F-ZeroX(1)

Genre: Racing
Year: 1998
Developed by: Nintendo EAD
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: N64
#335
Feeling Like: Yeah! You got boost power!

Talk about an evolution.

The first F-Zero was clearly made to show off the power of the brand new Super Nintendo, giving players the perception of three dimensions by using a graphics technique called “Mode 7.” There were a small amount of tracks, only 4 vehicles per race (including your own) and was one of the most beloved SNES games of all time. Clearly, Nintendo tapped into something successful. It would take 7 years for them to fully capitalize on this idea and it was worth the wait. F-Zero X is a massive improvement upon the original and is one hell of a game.

You can tell you’re in for a ride within seconds of turning on the console. The N64’s logo appears and a wicked guitar riff plays at the same time. This is not a typical Nintendo soundtrack; every song is loud, wicked and hard. It’s meant to get your blood racing, your heart pumping and your senses maxed out. When the box says it’s a high-speed race across the galaxy, it’s not kidding.

F-ZeroX(3)
Racing on a flat, straight surface is SO 1991

Where to start? I  love F-Zero X, despite playing it exclusively at Eric’s house on Clarke Road in Brentwood Bay. Glancing ahead at games to come on the 500, it should be higher on the list. The third, and final (boo!) F-Zero game will be much, much higher. The whole series is great, despite only a few entries. It’s great because of the focus on speed, the consistent framerate, the spectacular soundtrack, the white knuckle action, the punishing difficulty and the inventive tracks. I don’t know what else you’d want in a futuristic racing game.

Graphic detail was sacrificed in order to have a perfect 60 frames per second and the game needs it. Because the speed is so insane, you’ll need to see every obstacle and opponent with as clear vision as possible. Landmarks, or turns in the track that seem far away will fly at you in a flash and if you’re not ready, you’ll be falling off the track in no time. This is the Demon’s Souls of racing, tough as nails.

F-ZeroX(4)
A half pipe? Cars exploding? 792 km/h? Rival racers? God this game rules.

The only variable that prevents F-Zero X from being higher is the limited time I had with it. Eric was gracious enough to rent it a few times when I’d come over and was clearly the better racer. We’d try to tackle the Grand Prix together, but I’d often crash, or fall off the track, or sputter across the finish line.

Eric recalled the below points when I mentioned F-Zero X to him.

-Constantly falling off the harder levels. Or getting beaten up by those beefier cars
-Speed runs on that early straight track/loop level
-The fantastic music
-He still plays one of the songs as a guitar riff
-Reminded me that I chose the White Cat car piloted by Jody Summer, and he chose the Wild Goose, piloted by Pico.

It blew my mind that Eric remembered the car I’d used (I had no recollection); the White Cat was my go to in F-Zero GX. Religiously. I never used any other car. That level of consistency always brings a smile to my face. What can I say? I’m a creature of habit. Ask my friends what kind of restaurant I don’t like, what character I use in Smash and what I always do in cars and they’ll answer, without fail, that I don’t like Bistros, Kirby and I tap the dashboard three times when going through a yellow light. If I’m not driving, I take a nap. No wonder I’m lousy at F-Zero games. Maybe I’d stay awake if my commute included loop de loops.

F-ZeroX(2)
Screenshots don’t do this justice. The fluidity must be seen to be appreciated.

I can’t speak enough to the track design. There are no boring levels in the F-Zero universe. You’ll have hairpin turns, rocky ground to avoid, half pipes to navigate, sections with no walls and insta-death obstacles. There are lava courses, there are areas that are only big enough for a single car. One! If there are two side by side, one or both are not making it to the finish line. And each Grand Prix race has 30 total entrants. 30!!! They’re all just as fast as you are, and can be very aggressive on higher difficulties.

It’s such a wonderful balance of risk and reward. By the second lap, you’ll unlock the boost ability. By mashing the boost, you may get ahead but at the expense of your shields being depleted. If another racer so much as sneezes on you, you’re toast. If you bump into a wall, you’re toast. Track knowledge and knowing where the shield regeneration zones are imperative to surviving and thriving in F-Zero X. 

I can’t end my recollection without mentioning the soundtrack, likely the biggest star of a big show. How good is it?

Mute City good.

Dream Chaser good.

Devil’s Forest good.

These songs make me want to jump on something, smash something, scream into a microphone, grab an electric guitar and careen into (alright!) 1st place at 1500km/h while listening to the most epic fanfare on the N64.

Wipeout, Fast Racing Neo and every other futuristic racer owe their existence to the F-Zero franchise and it’s easy to see why. The entire package is a home run, and this is on a console that was never known for its speed. Nintendo EAD performed a small miracle here, and I still hope for a 4th iteration in the series to blow my socks off 

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