Fast Racing Neo Review (Wii U)
Although the word "FAST" is written in capital letters across its title screen, and is prominently displayed above each level's finish line, FAST Racing Neo contains a surprising amount of design decisions that bog down its blink-and-you're-dead driving style.
Most of the game's 16 courses are narrow, curvy and filled with risky jumps, forcing players to relinquish the death-grip on their accelerator to avoid scraping against walls or veering wildly off-road and exploding into pieces. On the lowest of FAST Racing Neo's three speed settings (Subsonic, Supersonic, Hypersonic), a trained eye can satisfyingly fly through each stage using only the left joystick to steer and the left/right triggers to hop sideways. But upon unlocking Supersonic speed, you'll have to start braking like a Formula One driver just to keep the heavier of the game's 10 available hovercrafts intact.
By the time you unlock Hypersonic speed, not even the lightest, most agile ships in the game will be able to avoid walls without significantly slowing down, since the tracks aren't altered in any way to accommodate the stronger engines. Like Mario Kart 8's 200cc mode, FAST Racing Neo's Supersonic and Hypersonic speeds feel more like a showoff novelty than a setting that can be raced seriously, because the balance between the hovercrafts' abilities and the courses' designs is completely out of whack.
Those gameplay imbalances might explain why players can only pick from the slowest speed setting in online matches, whether racing publicly against seven strangers or privately against seven friends. Widening the roads probably would have made the Supersonic and Hypersonic difficulties more playable, but in their current forms, it's tough to have much fun when you can't stop your car from pinballing off walls without sacrificing precious speed. I'd expect to brake frequently in Forza Motorsport, but not in an arcade-style racer where the top selling point is traveling cartoonishly FAST.
Even on its most easygoing difficulty setting, FAST Racing Neo's large supply of blue/orange jump pads adds another significant source of frustration to the gameplay. Hitting jumps with too much speed often sends your hovercraft crashing into some unforeseen obstacle, or makes it impossible to fight off gravity and safely steer your ship back onto the track, since most of the game's ramps follow a curved arc instead of a straight line. If you don't touch the turbo button and try to ease into jumps, trailing computer drivers will likely ram your ship from behind and spin you out before you can safely land on the other side. By the time I'd beaten Championship mode, my preferred strategy was to avoid every possible jump pad, because the bumpy landings drastically decrease your speed, and nothing positive ever happens while you're stuck in the sky -- apart from grabbing a few extra energy orbs.
The blue/orange polarity system is supposed to be FAST Racing Neo's standout mechanic, but after a full week of gaming, the concept has become about as exciting as repeatedly flicking a light switch. Tapping the X button to match my ship's color with roadside turbo strips doesn't enhance my gameplay experience in any meaningful way, adding nothing but an unnecessary layer of complexity. The constant need to chase down energy-replenishing orbs also makes the racing less enjoyable, especially with most of these glowing objects sitting outside the optimal driving lanes. I'd much rather focus on perfecting my turning angles instead of being forced to scan the screen for barely visible, awkwardly placed pellets. Hero mode puts an even greater emphasis on orb collection compared to the standard Time Attack and Championship modes, as your ship's shields and boost power are no longer separate, and instead, become bound to a single shared energy bar.
Aside from the orb system and the color switching, FAST Racing Neo does nothing to distinguish itself from the long line of 3-D sci-fi racers that started in the mid-1990s and ended in the early-2000s. The game's blaring techno soundtrack isn't immediately interesting or specifically memorable. Its graphics are technically proficient but stylistically dull. The cliché course layouts contain few surprises and no major innovations. The various vehicles haven't got a hint of personality, since the drivers manning these machines never appear on screen. If Shin'en didn't want to devote time and resources to building characters with backstories and visible models, then the developers should've at least given users a way to customize their ship shape, paint job, and acceleration/speed stats, just to add some extra personality to this aesthetically bland product.
A widespread freeze bug and several shortcut exploits will also need to be addressed in Shin'en's promised January title update. Throughout my week of testing, online races have had an unusually high tendency to lock up the Wii U, forcing a system reset. The community has also discovered massive, unintended shortcuts in 7 of the 16 tracks, which have destroyed the integrity of the online leaderboards, and have made it no fun to play online ranked games when you're put in a room with cheaters who repeatedly vote for the broken maps so they can pad their win totals with dishonest tactics.
Nintendo should've loaned Shin'en some of their artists, designers and QA testers to help turn FAST Racing Neo into an official F-Zero sequel, instead of allowing this flawed, low-budget wannabee onto the eShop. I applaud Shin'en's technical prowess in squeezing an insane amount of performance power from the Wii U's inferior machinery, but like many of their previous projects, FAST Racing Neo lacks the character, focus and fine-tuning that fans expect on Nintendo systems. Fancy graphical effects can sometimes make a good game appear great, but no amount of motion blur and dynamic lighting can transform Shin'en's mediocre game design into truly awesome software.