Saturday, March 18, 2017

FAST RMX (NS) Review

It's time for SuperPhillip Central's first Nintendo Switch-exclusive review! FAST RMX is based off of a Wii U exclusive. With more tracks, vehicles, and improvements, is this a must-have racer for new Switch owners? 

There are F-zero chances that the developers wiped out on this futuristic racer.

When it comes to fast, futuristic racers, many gamers probably first think of Nintendo's F-Zero or PlayStation's WipEout. The focus here is more on the former, as Nintendo console owners have been clamoring for a new F-Zero from the big N for over a decade now. Since Nintendo isn't in the market for a new blazing fast, futuristic racer as of yet, other developers have taken to the cause. A little over a year ago saw the launch of Shin'en Multimedia's FAST Racing Neo for the Wii U. It was an exquisite but insanely challenging racer made more impressive by the small size of the team working on it. Now, with Nintendo's new console, the Switch, Shin'en is back with an improved version of FAST released digitally right at launch. Despite being familiar for Wii U players, FAST RMX offers enough newness and improvements to be more than worth downloading.

FAST RMX sports several modes, though mostly due to rushing to launch the game with the Switch's release, a time trial mode is noticeably absent from the game. Regardless, the primary single-player mode is Championship. This is a series of unlockable cups, ten in all, set across three different speed types. Set up for more bite-sized play sessions, as well as a nice way of making losing a cup at the last race not as much of a pain as it was in the original, the cups include three races each instead of the original's four. The total amount of tracks is a series high of 30. 

Look out below! I'm landing on the track wherever anyone's there or not!
The structure of Championship mode is interesting, as one would think that the difficulty would only increase when changing speed classes. For instance, Subsonic is the slowest of the classes, and it is also the easiest. But the level of challenge actually changes as you play through a speed class' series of cups. The beginning cups, even on the fastest speed class, are relatively easy to get first place in and stay with the front of the pack, but by the final three cups, I found myself seriously struggling to keep up with first place. I basically needed to run a perfect race just to stand a chance. Thankfully, the placement of rivals in FAST RMX aren't set in stone, meaning that your rival in first in overall points can sometimes slip up and get sixth in a race, giving you the overall points needed to win. Even still, you just need to get at least third overall after three races to pass a given cup.

Collect boost orbs to increase the amount of expendable energy in your boost meter.
Another fortunate aspect of FAST RMX is that when compared to the original, FAST RMX offers a much more forgiving difficulty. In the Wii U game, if you crashed even once (maybe twice if you were lucky or good enough), you pretty much surrendered your chance for decent placing in a race. That is no longer the case in FAST RMX. 

FAST has some similarities to games like F-Zero and WipEout, but it's also possesses originality to the futuristic racing genre and concept. The main thing that distinguishes FAST from the competition and its inspirations is the color switching gameplay system that has you pressing one button to shift your vehicle's aura from blue to orange and back again. This is of importance because there are multiple stretches of track that are covered in one of these colors. If you cross over a blue patch of track while possessing a blue aura, that patch serves as a means to give you a great boost. Likewise, if you accidentally have an orange aura on a blue patch, then you're slowed down. It's with smart switching and shifting of your vehicle's aura that makes the difference between keeping up with the pack as well as potentially winning the race and falling behind while ending up with a poor finishing place. 

Go fast through jungles, deserts, arctic lands, and more in FAST RMX.
There are also energy orbs strewn along parts of each of FAST RMX's tracks, giving your vehicle boost energy that can be used at any time during a race. Generally, it's smart to stock up on these and use them in portions of the track where the blue and orange boost patches don't exist. Smart boosting is particularly needed (even flat out required) to keep up with the AI in harder difficulty cups and speed classes. Boosting into a slower moving vehicle causes them to spin out, costing them a precious second or two of time, and when you're competing in a race where going as fast as possible is necessary, then that can ruin a race for them.

The 30 tracks in FAST RMX are mostly taken from the original Wii U game's vanilla version and its later included downloadable content. There are also completely new tracks. Because the tracks are full of twists and turns as well as patches of blue and orange that can come unexpectedly out of nowhere, learning each track is of extra importance in doing well. A map in single player is available to at least know what turns are coming up, but this isn't wholly helpful due to the speed of which your vehicle is going. It's sort of hard to take a glance at a map when you're pretty much always needing to pay attention to upcoming turns, boost patches, and the placement of boost orbs.

