Besides Mario Kart, F-Zero is probably one of Nintendo’s best known racing series with around seven games (not counting the F-Zero X Expansion pack), and an anime series. Even one of the pilots, Captain Falcon, makes an appearance in the Super Smash Bros. series as a playable character. However, let’s go back to the roots of the series around late 1990 or 1991-1992, if you live outside Japan. F-Zero is a launch game for both the Japanese Super Famicom and the North American Super Nintendo. F-Zero would be released a few months later in Europe after the launch of the PAL Super Nintendo. The game would show the power of Mode-7 in action.
But, enough talk about history. Let’s get into the game itself and see how good it is.
There are two gameplay modes to choose from, Grand Prix and Practice. In Grand Prix, you pick your machine, then the league, and finally the class. The leagues each have their own set of tracks to race on, while the class determines the difficulty. There are four machines to pick from: Blue Falcon (piloted by Captain Falcon), Golden Fox (piloted by Dr. Stewart), Wild Goose (piloted by Pico), and Fire Stingray (piloted by Samurai Goroh). The Blue Falcon is the typical beginner-friendly vehicle with balanced stats. The Golden Fox has fast acceleration and is lightweight, but has poor handling and doesn’t do too well against collisions. The Wild Goose is very strong, but doesn’t have very good acceleration. The Fire Stingray has the best top speed of the four playable machines, but has very slow acceleration. There are other machines in the game, but they are only CPU-controlled. Four vehicles is a bit limited, but to be fair, this game came out around the start of the 90’s and racing games for the most part didn’t really have a big roster of playable vehicles back then, unlike the newer racers today.
When it comes to graphics, F-Zero really excels due to its use of Mode-7. What Mode-7 does is takes one of the background layers and rotates and scales it to give the game a 3D effect. Being a launch game, F-Zero is one of the very first games to use the effect and it’s used very well. Many other racing games on the Super NES later on like Super Mario Kart and Top Gear would also use Mode-7. The game also excels in being really, really fast. It’s almost like the Super NES has blast processing too! The only flaw that I can really say about the graphics is that the playable vehicles all look very similar to each other except for the Blue Falcon. It’s one of those games where it must be seen in motion rather than screenshots in order to fully appreciate the graphics.
Unlike some of the later games in the series, the music in F-Zero doesn’t have as much of a rock-and-roll theme to them, but the game’s soundtrack is still very good and fits perfectly. The music in Silence for example, starts out peaceful, but a little later on, gets pretty hectic. It works pretty well, considering the one track you go on in Silence has some very tough turns. Another example is Fire Field, in which the music in that track has a fast-paced feel to it all throughout, and it works considering that Fire Field is VERY hard and littered with environmental hazards.
Speaking of environmental hazards, every F-Zero game has them and this one is no exception. Landmines are one of them. They are pretty much self-explanatory. If you crash into them, you’ll take a lot of damage. Other hazards include rough patches that slow you down and pull magnets that pull your vehicle toward them. The game does a great job of integrating the hazards into the game in that they make enough of a presence to sufficiently challenge the racers, yet not too much so that it’s impossible (except for maybe Fire Field and a few others :p)
The controls in this game are easy to learn and work well. The d-pad steers your vehicle, the A Button gives your vehicle a small speed boost that lasts for a short time, the B button accelerates your vehicle, X and Y buttons are used for the brakes, and last but not least, L and R buttons shifts the weight of your vehicle (L button shifts it to the left while the R button shifts it to the right.) The only flaw in the controls is that they can’t be changed at all. Speaking of boosting, instead of using a little of your energy each time you boost, you have 3 little icons at the bottom right of the screen, which are indicated with an “S” marker. You can only use the boost when at least one of the icons is green. At the start of the race, none of the icons are green, but one S marker will turn green for each lap completed. Be sure to conserve your boost since it’s much more limited than in the later games. You can only boost 3 times at the maximum.
If there’s one flaw that brings down the enjoyment of this game, it would have to be the lack of a multi-player mode. Racing the CPU is still fun, but eventually, the player can develop strategies to use to always thwart the CPU every time and the whole game’s difficulty and fun factor kind of deflate a little bit. Still, the tracks themselves are hard enough to challenge gamers of almost any skill level.
For a racing game released at the start of the 90’s, F-Zero really manages to stand out from the rest of the crowd with its super-fast gameplay and Mode-7 effects. However, the game is a little light on content compared to the rest of the games in the series, but even then, F-Zero still has its own charm. The game can be had for VERY cheap (probably under $10) and is available on the Wii Virtual Console for $8.
1: F-Zero Manual
2:: http://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/Pw3uFrEofIz6Yxh7ICrjlMqiDrRoVHlM – Wii Virtual Console Page
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