F-Zero Maximum Velocity Review (GBA)

This review originally went live in 2014, and we’re updating and republishing it to celebrate the game’s arrival in Switch’s Game Boy Advance library via Nintendo Switch Online.

Ah, F-Zero. The futuristic racing series that’s so fast that even Nintendo lost track of it for years.

Since it released the Japanese exclusive F-Zero Climax way back in 2004 (the last physical release we got in the West was F-Zero: GP Legend the same year), Nintendo hadn’t really done anything new with the series for nearly two decades, until the release of the Nintendo Switch Online exclusive F-Zero 99 — although it did digitally re-release some of the older titles and featured elements of the franchise in other games such as Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Nintendo Land.

Developed by NDcube — who went on to become a Mario Party powerhouse — F-Zero: Maximum Velocity was originally released in 2001 alongside the GBA and appeared on the Wii U Virtual Console and as part of the 10-game lineup of GBA titles for the 3DS Ambassador Program. Although it followed F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64, this game harks back to the style and design of the original F-Zero on SNES.

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Much like how its 16-bit predecessor touted the power of the SNES, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity served a similar purpose of highlighting the GBA’s graphical capabilities, and it also uses the classic Mode 7 approach to provide a pseudo-3D visual effect. It may not look particularly impressive when compared to what today’s handheld systems can provide (especially when it’s blown up on an HDTV), but it nevertheless serves as a reminder of Nintendo’s unrivalled ability to always get the most out of its own hardware.

Where F-Zero: Maximum Velocity does differ from its SNES counterpart is in its premise. The original lineup of pilots and vehicles, including the legendary Captain Falcon, are nowhere to be found. Instead, it focuses on the next generation of F-Zero pilots and takes place roughly 25 years after the original.

It’s a brand new contest, but the rules and gameplay format of old very much still apply. The single-player incorporates a standard Grand Prix setup in which you must compete across a number of tracks. Each race consists of five laps, although you must rank above a certain position in order to qualify for the next lap. This particular setup can be quite punishing if you make even just one mistake, meaning that mastering the gameplay mechanics and memorising track layouts are of the utmost importance if you want to win.

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This, combined with the surprisingly nuanced control system, means that F-Zero: Maximum Velocity requires a pretty high level of skill. Coming to this game as a complete novice, it might feel like you don’t have much control over your vehicle, and it doesn’t take much for your vehicle to enter an unintentional slide and crash into walls. Thankfully, this isn’t down to poor controls; rather, the game demands a certain degree of finesse from you.

Holding either the left or right shoulder button will make your vehicle lean to one side, which makes a huge contribution to tackling some of the tracks’ tighter turns. In addition to this, you need to be mindful of your throttle control; beaming it at full speed around a tricky bend is a recipe for disaster, especially because your vehicle can only take so much damage before it explodes. Therefore, you must rely on a technique in which you quickly tap on and off the gas. It sounds simple enough, but attempting it while simultaneously holding down one of the shoulder buttons and steering with the D-Pad feels surprisingly difficult to pull off at first. In addition to this, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity’s track designs are remarkably challenging in places.

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There are four cups, each offering five different tracks, although the fourth cup is only available upon completing the first three in expert mode (which is no easy feat). Sudden right-angled bends, narrow strips, and hazard-laden gauntlets all put you through your paces, and it can be very hard to come back from a collision on a winding piece of track, mainly because it tends to bounce you around like a pinball. Overall, it’s a tough challenge, but the fact that it demands a lot of skill while you’re learning the courses makes it a rewarding one if you invest a good amount of time and master it; it’s not as immediately accessible as the Super NES original, however, due to this level of difficulty. Anybody who’s spent time hours with F-Zero 99 will be able to get a handle on things quicker, but Maximum Velocity is not a forgiving game.

In the Wii U version, there wasn’t a lot else to do; in fact, the only other modes were Training and a time attack challenge that was limited on that console as system-link multiplayer modes in digitally released GBA titles weren’t supported. It’s worth noting that the original version required multiple GBA systems and a link cable – a prerequisite that most could probably never meet in the first place. Fortunately, multiplayer makes a comeback in the Nintendo Switch Online version, returning this nuanced, high-quality racer to its former glory. It’s a great time, though finding three pals skillful enough to go the distance may be the biggest challenge you’ll face.


F-Zero: Maximum Velocity still holds up today as a result of its smooth, skill-based gameplay. There may only be four cups in which to compete, but the varied difficulty and surprisingly steep learning curve when it comes to mastering the vehicles and tracks make this a game you want to keep coming back to. It doesn’t rank with the absolute best of the series, perhaps, but this is undoubtedly well-made and impresses in the technical department, delivering an enjoyable dose of the franchise that also really highlights what the last Game Boy could do.

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