FAST RMX's tracks run the gamut of locales and tests of controlling your blistering fast vehicle. This speed is absolutely amazing, but this can result in one issue with the track design: crashing into obstacles that suddenly appear before you. With learning the tracks, this doesn't become as big of an issue, but there is one track, Iceland, that has everyone racing along a pipe. This structure has various gates, pillars, and even mechanical creatures that can come from out of nowhere, resulting in crashes. Memorization isn't really helpful since the vehicles can slip and slide all over, and it can be hard to make heads or tails of where you are while spinning around the pipe.

Don't worry, my AI friend, those pink lasers are totally not harmful. (Secret: They are harmful.)
Regardless, the various vistas in the tracks are truly stunning, and some even support secondary paths, many of which are excellent shortcuts. Some tracks have insane jumps that require careful control to land safely, others have swaying sections of track, a corridor with three giant fan blades, sections where purple lasers intermittently fire onto the track, and another where a giant mechanical spider mech slams its legs into the ground, hoping to cause havoc to any vehicle that unluckily slams into it. 

Outside of Championship mode for solo players, there is a mode more familiar to F-Zero fans, Hero mode. This mode features you choosing from one of the 30 races, and trying to get first place on a mirrored version of that track. The biggest caveat is that your boost meter is also your life meter, so carelessly using energy to boost will most likely result in destruction once your meter is empty and you brush up against a wall or another vehicle. Fortunately, your meter can replenish with the collection of boost orbs and being the right colored aura on a boost patch. 

Learn a lesson from my AI opponent here, keep calm and race on,
or else you might end up crashing, costing you precious seconds!
A speedy racer is impressive, but it's not so much if the handling of the vehicles isn't there. Fortunately, in FAST RMX, it definitely is. Controlling each vehicle is a little looser than in F-Zero, but it works overall. Boosting and switching between auras is as simple as pressing a button for each, and the back shoulder buttons help in correcting one's course. Perhaps the only thing I don't like with FAST RMX is how on some turns (usually ones at a right angle to the ground) your vehicle will be on the left or right side of the screen with no change to the camera angle (like having it behind your vehicle and turned with the track). This makes some turns more difficult to achieve than they would otherwise be, especially when there's a boost pad you'd like to run over.

Multiplayer is a necessary function of any kind of racing game, and for FAST RMX what multiplayer it has is nice and serviceable. It's great to have up to four players sharing a TV screen through local play (though I wouldn't recommend it doing four players in handheld mode due to the limited screen space of the Switch), and it all runs at a steady frame-rate. Online is less of a good thing, as there is no current way of guaranteeing you'll play with friends like in private lobbies. (That should also be coming with the patch that includes the omitted Time Attack mode.) Additionally, there's some pretty noticeable lag, such as seeing on your screen that you crossed the line in a different place than you're actually awarded. Then there's occasionally having to watch an entire race unfold before you can join in the next race. These issues add up for a less than stellar online multiplayer experience.

FAST RMX is a beauty of a game that somehow manages to stay at an amazing frame-rate. The game is absolutely stunning in screenshots and only more astounding to the eye in motion. This is not-so-secretly one of the best looking Switch games so far. The music is a nice combination of rock and electronica, though you probably won't be humming any of the songs after you've stopped playing, as they aren't particularly memorable. (Though I do like the track intro theme, as well as Shin'en's use of F-Zero GX's announcer for them.) Overall, FAST RMX is a truly impressive visual package that doesn't feel or look undercooked at all.

In still screenshots, FAST RMX looks amazing. In motion, FAST RMX looks phenomenal.
Despite some online issues and the current lack of a time trial mode, FAST RMX is a formidable racer that is packed with content. Whether played by your lonesome online or off, or with a group of friends, FAST RMX is a must-have for anyone looking for a game to complement their most likely Zelda: Breath of the Wild purchase. Race on, speed freaks. Race on.

[SPC Says: B+]

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