It’s always interesting to see what developers can do when they push the boundaries of a system. Be that Uncharted 2 pushing the PS3 or Monster Hunter 3 pushing the Wii, or games like Fast from Shin’en pushing the boundaries of WiiWare. What they’ve been able to make within the small file size required for WiiWare is quite impressive on a technical level, I just wish I could say the overall game was that impressive.
Gathering orbs to keep your speed going and the generally perfect skills of the computer drivers also make this game extremely tough. I found that I was either fighting for first or fighting not to be last. There really isn’t a possibility to stay in the middle of the pack because the second you’re stuck in a pack you’ll find yourself missing all of those precious orbs and the other ships will leave you in their proverbial space dust. There’s barely any interaction between you and your opponents, so racing in the leagues starts to feel like playing a time trial against 7 ghosts. It’s just you against the track, and the track can be a real harsh mistress. Go off the track even once and you can usually kiss your chances at a reasonable finish goodbye because there are very few opportunities to catch up once you're stuck behind.
Single player is divided up into leagues, time trials, and challenges. Leagues are the bulk of the experience and function a lot like leagues in Mario Kart titles. You’ll go through a series of 4 tracks getting points for how you place and if you can finish in the top three you’ll unlock the next league of 4 tracks. Complete three leagues and you’ll open the next speed/difficulty class with the same 12 tracks to race through and usually a new ship to race in. This set up really irritated me at points because the leagues were one shot deals; you either win or you start all over. I got stuck in one league getting fourth over and over again because the final race in the league would always put me in sixth to eighth place and I’d always get kicked out of the top three even after coming into the race in first overall. Luckily, you can train yourself in the Time Trial mode, but it is still extremely annoying. Speaking of the Time Trial mode, Shin’en seems to realize that the regular 8 racer matches play like ghost matches because Time Trial includes all 7 of your normal opponents. There’s no option to try the track out legitimately on your own.
Challenges are the only place to get some actual variety from the game modes. There are 21 different trials each with their own little miniature track to play on. They are all time based trials, except for one, but the track set-up makes each one feel unique and there are a couple of challenges that depend more on your item pick-up skills or jump control than your actual speed. I was only able to get about an hour in before I had completed them all but you can go back and try to gold star them. Unfortunately there’s no laid out definition of how you get a gold star, so I guess you’ll just have to be as fast as you can and hope that fits what the developers consider worthy.
Visuals are where the game really impresses, as long as you come in with the correct expectations. Fast looks clean and has some nice lighting and textures but that’s only for a WiiWare game. Because of the restraints put on developers by Nintendo there's just no way that a WiiWare game can ever match up with a retail Wii game on visuals, but you really have to give Shin’en credit for working with what they had. Fast is definitely one of the best looking WiiWare games available from a technical standpoint; there are no hitches in the single player. The music is fast paced techno, as you might expect ,and fits the game well, though usually I was too intent on trying not to screw up to notice it.
Multiplayer split screen doesn’t fare quite as well. Shin’en was considerate enough to give the option of variable FPS averaging out to about 60 or fixed 30 FPS visuals with two player split screen, but on either option it doesn’t come out perfect. You either get massive slow down at some points or a general choppiness all the time, which makes either option for multiplayer look markedly worse than the single player. Multiplayer is in general somewhat disappointing because of a lack of options. You can play with 2-4 players but no matter how many people you play with your only option is to play through the leagues you’ve unlocked in single player, with no options to change the number of opponents or pick a specific map or anything else about the race. When you include the fact that there’s absolutely no online multiplayer, the entire multiplayer part of the game looks extremely anaemic.
I got through six leagues spanning two different difficulty levels in about two hours, and as previously mentioned I played through all the challenges in about one hour. I’ll admit right now that I haven’t completed the truly punishing final difficulty level leagues and I doubt I will ever be able to, so if there’s a 13th track as a reward for completing those 12 tracks for a third time then I haven’t seen it, and I commend you if you achieve it for yourself. $10 may be a cheap price to pay, but having to go through the same tracks over and over again in leagues without any other options for advancement means it gets old rather quickly.
Fast is a really cool idea that just ends up seeming too sterile. Without the interaction between opponents it all felt like the only thing I was racing against was the track, which is never changing and gets repetitive. I’m impressed with what Shin’en was able to get out of a WiiWare title from a visual perspective, but the repetitiveness of the campaign and lack of options for gameplay made this feel more like a concept, rather than a fully fleshed out game. Regardless, I look forward to Shin’en’s next efforts on the platform and hope that next time the meat of the game can more closely match the dressing.