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Futuristic racing games had their heyday in past console generations. The standouts were the F-Zero and Wipeout franchises, but other than Wipeout HD on the Playstation 3, there hasn’t been many of them in recent years. It’s a shame too because they were graphical powerhouses of previous consoles especially when they showcase their sense of speed. Fast Racing Neo by Shin’en is the closest we’ll ever get to anything new of those franchises I mentioned. While it pays homage to those games, it also stands on it’s own as a solid futuristic racer.
The UI for Fast Racing Neo is as straightforward as it gets and the same goes for modes. It’s also old school with championship mode being four cups of four courses and three different speeds reminiscent of the Mario Kart games. Time attack is pretty self-explanatory going for the best times and also beating the developers’ times. Local and online multiplayer is available as splitscreen is up to four players and online has up to eight. Online play has been functional other than the first day where hard crashes were happening frequently in my experience with it. Besides that, my gripe with the online is that I wish you can play with the higher speeds as Subsonic is the only one used so far from what I seen. Shin’en sticks to the basics and there’s no fancy story or career mode, which is fine by the catered crowd.
The gameplay is a mix of F-Zero and surprisingly the critically acclaimed Treasure shooter Ikaruga. There’s no combat in Fast Racing Neo, but you can spin opponents out by boosting to bump them or landing on top of an opposing racer from a jump. The Ikaruga comparisons come in with the different colored boost pads. Blue and orange pads are on the tracks for racers to boost, but switch to the wrong color and you’ll slow down. Boost orbs are also placed on the courses to gain more boost, which can be used at all once or in bursts. Subsonic league is basically the “50cc” of this game where the speed is not that fast, but the supersonic and hypersonic leagues are when Fast Racing Neo pretty much gets real because the sense of speed is more noticeable and handling the vehicles become more of a challenge. The color switch mechanics alone make the game have it’s own identity and that is much needed in a racing game these days.
The track design is alright, but nothing crazy as seen in other futuristic racers with crazy loops or long borderless sections. It does get progressively harder in the later cups with curved jumps, sharper turns and obstacles to avoid. Hitting a obstacle head on or missing the track from a jump is a very costly mistake in Fast Racing Neo as the CPU AI in higher speeds catch up easily giving little to no chance to come back to a higher position. Even playing with no mistakes, the AI does provide a challenge in the later leagues and sometimes you’ll have to play more risky being aggressive with boosting just to maintain pace against the competition. The sixteen tracks have their own theme, which is neat compared to the multiple tracks in F-Zero that share the same background. The vehicle balance however is a bit disappointing as only two or three of the ten are used heavily because of their stats alone.
I want to mention the unlockable Hero Mode, where it’s literally F-Zero. The boosts work similarly to Nintendo’s series where it also counts as the vehicle’s health/energy. Hitting walls cost energy but can get regained by collecting orbs and using the boost pads with the right color. Obstacles and not making jumps does mean race over too, so the complexion of the races in all sixteen tracks do change where you’re just focusing on just surviving by energy management. I definitely played more conservative in these races than the regular ones. That alone makes Hero Mode a worthwhile addition especially for F-Zero fans.
Fast Racing Neo looks great especially on the Wii U. The sense of speed when using a full boost meter was a reminder of F-Zero GX, one of the greatest racing games of all-time. Combine that with the motion blur effects Shin’en used and this game goes at 60 frames per second. The framerate however dips more noticeably during Hero Mode races when too much is going on from opponents crashing on obstacles and boosting through these sequences. All sixteen tracks look visually different as mentioned earlier as well. The soundtrack is typical for the genre with nothing special that stood out for me.
Is Fast Racing Neo the start of a comeback for futuristic racers? I hope so because it’s a solid, arcade-style racer that sticks to the basics modes-wise and focus more on the gameplay. It’s easy to compare it to F-Zero especially being on a Nintendo system, but the Ikaruga-esque color switch mechanic is enough for the game that has it’s own identity. Of course playing this makes you hope Nintendo finally makes a new F-Zero as Fast Racing Neo does scratch that itch, but you’ll never know with them. In the meantime, $15 for sixteen tracks, four cups from three different leagues and functional online play is great for those looking for a new racing game on the Wii U, especially getting that futuristic itch.