Futuristic racing games don’t have much hope for the future. With the closure of Studio Liverpool, Sony has abandoned the Wipeout series, all but ensuring 2012’s Wipeout 2048 on the Vita is the last Wipeout you’ll ever play. Nintendo, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten that F-Zero exists: outside of a downloadable stage for the most recent Mario Kart, there hasn’t been a new console release since the Gamecube era. There have been a few attempts to rekindle the flame, including a handful of mobile titles, but none have managed to really capture that magic that made those two series so beloved. But a new indie game has managed to finally do just that: Fast Racing Neo on the Wii U.
Fast Racing Neo is about as simple as racers can get. It has 16 tracks, 10 cars, and standard modes like a championship circuit, time trials, and a multiplayer mode that includes a split-screen local multiplayer option. You start out with just a few ships and the option to race in one series, and you’ll unlock more vehicles and tracks as you win races. There’s no story to get in the way, nor any customization options to waste time on. As far as the racing goes, Neo is exactly what you’d expect given its obvious inspirations: blazing fast. You zip past futuristic cities at ridiculous speeds, your surroundings blurring around you, and small mistakes can mean big explosions. It’s not as brutally hard as F-Zero, but you definitely have to pay close attention to the twisting tracks.
It’s more than just a clone, though. Fast Racing Neo’s most unique aspect is its track boosts, which take the form of colored strips — either blue or orange — that are placed on the road at various points. In order to get a speed boost, you have to switch your car to that color; if you’re the wrong color you’ll slow down while driving over it. It’s a seemingly small change, but it really adds another layer of strategy. Once you get the hang of it, boosting becomes a necessary tool for winning races, and you'll be swapping colors constantly. The tracks in the game are also much more aerial than in similar racers. You’re not just going over big jumps, but actually navigating through the air for relatively long periods. One stage, which takes place on a space station, actually has you dodging incoming asteroids as you float through the air.
The track design is probably the best part of the game. Sixteen tracks isn’t a lot, but they’re all varied, and often full of wild surprises that fit well with the sci-fi theme. The desert track has a giant sandworm jumping over the road while you race; a futuristic city level features robotic spider creatures stomping the ground, forcing you to speed around them. There are beautiful snowscapes, cyberpunk cities, and dense jungles. You'll drive under waterfalls and across swinging bridges. And all of it looks absolutely incredible, as do the cool, hovering machines you’ll be racing. Fast Racing Neo also runs incredibly smooth, despite the fact that there’s so much happening, and so quickly.
It’s not quite the same as a new F-Zero, but Fast Racing Neo is the next best thing. It’s slick, fast, and fun, and while a bit lightweight in terms of tracks and vehicles (it’s also only $14.99), it’s the best futuristic racing game outside of the big two. Fast Racing Neo won’t make you forget about Wipeout, but it will help you cope with the loss.
Fast Racing Neo is available on the Wii U on December 10th