Wednesday, April 19, 2017

F-Zero AX mechanics differences from GX

F-Zero AX is the arcade counterpart to F-Zero GX. How different are the mechanics? There are some really obvious differences, and some differences that are only obvious when you play or watch the game at a higher level. Let's start with the most obvious:

Controls are mapped to an arcade cabinet

  • Steer: Turn the steering wheel left or right, or tilt it up or down
  • Strafe: Push the yellow paddles that are behind the steering wheel. These are digital inputs, so you can't press them partway
  • Accelerate: Push the right foot pedal. This is analog input, so you can press it partway to get a lesser effect
  • Brake: Push the left foot pedal. Again, this is analog
  • Boost: Push one of the two buttons on the steering wheel, either center or right-of-center
  • Side attack: Push one of the strafe paddles twice (like F-Zero X)
  • Spin attack: Steer while holding both strafe paddles
Naturally, it takes some practice to rewire your brain from the Gamecube controller to the AX steering wheel and pedals.

Also notable is that AX pedal inputs are analog, while strafe inputs are digital. Actually, GX controls can be customized to use analog acceleration and brakes, and similarly to use digital strafe inputs. But this is pretty much never done in GX, since there is no known benefit of analog accel/brake in GX, while analog strafe is actually useful (and L/R to strafe feels natural).

When playing AX on Nintendont, the controls are remapped to a Gamecube controller, but you still have digital strafe inputs.

Rocket start

(Added 2019/06. Thanks to Anto for reminding me about this.)

Although it's not immediately obvious from a time attack video, AX has a rocket start mechanic which requires you to time your engine start during the 3-2-1 countdown.

This mechanic is similar to the 2D F-Zero games (SNES, MV, GPL, Climax), but AX's 'rocket' effect is less pronounced. An AX rocket start will look a lot like a normal GX start, with steady acceleration from a low speed. An AX overheat start will have some initial acceleration, followed by roughly 1 second of deceleration, then acceleration again.

As shown in this Famicco video guide (at 3:45), you need to push the accelerator between the '2' and '1' to get the optimal start; specifically, just as the '1' starts to appear visually on the countdown monitors. The timing does not seem to change depending on your machine or setting. For example, the Famicco guide shows Fire Stingray at high max speed settings; and from my experience, the same timing also works with Fat Shark at max acceleration.

In GX, all you have to do to get an optimal race start is start holding A anytime before the '1'. I'm not sure how late you can delay the A press exactly, but I think it's close to when the announcer says '1'. In any case, you don't have to think too hard about when you start accelerating in GX, but it's an extra thing to remember when playing AX.

Making sharp turns

In GX, some turns are so sharp that a simple slide turn (L+left stick or R+right stick) is not enough to make the turn without hitting the wall. And don't even mention about making the turn while boosting at 1500 km/h. You'll need the quick turn technique; to quick turn left in GX, you tap R, then press L and steer left while releasing R. Basically, it's a slide turn with loosened grip, and it lets your machine turn sharply with tight control.

Instead of the quick turn, AX has the drift turn. This also involves turning with loosened grip,  but the method of loosening grip is lightly tapping the brake. So you tap and release the brake (a partial tap is fine - remember, brake is analog) while starting to steer, optionally with the strafe paddle. This lets your machine turn sharply, but the control is not as tight as a quick turn. With more slippery machines like Fat Shark, you end up slipping out wide (to the opposite direction of the turn), so you have to start your turn early to compensate. It ends up feeling more like an MTS in that regard.

So in short:
  • GX: Quick turn, tap the opposite strafe to loosen grip. Tight control.
  • AX: Drift turn, tap the brake to loosen grip. Slips out wide depending on machine grip.

T-Drift: The best tech in AX

Officially, a drift turn in AX doesn't require the strafe paddle; it just involves loosening grip and steering. But if you strafe into a drift turn while using high acceleration settings, you can rapidly gain speed as long as the drift turn goes on. A strafing drift turn is called a T-Drift (Turbo Drift). You use left strafe during a left drift, and right strafe during a right drift. With certain machines and settings, the speed gain from T-drift is so good that it's the most potent advanced technique in F-Zero AX.

