Reviewed by Scott McCall
For whatever reason, the U.S. arm of ASCII Entertainment decided to delay the
American release of AeroGauge many months after its Japanese release, when, in
fact, it could have come out three months earlier. The result? A game that looks
even more outdated than it would have been if it came out on time. AeroGauge is
a decent attempt at a somewhat original racing game, but frustrating game
design demotes it to the realm of mediocrity.
AeroGauge is a futuristic racing game along the lines of F-Zero. You control a
Hovercraft, called an "Aeromachine," that has the ability to move not only
horizontally but also vertically. Each of tracks determines how high or low
your Aeromachine can actually go. Your machine can also take damage, and there's
a special pit area a la F-Zero that replenishes its energy. Moreover, there are five
initially available Aeromachines with four others hidden, and you can choose
from four tracks until you open up the two other hidden ones.
The gameplay modes in AeroGauge are your standard fare. There's the Grand Prix
Mode, which has you racing three laps on each track against seven computer
machines. You get points after each track depending on the position you finish.
Also, you're forced to participate in a two-lap qualifying race to determine your
starting position. Unfortunately, this mode can only be played by one player. Single
Match Mode is just like the Grand Prix Mode, except there's only one race. Time
Attack Mode is where you race by yourself on any track opened up. Vs. Mode is the
two-player mode in the game. Disappointingly, there's only one-on-one racing with
no computer competition. Finally, you can also toggle some options and look at some
Controlling your Aeromachine in AeroGauge is quirky. The ability to move the
craft up and down is a little difficult to get used to at first, but you should
eventually get the hang of it. You use the Control Stick to do this, and you can
even change if you want the directions inverted or not (i.e., pushing down makes
it go up). The A button is gas, the B button is brake, and the Z button is "drift."
It's the last action that makes AeroGauge frustrating and difficult.
The designers of AeroGauge thought it would be cool if you had to master an odd
turbo boost to win the races. Guess what? It's not cool. As a matter of fact, if
you don't have an instruction booklet, then you may never figure it out. First, you
have to get a turbo boost at the start of the race, otherwise the computer will blow
you away. To do this, hold A and B at the starting line and then release the B button
(brake) right after the announcer says "Set." OK, that's not so hard, but this is very
difficult to do: pulling off turbo boosts while racing. Supposedly, this is how it
works: You must be holding down the A button, first of all. No problem, since that's
the accelerator. Then you must make a hard left or right while holding down the Z
button. Now you have to release all buttons and press A once or rapidly. If successful,
you should notice that you got a speed burst and that your temperature has
temporarily increased. The problem is that this is very difficult to pull off.
Here are a few other notes about the gameplay. First, the higher your Aeromachine
is in the air, the faster it will go. Second, in order to get speed in the tubes, you
have to stay close to the walls without hitting. Third, another questionable gameplay
decision is that the game is faster on the higher levels of difficulty. So you can try
playing on the Novice setting, but the instruction booklet even tells you that you
won't win the Grand Prix Mode on this level. Fourth, your options and times are
actually saved to the EEPROM chip in the cartridge, but you'll need a Controller
Pak with 93 pages free if you want to save a ghost from the Time Attack Mode.
Fifth, in both the Grand Prix Mode and the Single Match Mode, you have to run a
qualifying race to determine your starting position. I really rather not run the
qualifier, but there's no option to turn it off.
Graphically, AeroGauge is not that impressive. There's never an overwhelming
sense of speed, even though ASCII proclaims it to be the "fastest N64 racing
experience available." Not quite. Extreme-G is faster. There is also an inexcusable
amount of pop-up that makes it difficult, at times, to tell when bends are coming.
In addition, there are clipping problems, mostly in the tubes. Another gripe I have
is how the game's menu layouts are messy and confusing.
The sound, however, intrigues me. Many of the tunes are oddly composed and are
generally fast-paced, rockin' beats. The best description is that it sounds like
much of the music that came out of Japan in the 16-bit days. All of the background
music has good stereo separation, too. You'll probably either like the music or hate
it. I personally kind of like it. As far as sound effects go, they're just kind of "there."
They're not impressive, but they do fit and are not disappointing.
The fact that AeroGauge starts out slow, coupled with the frustrating and difficult
nature of the turbo boosts, makes it a game that not many could love. And it doesn't
help that AeroGauge is a very much a first-generation N64 game among a wave of
second-generation games. But there is a possibility that you may enjoy the game, so
I highly encourage you to try it out. Chances are, though, most people won't like the game.
Graphics: 3.1 out of 5
Sound: 3.5 out of 5
Control: 2.6 out of 5
Gameplay: 2.8 out of 5
Lastability: 2.7 out of 5
Overall: 2.8 out of 5