As soon as the second F-Zero game was announced and released in japan (GP Legend), many thought that F-Zero was done on the GBA seeing that it was the second installment of the franchise on the console and almost all of Nintendo's major franchises have seen only 2 big installments on GBA (well, except the Mario and Pokemon franchises)
Then, by the month of July, news about a new F-Zero game appeared. Some suspected it was a new GC or DS game but the news quickly denied that stating that the game was for GBA. many thought it was a typo because there were 2 F-Zero games for GBA already and it would make sense to make the new game for the upcoming DS system. Also, since some F-Zero games were launch titles for certain consoles, many assumed Nintendo would repeat this by making the new game for DS, others thought that GPL was too new to have a sequel so soon (MV has been out for quite a while).
Well, Nintendo did what many thought was insane. They showed pics of the game a bit later proving that it was a GBA product indeed and then provided a japanese launch date (21st October). Apparently the game was released to boost hype for the second season of the Falcon Densetsu (GP Legend) anime. Still no word of a US or European launch date (as of 1/5/2005) but, like GPL, we expect Nintendo to make announcements soon for releases that might occur between June and September.
The thing that worried most F-Zero fans is that this new game looked a lot like GPL. So much so that many thought the pics were photoshopped from old GPL pics at first. Then more info about new modes and artwork emerged, thus making clear that this was a new game. Among the new modes that are included in this game, there's Survival mode and a Track Editor. Gone was the old Story mode from GPL and many thought Zero Tests were gone too...
Then, October 21st came and F-Zero Climax was unleashed in Japan. Apparently very few people cared about the release but there were a few that bought it (like me).
The game is laid out a lot like other F-Zero games, so any veteran playing this game won't have problems figuring out what to do. There's the classic Grand Prix mode, Time Attack mode and VS mode seen in all the previous GBA F-Zero games. New to this game are the Survival mode and Edit mode.
Survival This new Survival mode is a lot like the Story mode but with 2 key differences. 1) there no story to be told, and 2) the missions are consecutive in the sense that you must complete a series of challenges to clear the chosen difficulty with your pilot of choice and obtain an overall completion time (each mission's completion time adds up to the total). Also, if you screw up in a mission, you'll lose one of the spare machines they give you at the start and you'll be penalized with additional time too. there are 3 difficulties to choose from and each presents you diverse challenges like keeping your speed above 800km/h, not touching opponents, not letting a certain pilot pass you and many more in different combinations on customized tracks (some of these are races to the finish like in GPL)
Edit The Edit mode is one of the dreams of most F-Zero fans come true (well, at least in 2D form). This editor lets you create your own track from a set of parts provided by the programmers. You first select the planet you want the track to be set on and then you proceed to create the track choosing from a vide variety of parts in an easy to navigate menu (no language barrier here). There are rules for the editor like no overlapping of pieces and that the track must be a closed circuit. Also, you can't exceed the amount of pieces the editor allows to create a track or it won't save it (i guess this was made to save space). To know how many pieces you can use, there's a number in a corner that will rise depending of the number of points a piece you put on the track has. The number will max out at 255 and after that it will blink indicating that you exceeded the allowed amount of points on the track. Each piece is worth a certain amount of points so you must keep track of the pieces you use to make your course. It's not the most flexible track editor there is but it gets the job done and it's a good start for future F-Zero games (FZX should have had it's editor included in the cartridge). Another neat feature of this editor is the ability to trade tracks via password or link cable. The passwords will be, without a doubt, the most used way to trade tracks but these can be awfully long sometimes (i think that's why they put link cable support too). If you can get over typing long passwords with a cursor, then you'll have lots of fun racing on the custom tracks your friends make and making your own tracks to show them off to them.
Grand Prix The GP is the same as always, race against 29 opponents and come on top to clear a cup. One thing I noticed was that there are fewer racers competing on this game as opposed to GPL and the 3D F-Zero games (you'll see 24 instead of 29) but those 24 will get closer to you, unlike on GPL where you would see only 3-4 if you were driving badly. Also, the missing Master difficulty from GPL is back here (but it's not quite as hard as MV or the 3D F-Zero games). One thing that this games does that GPL did too was having different tracks on higher difficulties. I think they do this to compensate for the lack of good AI. The number of tracks has increased again and you'll see a total of 53 tracks on GP mode plus the Championship track. There are lots of variations but they are not as obvious as in GPL and some tracks won't be recognizable from the originals at first.
Time Attack It's almost impossible to change this mode since all you do is race for your best times. The only minor changes is that now Zero Test (yes, it's back) is included on the Time Attack menu and the game saves only your 3 best times (opposed to GPL's 5 best times and MV's 10 best times). Again, you can't save or watch your Championship Replay (or any replay for that matter)
VS No changes here. Race against your buddies with one or multiple cartridges (i hope different region games are compatible like in MV because i'm getting another Climax copy once it is released in America)
We've seen the basic aesthetical changes now, but what about the most important part of any F-Zero game? I'm talking about the thing that mostly makes or breaks a game and keeps players going back to it despite racing for days, months or years to set the best times. No, I'm not talking about the announcer, I'm talking about the gameplay. Is it any different than GPL? Is it like the Original? Does it play like X? or does it use GX techs? Well, most of those are false except the first one.
