F-Zero

F-Zero - Title Screen

F-Zero (1990)
By: Nintendo EAD Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES First Day Score: 27,200
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s gameplay that counts, not graphics, hence my love of older games (increasingly in preference to new ones, in fact). This is my view and I stand by it. However, if there always seemed to be one genre that belied that stance, it’s that of the racing/driving games. Gameplay was and is still very important in these games of course, but due to their very nature, older machines rarely saw them due to their technical limitations. When they did, with the exception of a small number of classics, they were often cack. Either too much effort was put into making them look pretty and the design and gameplay ended up being tacked-on afterthoughts, or they simply couldn’t make them look remotely convincing to start with. Then along came the SNES.

F-Zero - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Mode 7 is what they called it – a new graphics-rendering trick never seen before, pioneered by the wizards at Nintendo and unleashed in the SNES. It’s hard to explain but awesome to behold. It essentially allows a 2D texture-mapped playfield or background layer to be scaled, rotated, and manipulated in all manner of ways. One of the biggest advantages of this is that the 2D playfield can be flipped into what appears to be a 3D perspective and rotated 360 degrees around whatever sprites appear on the screen at the time, creating the illusion of looking into the distance. This technique is perfect for racing games – instead of the vehicle negotiating the course, the course is rotated left and right around the vehicle, and it was first seen in….. you’ve guessed it!

F-Zero - Gameplay Screenshot 2

F-Zero (short for Formula Zero), is in essence what Formula-1 may possibly be like in the future (assuming we haven’t blown ourselves up before then). The Grand Prix mode is a racing series consisting of fifteen courses spread evenly over three leagues – Knight, Queen and King – and any league can be selected from the start, although they get progressively harder as you might expect. Each race has four jet-car things, or ‘machines’ as they’re referred to in the game – yours, and three main computer-controlled opponents, and each varies in its specification and handling. Simply choose one of them, then choose a league, and away you go! The races are also populated by a large number of identical-looking drone cars, presumably only to hinder your progress, and some of them are flashing, indicating that they’re one hit away from exploding, so they’re basically racing mines! As mentioned, each league consists of five courses and progression to the next race is determined by your finishing position – each of the five laps in a race has a higher ranking requirement you must fulfill to avoid disqualification. Beware however – if at any point you fall below 20th place, you’re automatically disqualified.

F-Zero - Gameplay Screenshot 3

Each course is varied and contains some original features. Jumps are quite common, but some of them occur shortly before a gap in the track – miss them and you’ll plummet down to your death! Boost pads, slow-down zones, land mines, pull-down magnets, track-side magnets and slip zones are some of the other features, and all but the first are there to cause you problems! The courses themselves also deserve special mention – they are fiendishly designed and contain some of the sharpest corners you’ll ever negotiate, including frequent 90 and even 180-degree turns, as well as long sweeping curves, hairpins, chicanes, narrow straights – everything you can think of really. The sides of all courses are secured by anti-gravitational guide beams, which don’t do anything except stop you from falling off the edge of the course. Hitting them makes you lose precious energy however, especially if you crash at high speed – you can end up bouncing around like a pinball from one side to the other if you’re not careful. Thankfully, your craft’s finite supply of energy can be replenished in the pits. Another handy, often vital feature is the Super Jet. You get one of these at the end of each lap and it provides a temporary, though substantial increase to your speed, so only use it on straights!

F-Zero - Gameplay Screenshot 4

Obviously the Grand Prix mode forms the bulk of what F-Zero has to offer but it’s not the full extent. Also available is a Practise mode, which allows you to do just that on seven courses from the various leagues against a chosen opponent, or no opponent at all (making it a time-trial mode, essentially). One problem with many racing games in my experience is the difficulty curve. Happily, it’s nigh-on perfectly pitched here. Sure, this can be a pretty frustrating game on occasion, but it’s also one that rewards perseverance. Plus, there’s three difficulty settings too (and a fourth if you finish the others), so there’s really no excuse! Each course (nearly all of them, at least) has its own tune and they are for the most part fantastic – many of them are still celebrated and remixed today, especially the old favourite, Big Blue!

F-Zero - Gameplay Screenshot 5

This game was a genuine jaw-dropper when it was first unveiled. Truly, nothing like it had ever been seen before – it was a revolutionary game! However, like most games that represent a leap in technical achievements, F-Zero has aged somewhat in the intervening time, and it’s now possible to look past what it achieved to see some of the things it didn’t. The biggest gripe has always been the absence of a two-player mode – as entertaining as it is, F-Zero is strictly a solo experience. Another problem is that Mode 7, for all its unique trickery, is unable to provide anything other than a completely flat racing surface, meaning, of course, no hills or banked turns or anything of that nature (something which the sequel rectified and then some!). Legitimate gripes or just nitpicking? Probably a bit of both is the cop-out but honest answer! Looking back, as good as it is, there’s no denying F-Zero could’ve been even better, but it certainly hasn’t decayed into a mouldy stain on Nintendo’s record either. This is an exciting, frenetic, fun, adranaline-rush of a racing game, and remains, in my view, one of the first must-have racing titles for any console.

RKS Score: 8/10

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Simon Lethbridge

Hello. :) I'm a 38 year old nerd from England, and I like lots of stuff, including retro video games, movies, sci-fi, and anime. This is the place where I will blabber on about them! At the very least, it will give me an excuse to try games/films that I keep putting off. Hope you like reading it! :)