F-Zero is the futuristic single-player racing game that not only kick started a franchise but a console. Way back in 1991 it was one of the five games in the Super Nintendo’s launch line up. It became the standard for racing games. Before F-Zero most racing games were isometric or only allowed for forward driving. There was no wrong way or turning around. Now with F-Zero and the technology of the Super Nintendo, you could go in all sorts of directions, this allowed for tight hair pin turns, wide open spaces and mistakes.
When you start the game, you have four racers to chose from. Dr. Stewart’s yellow speedy, light racer. Captain Falcon’s blue well rounded vehicle. Samurai Goroh’s beast of a red car that is fat, takes a lot of damage, has the top speed, but takes the longest to get there. Finally, Pico’s green, almost useless car that seems to benefit only from speed boosts. They each have their own stats and while F-Zero shows their vital statistics, I don’t feel like its explanatory enough.
The game is broken up into three grand prix cups with five tracks each and three difficulties with one extra level of challenge to unlock. Its an easy to pick up and play game. You’ve got a button to accelerate, one to break. When making turns, you can press L or R depending on the turn to dig in and make the turn sharper. For every lap you get through, you’re given a speed boost that allows for a temporary big of speed. For most tracks, I use these at the end of a lap, so I can get the most distance out of the boost, because after the boost ends, you’re still at your top speed.
This is a fun game full of bright vibrant colors and a real sense of speed. It feels like a risk and reward. Driving into the edges will damage your car, but you can still drive on them to shave split seconds off your time.You’ve got a limited amount of health and the lighter cars like Dr. Stewart’s yellow racer can’t take a lot of damage.
There are even jump plates that can work to your advantage. Light cars can jump and land without any sort of speed loss. Heavier cars slow down on impact so its best to avoid them if you can. There are still plenty of fun gap jumps that you’ll need to get across. If you jump out of the track, your car explodes and the camera turns around to see the smoke trail of where you landed. Its the same when you lose all of your health.
For every wrecked car or lost race, you’ll use a continue, and you’re in luck, because you start out with three extra cars. You can even earn more cars with the game’s points system. For each lap you make it through, you’ll get points. Every 10,000 points gives you an extra try on the track.
If you need health, every track has a little pit area. Driving through the glowing stretch will have a crew hover over you to repair your car. The only catch is that you’ll need to have your car over the stretch for a second to bring them in. If you have your car on, then off the crew goes away and comes back. It punishes you for not staying in place and that minimal of time still counts. I really enjoyed this mechanic, especially because you don’t have to stop. Every second counts too if you’re trying to beat your best times. These pit areas are usually on the outside of the track, so that just adds extra time driving out to get repaired.
For each lap, less cars are allowed to stay in the race. It gets to the point that you need to be in the top three to finish the race. While this is a racing game, it feels like the only thing I’m really competing against is my own time. I’d say 99% of the time I’m in first place, even on the harder difficulties. No matter how fast you go, there’s always someone on your tail. One mistake and you’ll get passed up. Even Gotoh’s top speed should leave everyone’s car in the past, they’ll still catch up to him with a single mistake.
The challenge isn’t the tracks and racing through them, I’d say the difficulty comes in the form of the fodder cars that get in your way. If you bump into one, its not just a wreck and loss of health, no you lose control and pinball around the track. Bouncing back and forth. While that might sound like a pain, that’s part of the challenge. You need to dodge them even when you’re in the lead. Then there are blinking pace cars. These cars will explode with one last hit. Its a nice effect and only seems to happen with the pace cars.
Each track has a theme with its own color scheme and music. This goes a long way to make each track feel different, even if a flat track is a flat track. Early tracks are pretty wide and allow you to overtake opponents easily, but later tracks get narrow in key section and have more than a few sharp turns. Its not just the sides and cars you’ll have to watch out for. Later tracks have obstacles like magnetic rails that pull you into them and damage plates you’ll need to ramp jump over. There are even mines on some tracks and gusting breezes that push your car in one direction.
Several of the tracks have the same theme, like Mute City 1, 2, 3 & 4. A lot of these tracks slightly shift their color pallet, but they feel the same only with adjustments to increase their challenge. Death Wind 1 is a basic oval track, while Death Wind 2 is the same oval track that has one side different from the previous version. That different side has jagged turns that make me feel like the developer just click and dragged out the edge of the course and someone said Bingo. You’ve done it!
The music is really enjoyable and you’ll be humming the tunes afterward. Its not just great, but I’d say its one of the stand out soundtracks in all of video game history. Mute City is specifically a stand out track. Its not just the fast paced songs when you’re racing, but its the calming, soothing song between the races, to bring your heart rate back down.
With all of that said, there are a few tracks that can be bone crushingly difficult. One in particular stands out as nearly impossible due to a single jump. White Land II at the end of the Queen League has a jump coming out of a turn, that I dare say can’t be made with certain vehicles.
F-Zero is still a deserving classic that is fun to this day.