F-Zero
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 11/21/1990
    • US 08/23/1991
    • UK 06/04/1992
Score: 80%

This review was published on 02/22/2015.

F-Zero is a racing video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in Japan on November 21, 1990, North America on August 23, 1991, and Europe on June 4, 1992. This was one of the Super Nintendo's launch titles and also the first game in the F-Zero series. Like many SNES launch titles, this game was used to demonstrate the console's new graphical capabilities; specifically, Mode-7. With Mode-7, the SNES was able to render and rotate a completely flat surface to simulate a pseudo 3-D effect, which gave enough depth to allow players to see what was coming in the distance, solving a problem racing games have had for ages. This graphical technique improved the game play substantially, reinvigorating the racing genre and setting the standard for all future racing games. Also, F-Zero essentially created the futuristic racing subgenre, giving rise to countless imitators. While racing games certainly have come a long way since this game, the first F-Zero is still enjoyable even today.

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The game is set in a futuristic, sci-fi world in the year 2560. In this fictional world, humanity has had multiple encounters with alien life forms, expanding the Earth's social infrastructure. This resulted in commercial, technological, and cultural exchanges between planets, furthering the development of society. Many multibillionaires earned their extreme wealth through intergalactic trade, but were discontent with their complacent lifestyles. And thus, the highly wealthy busybodies created a new style of entertainment based on the Formula One races and called it F-Zero, which brought back the zest in their lives. These advanced races featured vehicles that could hover one foot above the tracks, finally realizing mankind's dream to have flying cars. The Grand Prix races were a real hit and soon became the focal point of entertainment in this fictitious world. No intergalactic football teams here; this world's obsession is racing. You really can't go wrong with F-Zero's backdrop. It's got space aliens, futuristic hover vehicles, and radical racetracks. This setting is not only cool, but it creates a creative environment where absolutely anything is possible.

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Controlling your fancy futuristic space cars is super fun in F-Zero. The controls in F-Zero are extremely tight, as cars will respond to your input instantaneously. Vehicles handle excellently and making turns isn't frustrating, though that's not to say that the game can't be frustrating at times, since it does get incredibly difficult. You can make tighter turns by holding down a shoulder button while turning, which works well. Another thing you can do is the turbo boost. Whenever you complete a lap, you will earn a turbo boost. These turbo boosts can be activated at any moment and will greatly increase your speed for a short period of time. Only three turbo boosts can be held at a time and they must be utilized at the proper times to win. It's best to use them on perfectly straight paths, since it's really easy to bump into walls when using them near corners. Aside from driving well, the turbo boosts are the key to victory, as they allow you to gain the edge over your competition. The smooth controls and strategic turbo boost system make F-Zero very fun to play.

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There are many ways to fail a race in F-Zero. One of those ways is by blowing up. A big feature of F-Zero, which later became a series standard, is the life meter. If your car takes too much punishment from hitting walls, colliding into hazards, or bumping into other racers, it'll explode and you'll lose the race, in addition to losing your life. It's also possible to die instantly by falling off the racetrack, which is flat out no good. To live longer on the racetrack, you can drive over these strips near the starting line that will slowly repair your damaged vehicle. On top of facing imminent death from the racetrack itself, you can be "ranked out" of the race for performing too poorly. There are five laps per race and you must be at or above a certain position per lap to remain qualified. Dying and ranking out both expend your limited stock of lives, and losing them all nets you a Game Over, sending you back to the start of the game. F-Zero is a pretty hardcore racing game. It doesn't joke around.

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Grand Prix mode is the heart and soul of F-Zero. There are three different leagues and three classes to choose from in this mode. The leagues are like cups in other racing games, each one having a different set of five courses to race through, whereas classes are merely another name for difficulty levels. Beating the leagues on the third difficulty setting will unlock a fourth one, which is the hardest. The leagues are, in order of difficulty: Knight, Queen, and King. The courses from the higher leagues are leagues more difficult than the earlier ones, featuring tons of sharp turns. Some turns are so sharp, in fact, that they're practically 90 degree angles! Sadly, some of the courses do get recycled later on. Visually, all the courses have a clean look to them and feature bright color palettes, though they do look a bit barren at times. The music is where it's at, though. In particular, Mute City and Big Blue have the best tracks in the game, both in sound and in design. The rest of the music isn't as good, but the game still has an overall remarkable soundtrack. All in all, Grand Prix is pretty grand.

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Many racetracks are littered with various environmental objects that can either help or hinder you. For example, jump pads will launch your car into the air like a ramp, enabling you to sometimes cross dangerous gaps of death. Jump pads also sometimes send you into dangerous gaps of death if you don't use them properly. There are also boost pads that give you a sudden burst of speed when you pass over them. Then there's the hazardous stuff, like landmines that explode when your craft gets near them. The worst hazard of them all, however, is the other racers. They will frequently bump into you from behind and knock you all around. Additionally, there are other cars on the road that don't count as contestants, but will attempt to bump into you regardless. Some of these cars explode if you touch them, doing loads of damage to your vehicle. This gets ridiculously annoying, but one benefit to these cars is that they ensure that there will always be activity on the road, especially since they still appear in front of you even if you're in first place. As such, there's never a dull moment in any of F-Zero's races.

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Four playable racers are available in F-Zero. They are Captain Falcon, Samurai Goroh, Dr. Stewart, and Pico. Odd how, with the exception of Pico, all these racers have a professional title, like captain or doctor. Of all these characters, Captain Falcon and Samurai Goroh are the most recognizable, mostly thanks to the Smash Bros. series. However, even before Smash, Captain Falcon was thrust into the limelight with an eight page comic that was included in the SNES game's manual. Anyway, each racer has a unique car exclusive to them with varying parameters, so selecting a different character has an actual impact on your performance on the racetrack. Cars have attributes in acceleration, top speed, handling, and even durability. The stats are even listed when selecting racers, which is helpful, although it's not immediately obvious what all the numbers correspond to. Strangely, each character has a different starting position during the races, such as Captain Falcon always starting second. Besides that, the only other issue here is that there aren't many characters to choose from; four is a small number of racers. A larger, more varied cast of racers would have been nice.

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Practice is another mode available in F-Zero. It's pretty self explanatory; this mode allows you to practice courses without having to worry about the pressure of winning the Grand Prix. Other racing games typically refer to modes like these as Time Trial. Similar to Time Trial, Practice mode will record your best times for completing the tracks. The mode can be played with another computer controlled racer or by yourself, though unlike the Grand Prix, you can't race more than one racer at a time. Unfortunately, only seven courses are available, and you can't unlock more. That's a serious bummer, considering there's no better way to practice some of the hardest courses in the game. Still, Practice mode does have a fair amount of courses, and because some of these courses get recycled, it technically has almost all of them. If you expect to get good enough to finish this game, then you'll be spending plenty of time in this mode.

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F-Zero is too cool to fool, but it still went to school. This game managed to solve one of the biggest problems with the racing genre at the time, and it somehow did so without resorting to 3-D graphics. The graphics, music, setting, and ultra high speed game play make this a racer with lots of intensity. Many prefer F-Zero to Super Mario Kart for these reasons alone. However, F-Zero does have some problems, the biggest of which is the total lack of multiplayer. This is one department Super Mario Kart definitely trumps F-Zero in. The other snag is that F-Zero may be too intense for some people, as it's insanely difficult and takes serious skill to complete. The overabundance of 90 degree turns feels downright sadistic. That aside, F-Zero isn't a bad first start for the series.

Word Count: 1,622

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