The game is noticeably different from GPL and MV, in fact, it is drastically different than both of them and any other F-Zero game in most of the ways it handles. The only things that remain constant are that you accelerate with A, turn with the control pad, and use the shoulder buttons to lean the ship to one side. The settings bar from GPL and the 3D F-Zero games is gone too so no more debates about which settings to use on a race. Side attacks also make an appearance in this game. (interesting note: I don't know how to brake in this game [You need to change the default control settings -Ed])
Spin Attack A new move that was introduced from X and GX is the spin move. You press both shoulder buttons to execute it (with the default configuration) and it can help to repel rival machines in GP mode and do slower but longer boosts (you can control them pretty well too)
Laps Laps by themselves also suffered a slight change. Unlike the other 2D F-Zero games that used 5 lap races to make up for the small track size that the systems allowed and make the races somewhat long, this new game changes this by reducing the number of laps. Now the game will look more like the 3D F-Zero games because you'll have to do only 3 laps instead of 5 on its tracks. By default this will make sub 1 minute times pretty common and it won't be much of a hassle to race in all the 54 tracks since you'll need less time to play them now.
Boosting Boosting has changed greatly for this game, in fact, a new way of boosting has been introduced. You don't use one boost per lap anymore or boost constantly until your energy decreases or in key spots. Now you use both kinds of boosts to reach ultra high speeds not possible with any other method of boosting available in any other F-Zero game (DTDs and Shift Boosts are not normal boosting by the way). The basic boost can be dubbed as normal boost while the second, one-lap boost, can be dubbed as super boost since it gives you quite a load of speed at once.
More strategy is needed to use this kind of boosting efficiently. You might want to save your super boosts for long jumps and cut big corners or use them in long straightways without tough turns ahead or use both on the same lap to get better fastlaps. Using them is easy since they require the same button to be used. The super boosts can be activated after you use the standard boost and it's recommendable to use them when your boost is about to end since it won't affect the super boost's performance. You can use both Super Boosts at the same time.
Speed Speed is another thing that has changed dramatically for this game. Now you actually see if you are really going fast or not. The sense of speed has a new twist now in the sense that the track starts to shake when you build enough speed and maintain it and sometimes it can be hard to control the car and take a corner well because of the added speed. Definately something new incorporated to 2D F-Zero racing.
Dash Plates Dash plates work differently now. Instead of giving you max speed for a brief moment like in MV and GPL, they now add a bit of speed to your current speed. They are virtually useless in 1st laps because the added speed is minimal (150km/h roughly) but if you are using a boost, you get massive speed increases and hitting them can make a very big difference in boost laps (going from 1500 to 1600 feels way faster than going from 1100 to 1200)
Drifting The drifting system has changed too. You no longer use the shoulder buttons to drift like in MV and GPL. Shoulder buttons are more like support buttons that make taking corners and controlling the car at high speeds easier but the true drift is triggered by pressing and holding down (yes, down) on the control pad and then turning in the direction you want to go. To make the best out of drifts, you need to use the shoulder buttons too to alter your path and get the smoothest run through a corner.
Strafing One thing i noticed is that strafing seems to be gone in this game. Holding a shoulder button won't give you the added speed it used to give you in GPL and MV. The game is relatively new and very few of the top players have played the game but right now seems that this classic move is gone (also, I've cleared some Zero tests with a gold medal without using it and most of the tests I cleared are the kind of tests that required strafing in GPL to get the gold)
Overall, this game promises to be very different from it's predecesors by introducing fundamental gameplay changes instead of new settings or characters (there are no new worlds in this game but there are some new characters and ships). People might feel that this game is just GPL with new tracks and a track editor but it isn't. The game is so much different from it's portable predecessors that MV and GPL are the ones that seem similar to each othe after playing all of them. But only time will tell if this new style is accepted or rejected by the fans. Japanese fans can make a judgement but the game is still very new and potential new techniques have not been found yet (even MV, being almost 4 years old, had some new moves discovered last year)
By the way, this game doesn't have text in most of the main events (or has english text) so you won't have problems navigating through menus but there are some rewards like character profiles and episode summaries (obtained by clearing Survival mode on challenge settings) that are all in japanese. If you don't care about this stuff and want to play now, import it. If you care about every F-Zero detail such as story (even if it isn't the main F-Zero story) and want to have access to all of them, wait for an international release (or import it and then purchase it again if you have the money)
Main Menu Screen
Machine Select Screen
Course Edit Screen
Time Trial Screen
The Spin Attack in Action
The new Super Boost, indicated by the small circle on the bottom-right.