still places at the apex of arcade racers after 17 years"

In videogame land, who dares to claim a decrepit and elderly teenager as the best? One might visit the senior citizen home of bygone consoles and be impressed that its still worth getting to the end of a story. But GX is no retiree. It isn't just spry for its age. Its ahead of our time. Let's see why Miyamoto asked, "what do you want that we haven't done before?"

GX was made when Nintendo handed Sega, their former rival, the keys to one of their classic franchises for the first time. Sega had everything to prove including their reputation of blast processing.

That sensation of speed is the first thing you're immediately gripped by. The speedometer says 2000 KPH and you believe it. How do you take a 90 degree corner that fast? By squeezing both hands into the air brake triggers and slamming the stick in the nick of time. The controls are so tight that they are plugged into your brainstem. The soundtrack is a warm oil that pumps from your ears down to your heart and lubricates your thumbs.

How do you overtake 29 other manned missiles that are just as fast as you? This is a violent game. The only way to play is aggressively. You can boost and weave through the competition, but miss the sparkling exhaust light ahead and you'll not only lose your boost, you'll transfer all of the speed to who you hit. Placing yourself to be on the receiving end of that speed transfer is a good feeling.

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But an even better feeling is when you whip your vehicle sideways in a quick jab to eject an opponent from the race with a single button. They get 0 points. Sounds simple doesn't it? Just go ahead and boost past them with mere frames to pluck them out of the air. Miss your drive by and go for something slow and they might pull a defensive spin, the rock to your scissors.

Games love to make a show of their risk and reward design. Look at me! I'm an optional treasure chest across a pit of spikes! Here this balance is fully integrated. Every second is an opportunity to gamble. Boosting consumes your health meter. Which of course makes it harder to avoid everything. You also snatch health from your opponents when you punch them out of the game. Miss, and you lose much of your boost speed. But if you do manage to take out 5 opponents in a single race, you score an extra life to restart if things go crash.

Games also love to parade around a number of characters that are just tweaks on the same frame. Here they all have a distinct style to the point that I favor a different vehicle for every grand prix cup. And then before each race you can do your tweaking with acceleration and top speed too. Finding the chemistry with an unfamiliar vehicle is like a remix on your favorite music.

GX has a reputation for being brutally unfair. My brother gave the game back to Gamestop for three spiteful dollars. Sure, the story mode plays dirty. But how would there be a narrative if everybody was equal, if you weren't the underdog? I think the difficulty makes it a cohesive game. You are in a deathrace with 29 of the best pilots in the galaxy. You have to follow the sharpest racing line you can at 2000 kilometers an hour. It demands competence. This is no Mario Kart and you don't get first place participation trophies. But when you assassinate the point leader and stake your whole health bar on threading the needle through the pack to hurl your flaming wreckage across the finish line… that's an experience that transcends the game into something personal.

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