Nintendo’s just revived the F-Zero franchise with F-Zero 99 — but how well does the original stand up now?
In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.
I’m a big fan of retro gaming, but if you ask me what my favourite system is, the answer is always quite clear. Nintendo’s Super Nintendo rules the roost around these parts, you see.
So with the news that Nintendo has finally decided to release a new F-Zero game, by way of F-Zero 99 for the Nintendo Switch, my choice of retro game of the week became all too obvious. It was time to revisit the OG F-Zero game.
But first, my quick review of F-Zero 99:
F-Zero 99 Review (Nintendo Switch)
It’s… decent. Predictably it looks just a little too clean, because of course it’s not using proper mode 7, and there is an element of chaos around the racing because it’s a 99-vehicle elimination race which can make some events rather unfair from the get-go… but then that’s very much the point of this kind of thing.
It’s fun enough, you do need a Switch Online sub to play, and it might attract a longer term audience… or it might not.
My early thoughts are that it’s better than Mario 99, probably not got the same kind of longevity as Tetris 99. We’ll see how that goes.
But what about that original game?
Back in 1990 (your reminder that time is a cruel mistress goes here), F-Zero was a revelation. Sure, it wasn’t the first futuristic racing game on a console by quite a wide margin, but as a showcase for what the SNES could do beyond Mario, it was indeed something special.
Victory is sweet.
One quick anecdote here: I can keenly recall in my first year at university (sigh, I’m old, etc) getting hold of a copy and playing in in the lounge of the shared house I was living in. It gathered a crowd, the controller was passed around, everyone had a go and good times were had, as was the style at the time.
One of my flatmates — the only one who could drive an actual car — said that she “should be better” at it than the rest of us, so she took up the pad with gusto.
F-Zero lets you lean into corners with the shoulder buttons, but she got so into F-Zero that she started leaning her whole body as she went around corners.
Right up to the point where she leaned a little too far, and fell off the couch sideways.
She never lived that down.
But I digress…
I’ve seen the accusation thrown at F-Zero (and another launch title Pilotwings) that they’re only really graphical showcases for mode 7 without games attached, and I reckon that’s quite unfair. F-Zero isn’t the most complex racing game out there, but it’s a well balanced one that ramps up the challenge nicely as you go along.
Risk, reward… and jumping. Which brings with it its own risks, because there ain’t no Lakitu to kindly pull you back onto the track if you go flying off.
It is, of course, limited to single player only, which is why so many gamers trended towards Super Mario Kart as soon as that was released for that sweet multiplayer action.
Fair enough — SMK is a great game too — but I’ve long felt that F-Zero represented a more pure racing simulation (within its futuristic context) than Super Mario Kart, because you’re less at the whims of random red shells than you are your own racing prowess.
You are at the completely-nonexistent mercy of some serious rubber banding in terms of how your opponents race, especially at the upper difficulty levels.
Are they on my tail? Yes. They are ALWAYS on my tail. And I don’t even have a tail.
One mistake on the last lap, even if you’ve been racing perfectly and boosting ideally can see you passed rapidly on the last turn. F-Zero has a race map, but no indicators for opponent positions, so it’s not quite so obvious that it’s cheating. But it is cheating.
Choose your racer. There’s a whole plot and everything explained in the manual.
Does it matter? No, but it’s nice to have.
But is it worth playing now that there’s a new one?
Actually, all of the F-Zero games are well worth playing, bar perhaps the terrible and weird Captain Falcon’s Twister Race from the Nintendoland bundle for the Wii U. Nintendoland is pretty much just a tutorial for how to use the Wii U anyway, so I’m going to argue it doesn’t count.
In the words of SNAP! (relevant at the time this was new), I GOT THE POWER!
But across the SNES original, the excellent GameBoy Advance games, F-Zero X for the N64 and F-Zero GX for the GameCube, there’s nary a duffer amongst them.
Boom. (Shake Shake Shake The Room)
Mind you, with F-Zero 99 now a thing, I think it’s high past time Nintendo revived Pilotwings as well.
It can’t be just me that wants a next-gen Pilotwings… can it?
How to Play F-Zero (SNES) now
Like Super Soccer from a few weeks ago, this one’s dead easy if you have a Nintendo Switch, because it’s part of the Nintendo Switch Online SNES offerings, and has been, I’m pretty sure, there since launch.
It’s also on the excellent little SNES Mini if you’ve got one of those.
What if you wanted the cartridge? While I played a borrowed or rented one back in the day, my own copy is a Japanese one that didn’t cost me a whole lot, about 500 yen or so I think, because it’s not in great condition, as you can see.
Again, games that are a little worn are still games — and they still deserve our love.
Still, I would love a full Japanese copy, because the Japanese box art is just magnificent. I mean… look at it.
Meanwhile, the PAL version I played back in the day has a box like this:
Not much competition there, I feel.
But what does it cost now?
Prices for F-Zero — bearing in mind it was a super-common launch game — aren’t too ridiculous, with eBay listing it for around $50 for a loose cart, and between $100-$150 for a complete boxed copy.
Or, if you like tombs (and don’t like money all that much), you can spend WAY TOO MUCH on a graded copy. Sigh.