As long as the T-drift lasts, you gain speed. How long can you keep a T-drift going? Well, with most machines, you have to keep turning or you'll regain your grip. So it depends on the shape of the track and how much you have to keep turning:
  • Most machines can't T-drift for long at all, because they need to turn tightly to keep drifting.
  • Others like Fat Shark only need to turn slightly to keep drifting, so the T-drift can last over a second with favorable turns (like in Sonic Oval).
  • Some custom machines such as Aerial Whale-EX, Dark Condor, and Heat Dragon-EX are able to keep drifting simply by strafing and driving straight, without any steering input. These machines are by far the most effective T-drifters in the game.
How good is the speed gain if you can T-drift on straightaways? Well, you can break the 4000 km/h barrier in Sonic Oval. It's pretty good. And with practice, it also works great in more technical courses like Thunder Road; you just have to watch out for bumps in the road that interrupt your drift.

Dark Condor's T-drift in action.
In Japanese, T-drift is called 合力ドリフト, "gouriki drift" or "resultant force drift". The idea is that your engine force and strafing force combine (using vector addition) to get your diagonally-facing resultant force, which is greater than the engine force alone.

I'm not sure when the terms 合力ドリフト and T-drift were coined, but 合力ドリフト was mentioned on an official F-Zero AX webpage. English resources for AX are harder to find, so the most authoritative source I can find for "T-Drift" is this AX FAQ on F-Zero Central.

In short:
  • T-Drift (Turbo Drift) is a speed gain technique that's unique to AX.
  • To T-drift, you use high acceleration settings and perform a strafing drift turn:
    • Left: tap and release brake + strafe left + steer left
    • Right: tap and release brake + strafe right + steer right
    • This is basically like doing a GX quick turn, except that instead of tapping the opposite shoulder button, you tap brake to loosen your grip.
  • You keep accelerating as long as the drift goes on. The best T-drifting machines can keep the T-drift going by simply strafing on a straightaway, without even steering.
(Edit 2019/06) If you're interested in more nuances of T-drift and how to best utilize it, I've made a video tutorial.

Snaking isn't the same

Gaining speed from drift turns sounds a lot like GX snaking, doesn't it? Well, snaking does still work in AX, but it's somewhat limited.

In GX snaking, you're able to seamlessly transition between a left stride and a right stride by holding L+R briefly between strides. In AX, if you steer while holding both strafe paddles, you'll do a spin attack. So in AX, consecutive drift turns need a slight gap between them, and as far as I can tell, that brief interval of not drifting is enough to make your speed dip significantly. (If you MT that interval, then you'll just lose a lot of speed as soon as you press the accelerator again.)

In AX, it's better to hold a single T-Drift through a straightaway if you're using a custom machine that can do that. If you're using a machine like Fat Shark instead, snaking helps on straightaways on Lap 1, and it may or may not help on straightaways in boost laps.

No MTS (or TS)

In GX, you can turn at high speeds if you break your grip and hold the opposite shoulder button while steering (e.g. left + R). This typically works best when the engine is off, in which case it's called Momentum Turbo Slide (MTS); in some low speed cases it's better to keep the engine on, and that case is called Turbo Slide (TS).

I haven't heard of these techs being used by anyone in AX. So what happens if you go through the MTS/TS motions in AX (using the brake pedal to try and lose grip)? Not much special, it seems, by my testing with Dark Condor and Fat Shark. An MTS might gain you a tiny bit of speed initially, but no more than a regular strafing turn would. From there, you don't gain any more speed. And a TS just slows you down.


The biggest takeaway here is that AX drifting and grip physics are totally different from GX, giving a very different feel to the game as soon as you try anything beyond basic steering and strafing. Most of the advanced techniques in GX rely on the specifics of how grip works in that game. So even if you're already a master at GX, you've still got a lot to learn to become a master of AX and T-Drift.


  1. Interesting read...Now if I could only find myself an AX machine to actually play it. :( Great read!

  2. Nice article! You forgot about this, though.

    1. Ah right, the rocket start. Yeah, I do tend to forget about it since an AX rocket start is very similar to a GX start. But it's definitely something extra to pay attention to when playing AX.

    2. OK, glad you added it to the article.


F-Zero AX mechanics differences from GX

F-Zero AX is the arcade counterpart to F-Zero GX. How different are the mechanics? There are some really obvious differences, and some diffe...