Saturday, March 25, 2017

A scoreless review of Fast RMX

It is easy, relatively speaking, to make a racing game look good and run well. Most of the scenery is far out of reach, players can't study it anyway because they're moving too quickly and focusing on the road, and not much is actually happening - it's just happening very quickly. The flash factor is why a good launch lineup usually includes a racer. When PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both went on sale several years ago, Forza Motorsport 5 was the prettiest title across both platforms, and briefly fooled me into thinking that the Xbox One had a bright future ahead of it. Oh, the naivete.

So while Zelda is certainly a stunner on the tiny Switch, the most immediate demonstration of the tablet-sized console's power to produce big boy visuals is unquestionably Fast RMX. On a TV, running in full 1080p, it looks comparable to your average budget-level current-gen release. In handheld mode, though, this thing dazzles. It runs at a rock-solid 60fps while the Switch's brilliantly bright screen showcases its wonderful color palette. Again, it's largely due to the genre, and I wouldn't go about expecting every Switch game to look this good - I mean, Zelda often struggles to hold 30fps - but man oh man is Fast RMX gorgeous.

It's a remastered version of Fast Racing Neo, a Wii U release that several people recommended to me last year when Redout reinvigorated my interest in futuristic, ant-gravity racing games. (I'll come back to Redout later. It's important.) This edition packs an impressive 30 tracks and is available on Nintendo's eShop for $20.

If that sounds like a suspiciously good deal for a blazing technical showcase with a generous heap of content, know that at its core, Fast RMX is a relatively basic affair. It's arcade fluff, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - in fact, its compatibility for short play sessions makes it an ideal fit for the Switch's handheld mode. But Fast RMX is mechanically shallow and short on variety. It's a budget release; don't go in expecting more.

When assessing an AR racer, the question inevitably comes up: Which of the two big genre staples - you know the ones - does it more closely compare to? Fast RMX cleanly falls into the F-Zero camp, borrowing both its overwhelming sense of speed and its dated-even-in-the-'90s hair-metal cheesiness (complete with an announcer who says things like, "Totally awesome!"). It's particularly at home on Nintendo consoles, where the absence of an actual new F-Zero game grows increasingly frustrating by the year. It's been over a decade now.

Fast RMX's one unique mechanic is an Ikaruga-like color polarity system, where players must alternate between orange and blue to take advantage of boost pads and jumps. If you touch an orange boost and you're blue, it'll actually slow you down. Likewise, hitting a jump pad of the wrong color will just send you tumbling downward. It's not a bad idea.

Unfortunately, there's little else to Fast RMX on a mechanical level. Sliding has virtually no use, and beyond that, it's simply a matter of pointing your craft in the right direction and hitting the gas. If you're wondering what else I could possibly want out of a racing game, well, put that question on hold for just a few more paragraphs.

Fast RMX is also skimpy on modes. There are bog-standard tournaments with three difficulty settings, as well as something called Hero Mode, in which vehicles can actually take damage and death means game over. Good concept in theory, but it's hurt by the game's camera, which is positioned so low that it's often difficult to see incoming obstacles. And since crashing into something can mean instant death, well, you can see how it gets frustrating. The camera also has this habit of sometimes - not always, but sometimes - staying level with the ground even when your vehicle hits a steep bank. It's weird and uncomfortable, and when playing in handheld mode, I was often involuntarily tilting my Switch to try to compensate for it.

So it's... fine, I guess. It's a functionally bare-bones AR racer that somehow manages to get camera control wrong, but it's gorgeous, good in small bursts, and sports enough track variety to not be a waste of time. I think $20 is a fair price, especially now, when we're desperate to make the most of our shiny new Switches and so little else is available for the system (though I'd sooner recommend VOEZ, a lovely little J-pop rhythm game that I've been enjoying considerably lately).

But! Remember Redout, that game that recently reinvigorated my interest in this genre? It's currently exclusive to PC, where it doesn't seem to have much of an audience (hence why I'm probably the only person you'll presently hear raving about the game). As luck would have it, though, later this year, Redout will be making its console debut... on the Switch.

Which raises the question: Can I recommend the average but affordable Fast RMX when a far superior AR racer is right around the corner? I guess that's up to you. My Redout review from last year can hopefully fill you in on why I consider it to be the top of its class. Maybe timing will be a factor. Maybe it'll come down to price, since Redout will cost twice as much. I say it's worth the wait and the price, but perhaps Switch fans aren't as picky as I am. Or maybe, Nintendo fans as they are, they're just starved for something to fill the F-Zero-shaped hole in their lives. Fast RMX does a solid enough job of that.

(P.S. Fast RMX makes pretty neat use of the Joycon's "HD rumble" function as your craft interacts with the environment. On a desert track, for example, passing through a whirlwind actually causes a sort of spinning sensation to ripple through the controllers.)