While the Nintendo/Sega co-production of F-Zero GX for the Nintendo GameCube is well known and beloved for its intense difficulty and flashy sense of speed, few fans of Captain Falcon's last racing adventure have played the game's arcade counterpart, F-Zero AX, and experienced its unique tracks and cars. Most intriguingly, AX machines feature a slot for GameCube memory cards that can write AX data for use with the home GX version. Given enough time, skill, and money, it's possible to unlock the entire set of AX elements for play in GX. Here's how the official F-Zero AX website describes the functionality:
By inserting your Nintendo GameCube Memory Card into the appropriate slot in the F-Zero AX arcade unit, you can take any of the F-Zero GX machines stored in your garage (including your custom machines, complete with emblems) for a spin on the AX courses.
With your Memory Card in the F-Zero AX arcade unit, you'll receive 20 tickets (to use in F-Zero GX) every time you play. The AX vehicle that you're using will also be downloadable automatically to your Memory Card so you can use it in your GX game. If you're racing a custom machine built with an F-Zero License Card, theparts that make up the machine will be downloaded to your Memory Card instead.
It's understandable why I've been searching for F-Zero AX for so long: there's another F-Zero game locked up inside my copy of GX and I have to set it free! For the past nine years I've chased the ghost of F-Zero AX around my home state of Florida in a desperate attempt to locate one of the few working AX machines in North America (online apocrypha pegs the exact number at somewhere between twenty and six depending on the age of the source). Rumors and aged forum postings led me to the alleged homes of arcades that featured AX, but I was always too late. Running down AX rumors has led me to the site of a new highway that was built atop a former arcade, to a vacant building full of dust and debris, and to, seriously, an actual crater crammed with the remains of a demolished building. Just when it seemed that playing F-Zero AX was one of those gaming goals I'd never achieve, I learned about a small arcade tucked away where I'd never expected. Last week I decided to investigate and see if the stories were true, so I hit the highway and made the drive down the long stretches of expressways, local roads, and finally little unmarked service drives. Friends, I'm happy to say that I finally found F-Zero AX.
I'm reluctant to share exactly where you can find this little arcade because the last thing I want to see happen is for the open Internet to descend upon the AX machine and damage it (these things are an endangered species!), so I'm certainly not going to reveal that you'll find F-Zero AX tucked away in the back corner of The Game Station arcade on the fourth floor of the Walt Disney World Contemporary Resort right across the street from the Magic Kingdom in sunny Orlando, Florida. It's very much out of the way; after all, who goes to Disney World to visit the little arcade in the middle of a hotel, and who would expect to find a treasure like F-Zero AX there? If you visit this arcade, please treat the AX machine well. It's the only one we have in this area and as a community we need to take good care of it.
The Game Station has done an excellent job caring for its F-Zero AX unit. Sure, it's part of a Disney property which prides itself on keeping its possessions in as near immaculate shape as possible, but even with that in mind, I was impressed by how well the machine has been maintained. I was afraid that an arcade located at a major vacation destination frequented by families with young children would be worn out with bubble gum jammed into the memory card slot and the screen vandalized with someone's pocket knife or keys like an abused Nintendo DS demo unit at the neighborhood Walmart. Instead everything about the experience felt out-of-the-crate new. The seat even easily adjusted to accommodate my impressive height (more impressive is that AX was designed with tall people in mind; I haven't been able to fit into a sit-down arcade machine since I was a teenager). Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to buy a License Card, so I don't believe that this machine offers them.
The game itself is pure F-Zero which is to say that it's frustratingly difficult. The $1-per-play cost goes a long way here, thankfully, as each race consists of up to eight laps instead of GX's three, and falling off of the track doesn't end in an instant game over. Fallen cars are replaced back on the track, but dropped so far back in the pack of opponents that it's nearly impossible to catch back up to the lead if one falls off more than once or twice. Accelerator and brake pedals replace GX's button inputs, and the steering wheel features multiple boost buttons to meet individual playing styles. There are even buttons to change the camera angle. The game's six new tracks and ten exclusive cars bring something new to the F-Zero formula that fans love. By the time I was finished, I'd saved one of the AX drivers, PJ and his Groovy Taxi, to my memory card for GX play. Sadly, I did not play enough to take home the AX tracks and the remaining cars, but that's a perfect excuse to go back and play again sometime.
After nine years of searching, it's a happy relief to check the F-Zero AX box off of my gaming to-do list. Now, does anyone know where I can find a Mario Kart Arcade GP machine around here?