Every time I fire up Fast Racing Neo I can feel my face melt a little bit more. The pounding electronic soundtrack blasts my ears. The incredibly rendered and imaginative tracks whiz by at a silky smooth frame rate as my car careens around turns, dodges giant mechs, and boosts to a hard-won first place, never dipping below 600 MPH, assaults my other senses. This game is a fast, intense, and twitch-based roller coaster of a racing game the likes of which you don't really see these days.
It's awfully fitting that Fast Racing Neo has a name that starts with an F and has a last word that sorta, kinda, if you squint rhymes with "zero", because it's as close to that hyper-fast Nintendo franchise as we're likely to see in the foreseeable future. While it may not have the challenge and character of an F-Zero game, the blisteringly intense speed and futuristic rocket car design more than make up for it, delivering a blazing fast, gorgeous experience for arcade racing fans on the WiiU.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to arcade-style racing games like this. It's easy to blame the death of the arcades, of course, where something like this would fit in only too perfectly next to a game like Hydro Thunder, with their booming announcers, boost collectibles, and difficult to defeat AI. It's especially surprising when you consider that with online multiplayer getting so big, games like this should feel like they fit even more – time trials, vs modes, 8-player versus matches where everyone throws down in a vicious competition for first. Not only have we failed to produce new games of this ilk, we've closed down some of the previous genre stalwarts; games like Wipeout and Extreme-G are not even memories for most of us at this point.
Maybe part of the problem is the way that progression works. After all, to unlock every mode and speed and even car in this game, you have to play through each level multiple times, and there are, after all, only 16 available as of this writing (no word on if DLC is coming, free or otherwise). It more or less follows the same progression as a Mario Kart; start slow, ramping up the speed as you play through each successive cup, until you unlock a final, harder mode. And boy, if the rest of the game reminded you of F-Zero, the final mode (Hero Mode) does it even further, by tying your boost meter to shields you have to keep up or explode. It's still on the same tracks and all, but it does change the mechanics in such a way that it starts to feel pretty fresh again.
Another part is the cost vs. content, which is reflected in what I mentioned above. The game's got basically 4 modes – regular, Hero Mode, time trials, and multiplayer, played in either split screen or online. It's all the same 16 courses again, but it's particularly difficult to complain about it with this game's $15 price point, and it's just so fun, too. When I consider how the arcade racer died and then think back to my girlfriend's $50 copy of Hydro Thunder she had for her Playstation, the lower price point and downloadable nature of this game seems like the future for the genre.
If I can get technical – and I certainly can, because it's my review – it's incredible that a game that looks and feels and plays like this is somehow on the WiiU, a system we've all written off as last-gen hardware that still manages to put out some incredible-looking games from developers who really try. Shin'en has managed to wow me before with the surprisingly pretty Nano Assault Neo, but what they've pulled off with Fast Racing Neo seems like nothing short of a miracle. Even this Digital Foundry video seems surprised – for all the intensely detailed art assets, for all the beautiful tracks they've put in place, Fast Racing Neo weighs in at less than 600 MBs. Considering we're used to seeing PATCHES these days that are like 20 gigs, how they managed this is beyond belief.
I also really liked the way the boost system works – it's nothing too crazy, but it was a system that kept you engaged, even if you were in first place. Littered over the tracks are a bunch of colored strips on the ground, orange and blue, and a button swaps your car's charge between the colors. Going over as the right color boosts you, the wrong color slows you down, and in hero mode that's the way you recharge your shield/boost. This keeps it so you can't just zone out when in first like with some other racing games, since the track will actually stop you if you're not still engaged enough. Regular mode also has boost pickups that you collect, and you have the ability to lean into turns while you go as well, making it so you can blaze through corners, leaning in to maintain your speed, then boost around the edges, screaming into first place.
Marred only by a relative lack of content, Fast Racing Neo more than ably fills a void left by other futuristic racers and just looks and sounds incredible as well. The immediate rush of firing it up, being pounded by the soundtrack and thrown into a race never really dies down in the time you're playing it. The levels are well designed and insane, and whether you're rushing down a desert with mechs smashing around and giant sand worms, or dodging meteors on the outside of a spaceship, Fast Racing Neo is just a great experience.