From this statement, you can probably deduce that I really like WipEout. I liked it the first time I ever saw it on a mate's PSX way back in 1996. Granted, all I had at home was a Sega Multi-Mega and a copy of Road Avenger (and I thought that was awesome back then), but WipEout was something else. I knew the next generation had truly arrived when I saw that hovering car slaloming through those turns with such floaty ease, the billboards screaming by, the crowds packing the grandstands. It wasn't just futuristic racing - it was the future, literally.
That evening, I slunk back home and couldn't even look at my lowly Multi-Mega. I knew it didn't have even half of the 'awesome' that my mate's new PlayStation had, and from there on out I knew that I had to upgrade. I made a slight deviation by somehow getting my hands on an Atari Jaguar...but we don't talk about that episode.
In time, I found myself the owner of a Sega Saturn, but the closest I got to playing WipEout back then was Cyber Speedway and Hi Octane, both of which were OK and perfectly acceptable futuristic racers...but nowhere near WipEout in terms of visuals, gameplay or soundtrack. And that was the way things stayed until quite late in the Saturn's lifespan. The original WipEout was ported, as was WipEout 2097...but by that time my attention had turned to the fledgling N64 and so acquiring new Saturn games wasn't really at the top of my agenda. And there the story ended with WipEout - I got an N64, got rid of the Saturn and never really looked back. And then the game went and changed: WipEout 64 entered my life.
As is the case with several other franchises that came to the N64, this port is anything but - it's a totally new version of WipEout made from the ground up just for Nintendo's system. As I mentioned at the start of this review/history essay, I also own other versions of the game (namely WipEout for the Saturn, WipEout, 2097 and Wip3out for the PSX and WipEout Fusion for PS2) and it becomes apparent after playing the contemporary flavours of WipEout on the 32-bit machines just how much smoother and faster WipEout 64 actually is. It also revealed just how poor the Sega Saturn port of the original game is compared to the PSX one...but that's a story for another review on another site I guess...
The sensation of speed in WipEout 64 really is phenomenal considering the amount of trackside detail in the courses and the lighting effects and other special lighting being fired around the screen. Considering Nintendo had to basically rip out any and all background detail from F Zero X to keep it running so smoothly, kudos must be given to Psygnosis for squeezing such impressive performance out of the N64 graphics processor. There isn't any real-time lighting (indeed, there really are only a handful of games featuring such effects on the system), but the use of static colour throughout the circuits is really well done and adds a lot of atmosphere to an already great looking title. But graphics do not make a game - it has to play well too...and WipEout 64 ticks all the boxes in this department too. The N64 joypad, it seems, was made for games like this. The analogue stick is perfectly suited for the silky smooth motion of the hovering racing machines, every twist and turn can be expertly negotiated with complete precision once you have mastered the nuances of the controls. Add in a touch of the air-brakes, and the control scheme becomes flawless.
Great sound then, and great visuals and gameplay. Is WipEout 64 the perfect game then? Well, it's good - very, very good. But perfect? Not quite. First off, the tracks themselves are not actually original designs - they're mirrored and reversed circuits from the previous games in the WipEout series, but with different names and altered background details. Not that you'd really notice if you weren't told, but I just think that's a bit of a cop out - surely totally original tracks could have been developed for the new game? Also, there isn't a full championship mode of play in WipEout 64 like there is in other versions of the game. No, instead you must complete a series of 'challenges' in order to unlock the secret track and vehicle classes. Of course, there are the obligatory single race and time attack play modes, but a proper championship mode in which you accrue points in a mini league format is one of my favourite parts of a racing game. Indeed, the only thing that kept me interested in Rush 2 (and the prequel, San Francisco Rush), was the massive championship (or 'Circuit') mode it had. To completely strip it out of WipEout 64 does leave you wondering who made that call, and why. Sure, the challenges (which come in 3 types - Weapon, Race or Time Trial) do add an extra dimension to the game, but surely they could have been included alongside a traditional championship.
I'm picking on WipEout 64 slightly here for things that aren't really that big a deal when you consider the whole package, but these points should be raised. Otherwise, as I've already stated, WipEout 64 is a fine example of futuristic vehicular combat-oriented racing (did I mention you pick up weapons off the track?!), and some may say the finest example on the N64. And they have a point - when compared to utter tripe like Aero Gauge, you appreciate just how impressive a title like WipEout 64 really is. Is it superior to F Zero X? Well, that's a matter of opinion, but if you prefer your futuristic vision to be one of towering smoke stacks, massive skyscrapers and race tracks that bore through mountains while the competitors fire missiles and chain guns at each other, maybe you should give WipEout 64 a try before you declare F Zero X the winner.