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

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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 a legacy for the first time. Sega had everything to prove including their reputation for blast processing.

That sensation of speed is the first thing you're 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 aggressive. You can boost and weave through the competition, but miss the sparkling exhaust light ahead and you will not only lose your boost, you'll transfer all of your speed to who you hit. Placing yourself to be on the receiving end of that speed transfer is a good feeling.

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.

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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. And it also, of course, makes it harder to avoid everything. You snatch health when you punch your opponents out of the game. Miss, and you lose much of your boost speed. But if you 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 each cup. And before every 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 a viciously difficult game. My brother gave the game back to Gamestop for three spiteful dollars. I'll admit the story mode plays dirty. But every story needs an underdog. The difficulty is the knot that ties it all together. You are in a deathrace with 29 of the best pilots in the galaxy. You have to take the sharpest racing line you can at hypersonic speed. This is no Mario Kart and you don't get a participation trophy. 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… you'll realize the game held nothing back and neither did you.

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