Release Date: 1991
Developer: Nintendo EAD
With all the renewed interest in anti-gravity racing lately, we can’t forget the pioneer now can we? Released as one of the Super NES launch titles in 1991, F-Zero is the father of the futuristic racing sub-genre.
In the first game, you are presented with a grand total of a whopping 4, count them, 4, playable racers. But of course, the one that the game’s story (yes, a racing game with a story) revolves around is our main man, Captain Falcon. Falcon is introduced as an intergalactic bounty hunter via the awesome comic book included in the instruction manual. I miss the days when instruction manuals weren’t anorexic and actually included not only information about how to play, but detailed info about the game’s backstory and lore. Anyway, the other three members of the quartet are Samurai Goroh, a rival bounty hunter obsessed with defeating Captain Falcon; Dr. Stewart, a somewhat cocky and flamboyant surgeon-turned-F-Zero star; and Pico, an extra-terrestrial assassin for hire.
F-Zero’s biggest boast has always been its speed. Combatants race in anti-gravity ships powered by G-DIFFUSER SYSTEMS (ahem) to hover a few feet off the ground. But how could the developers achieve an unprecedented sense of speed with limited technology? They used a graphics rendering technique known as “Mode 7”. Basically, Mode 7 allowed objects to be scaled and rotated to freely revolve around the player to convincingly mimic a 3D environment. It was quite an accomplishment and revolution for racing games on home consoles at the time since the hardware was inferior to arcade machines back then, and F-Zero was the first game to use it.
F-Zero games are notorious for their difficulty, and the first game is no exception. On the more difficult leagues, you may find yourself tossing the controller. There are an assortment of obstacles between you and the finish line, including ice zones, land mines, falling off the track, and flashing crafts that explode when you touch them. You also have to contend with other racers of course, and because the tracks are so narrow and slamming into someone sends you careening all over the place, some rounds end up becoming a game of bumper cars. In other words, if you want a racing challenge, this is where you find it. But hey, at least there are no BS items like the Blue Shell. F-Zero’s combat is strictly vehicular with no projectiles. Fortunately, the controls are pretty smooth and the flow of the game is very fluid, so seldom will you make mistakes that you feel are more the game’s fault than yours.
It wouldn’t be an F-Zero game without an amazing soundtrack. In addition to the now iconic Mute City theme, there isn’t really a boring song in the game. From the relaxing calm tune of Sand Ocean, to the icy cool song of White Land (forgive me), and the adrenalin pumping sounds of the game’s nail-biting final track, Fire Field, there isn’t one song in the game’s whole OST you won’t love.
The tracks themselves are also pretty neat. Though they may not be crazy roller coaster rides like the tracks of the future games, they all have a certain atmosphere and ambience to them. This is mainly due to the backgrounds and the music, which make them all feel unique from each other.
Really, the only flaw with the game would be the lack of a multiplayer mode. You would think that would have been a no brainer. Heck, multiplayer is a big part of the reason we buy racers in the first place. So yes, that second controller will be pretty lonely. And while the game has an abundant amount of tracks to play on for its time, it does come up a little short with game modes. Grand Prix and 1 v 1 races against the computer are pretty much all you will be doing. No Time Trial or Ghost Race, unfortunately.
But that aside, F-Zero is definitely a must own for racing enthusiasts and retro fans in general. For the first game in the series, it is a pretty cool little game. Especially considering how colossally it will be expanded upon with its predecessors. It’s a shame this franchise is all but extinct these days, especially when you consider it ignited a genre and gave way to other futuristic racing franchises like WipEout, Fatal Inertia, Extreme-G and more. But until we see a resurrection, I suppose we will still have the classics to cherish.