The F-Zero series made its debut on the Game Boy Advance with F-Zero Maximum Velocity. Like the games before it, Maximum Velocity provided fast action hovercraft racing.
The primary mode of Maximum Velocity is the Grand Prix racing circuit. You start the game by choosing one of four initial F-Zero machines: Hot Violet, Fireball, JB Crystal, and the Wind Walker. A specifications sheet displays information for each craft, outlining top speed, boost speed, boost time, body strength, turn performance, balance, and acceleration. After selecting your racer, you choose a Grand Prix series and difficulty level. The player starts the game with 3 available series and difficulties: Pawn, Knight, and Bishop on either Beginner, Standard, or Expert. Each series has five unique tracks.
The gameplay style is similar to the SNES version of F-Zero. The player must finish each lap within an increasingly narrowing field. In other words, you must finish the first lap in at least 15th place, second lap in 10th, third lap in 7th, fourth lap in 5th, and final lap in 3rd. If you do not make the lap cutoff then you are out of the race. You can restart the race if you have spare machines, which act like lives. After completing a lap, your machine is given a boost charge. As mentioned above, each ship has a different boost speed and duration. However, you can only store three boost charges at a time.
Maximum Velocity also retains the ship’s power meter. Running into the track’s rails, other racers, or various obstacles decreases your power meter. If you run out of power, your ship will explode and you will lose the race. There are recharge zones on each track that will refill your power meter. The ship’s body strength statistic determines how much the machine is affected by committing a power draining action. Ships with low body strength will kareem out of control and lose a fair amount of power. The opposite is true for those craft with high body strength. Like previous F-Zero games, many tracks have various other attributes to them such as boost plates, jump pads, magnetic rails, and ice.
The controls in Maximum Velocity are extremely responsive. The control pad turns the craft, and the shoulder buttons cause the machine to lean in that particular direction for more advanced turning maneuvers. The remaining controls of acceleration, break, and boost are very customizable to your own particular tastes. The variety of configurations and the natural setup of the GBA’s buttons allow for very comfortable controls.
Finishing the different series and difficulties unlocks some extra content. If you complete a series on expert difficulty, the master level will be opened for that particular series. If you complete all three series on expert difficulty, a fourth series, Queen, will be available. Finishing the Grand Prix series also unlocks new machines. There are a total of ten machines in all.
There are a few other modes of play besides the Grand Prix. Training mode allows you to race any of the tracks that you have available with or without opponents. Practicing can help you get familiar with the various tracks of a new series. It is also perfect for working on time trials. There are two multiplayer modes. If your friends also have the game, then you can create a match from the available tracks and machines. The game can control the remaining racers if you don’t have four players. If only one person has the game, the multiplayer is extremely scaled down. There is a separate course and machine set aside for single pak link play. Obviously multipak scenarios allow for more variety in the multiplayer setting.
The final mode is Championship. If you set a ranking time in either lap or course for each track, then you will unlock Championship mode. This mode has its own course and is basically just a time attack mode. The game sets a course time and your goal is to best it. There are no other racers in this mode, but you can opt to have a ghost of the current best time race along with you. Another option is to simply watch a replay of the current best race, with representations of the controls on screen showing you exactly how the time was set.
While Maximum Velocity appears to be a fairly simple game on the surface, once you start playing, you realize that such is not the case. While beginner and standard difficulties do not provide a whole lot of challenge, expert and master levels really ratchet up the competition another step. On master, the game basically tries to cheat in order to win. No matter how fast the machines are supposed to be theoretically, the opponents will always be faster than you on master, boosting excluded. Even if you boost, the opponents will be back on your tail in an instant. The other racers are a lot more physical on the higher difficulty levels, bumping your machine all over the course. My only real complaint with the gameplay is that your opponents are not subject to the lap cutoffs. While this occurs on all difficulty levels, it primarily comes into play on Master. Theoretically, if the cutoff is 7th place and you occupy that position, every vehicle behind you should disappear when you cross the starting line. This does not happen, however, and you may easily fall from 7th to 10th in a heartbeat on the upper difficulties. Frustration frequently crept over this reviewer, but they don’t call it Master for nothing. You will eventually unlock machines that make the upper difficulties more tolerable, but part of the continuing challenge of Maximum Velocity is going as far as you can with as many machines as you can.
The graphics of F-Zero Maximum Velocity are almost identical to the SNES version. The track surfaces and rails look similar. The vehicles are portrayed in a similar style. The lands outside of the tracks rush by in a similar blur. When you blow up, the camera drives past the point of your destruction and then rotates back around to taunt you with an image of your smear mark. The similarities are not a detraction at all as the SNES F-Zero game was extremely solid as well. The animation is smooth and crisp all around.
The audio is also reminiscent of past F-Zeroes. Each track has a pulsing synth theme that complements the racing well. As in Family Guy, there was “classic traveling music.” Here we have classic futuristic racing music. Instead of “riding on the bus, riding on the bus,” we have “driving insanely fast, while flying through the air and getting rammed by other racers.” (Note: If you do not get the Family Guy reference, then I encourage you to watch more of the show). The short tune that plays after you complete a series stuck in my head, but it is a good riff. The sound effects are straight out of the SNES game from the engine revs, to the recharge sounds, to the damage warnings.
F-Zero Maximum Velocity is a wonderful addition to the F-Zero series and a solid racing game on the GBA. Becoming proficient at each machine as well as the multiplayer options add replay value to the game. While some people may get frustrated on the higher difficulties, they add a great dimension to the game and separate the casual racers from the true F-Zero fans. If you have enjoyed past entries in the series, then you should definitely pick up a copy of Maximum Velocity as it still holds together well considering this was a GBA launch title.