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Aero Gauge

A solid racing experience that shows flashes of originality

Publisher: Ascii Entertainment
Developer: Locomotive
Genre: Racing
Origin: Japan

Months after its Japanese debut, Aero Gauge finally finds its way to American shores courtesy of Ascii. I'm not sure what took so long, since the game is virtually identical to its Japanese incarnation and only the manual had to be translated.

Gameplay
Aero Gauge is another entry into the popular "cyber racer" genre. Race in blazing fast aeromachines over/under/through four courses (plus two hidden ones), spin through tubes and avoid taking damage from slamming into obstacles. The twist here is that unlike in most other games, you can ascend and descend -- in that respect, the game is very unique, but there just seems to be something missing.

There are four modes:

  • Grand Prix: Race through all four courses on three different difficulty settings. Before starting, you must race alone to qualify for a position
  • Single Match Mode: Race one track against computer controlled drones
  • Time Attack Mode: Race alone to get a record time
  • VS Mode: Race against one other player in a split-screen race on one track

The sense of speed is often quite impressive, especially when speeding upside down through many of the pipes and tunnels, and the controls are very responsive. Accelerate with A, brake with B, and turn quickly with the Z-Button. A special maneuver, the drift boost, will give you a little more speeds when coming out of curves and you will definitely want to learn it in order to beat the tough competition in the harder levels. That is, if you don't get bored before. The problem with Aero Gauge is that despite its futuristic look, the game is almost too straightforward. There are no weapons, no car upgrades, no power-ups, and the limited number of courses could use a lot more short-cuts in order to keep things interesting.

The first few races are bound to be quite exciting as you try out better and faster routes, but you will quickly have discovered everything the game has to offer -- gameplay wise.

Graphics
Aero Gauge runs at fast speeds and smooth framerates and has a definite style of its own. Some of the cars look like classic Italian sports cars -- only without wheels. Others resemble trains or trucks. Turn flaps open when steering left and right and nicely done red and blue exhaust flames indicate how fast you're going. Each track has a different look, ranging from a dusty canyon to the narrow alleys of a modern day Chinatown a la Blade Runner. Unfortunately, Aero Gauge als has the most ridiculous amount of draw-in yet seen on N64. On some tracks, the landscape literally draws itself in front of your eyes, in others, it's clouded with a gleaming white layer of fog. There are some cool effects, such as water spray when flying on top of the surface, but the game is decidedly light on special effects. Still, if it's speed you're looking for -- Aero Gauge delivers the goods.

Sound
Apart from the sound of jet engines and the occasional "ready, start, go!" announcer, Aero Gauge's sound effects are not much to shout about. The game's midi tracks may sound like they're left over from the 16-bit days, but at least they're in stereo and reflect the mood of the single tracks rather well. Originally, Ascii planned to replace the current selection of Japanesey synth rock with a more appealing soundtrack, but I guess they ran out of time.

Multiplayer
Like most N64 racers, Aero Gauge has a competent two-player vs. mode but no multiplayer Championship mode where you race against computer-controlled cars.

Options
You can configure your controller, adjust volumnes, switch difficulty levels, toggle catch-up logic on and off, and save records. During the game, you can switch between three view points, including a first-person mode that makes the game look even faster than it already is

Overall
Aero Gauge offers a solid racing experience that shows flashes of originality here and there, but when compared to other racers in the same genre (like F-Zero X or Extreme-G), it simply falls short. The sense of speed is good, but the lack of variety (the two hidden tracks aren't worth the effort) becomes apparent after only a few hours of gameplay -- even with two players. It's "different" and warrants a look, but we suggest renting this one before making a purchase decision.