Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: August 21, 1991
Platforms: Super Nintendo, Wii Virtual Console, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, SNES Classic, Nintendo Switch Online
Reviewed on: SNES Classic
Price: $19.99/year (USD), included with Nintendo Switch Online
I believe that nostalgia is the strongest force in the universe. The hatred energy generated by the gatekeepers of any franchise they grew up with could make the Hoover Dam look like a night light. This seems to be especially strong with the Super Nintendo. Practically every game is treated like an original member of the Beatles, just nothing but praise about how important it was to their childhood. And then there’s me! The SNES was the one console that I never had as a kid and never picked up when used game stores started popping up. So in an effort to see what all the fuss was about, (And to get my money’s worth out of the SNES Classic), I wanted to go through and start reviewing some of the games that defined a generation.
I started with the franchise that Nintendo never remembers that it owns, F-Zero. Spanning through fourteen years and at least three console generations, F-Zero is now basically relegated to Super Smash Bros. stages and cameos, because violently bouncing off of a speeding racetrack is always going to be hilarious. But older gamers will remember it as a racing game that launched with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System on August 23, 1991. While nostalgic enough to keep getting released on digital storefronts, it just never seems to gain enough traction for another full release. But even keeping a cult following must mean the series has been doing something correctly.
In the year 2560, intergalactic trade billionaires are basically really bored from making money. For some unspecified reason, they decide that traditional F-1 races from Earth hundreds of years in the past are somehow memorable enough to copycat and decided to create multiple race tracks throughout space. Plus, they could gamble on it. Thus, the F-Zero Grand Prix is born and eventually shortened to just F-Zero.
If you’re playing this on any current day console, good luck finding any of this information! I had to look up the original instruction booklet for any kind of clue. And I can’t even trust the book, especially when someone misspelled “beginner”.
All things considered, for being a launch title for the SNES, dealing with the technology available for 1991, this game is freaking impressive. This is all in part due to the technique of Mode 7 scrolling. To dumb down the tech talk, mixing elements of scale and layers allowed Nintendo to replicate a 3-D effect, which is a huge accomplishment for the time. Because of Mode 7, it basically looks like you are truly flying around the racetracks and other cars, because the whole dang world is turning around faster than whiplash. Not only are you racing in a well done pseudo 3-D effect, the system keeps up with the action. Nary is there even a stutter from the system, as everything starts fast and stays there. But as fast as you are going in the race, a lot of details are basically left ignored. If you are racing in a place called Mute City, you would expect to see, y’know, a city. But the most you really get is squares. Just squares.
Judging sound is always hard, being so subjective. It also takes a hit when you deal with retro levels of technology that could only do so much for their time. Even with all those caveats and excuses, this soundtrack rocks. Everything is a pulse pounding, hi-octane, fast-paced banger of a track that fits the action perfectly. Alongside the music, the sound effects are really accurate to the action going on. You can hear the revving of the engines, the bumps and bruises of crashes, the pit zones giving you energy, all getting a distinct effect. Even if most people only know these songs from the Big Blue stage in Super Smash Bros, awesome has to start somewhere.
F-Zero is one of those everlasting games you can play any time and immediately catch on and get up to speed with it, thanks to a very competitive system of racing. With blazing fast speed and really well done controls, the competition starts high and stays there, keeping your fingers glued to the buttons at all times. The track layouts are well designed, complete with hairpin turns, straightaways, jumps, boosts, everything you need in a futuristic racing setting. Plus, the inclusion and implication of the various hazards are effectively done. You have things like rough terrain that slow your car down, ice that’s hard to turn on, strong winds that blow your car off track, and even electrified magnetic walls that pull you into damage. All on a brand new (For 1991) system launch title!
While I cannot give enough praise and compliments to the racing itself, that’s about the only real positive this game has going for it. For pure racing, it can’t be beat, but it certainly could be considered lackluster, especially without weapons involved. We are dealing with a futuristic setting; you mean to say there can’t be one missile in the game? And while the racing is highly competitive, there’s only 4 recognizable car models. The rest are these nameless cars whose sole purpose is to get in everyone’s way. To quote the famous philosopher, they must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and didn’t realize they’re in a race now. Which then leads into the biggest obstacle the game has: the bumper car physics when it comes to crashing. With no weapons to speak of, maneuverability becomes the name of the game. Trust me, if you even attempt to trade some paint with Samurai Goroh, you’ll start hitting walls like a teenager experiencing feelings. And not a little bounce or two—you get flung into the opposite wall, spun around, and get T-Boned by the other racers. Do you have any idea how hard it is to do a three point turn at 300 kilometers per hour?
The thing I find really interesting is the fact that this entry in the cult classic series, the one that started it all, has virtually no character. You have 4 playable cars, each with a unique design and some different stats, but that’s really it. No unlockable characters, no multiple color choices, no nothing. Hell, you don’t even see the drivers in the game. So you don’t really have that face of the franchise until possibly F-Zero X on the N64. And with no real set pieces in stages or even a familiar setting, it runs very close to being a somewhat bare bones experience. Plus, with only fifteen tracks, and a handful of difficulty settings, in theory, you can burn through this game quicker than a Hummer’s fuel efficiency. That is my only car joke, and I’m not sure if it’s even accurate anymore.
Overall, F-Zero comes across as a really high-end tech demo. It’s a polished product that could show off what the new machine could do, and it did exactly it’s job. The graphics, music, and gameplay make this stand out for late 1991. But with the lack of depth, unlocks, multiplayer, personality, and how short the game is, it is anything but a perfect package. While it was completely overshadowed by Super Mario Kart (which I have major issues with. You have an entire screen, but you’re only going to use half of it?), F-Zero offers an exquisitely unique presentation that will always keep fans begging for sequels.
What do you think? Is F-Zero worthy of the winner’s podium? Or does it need a pit stop? Head on over to the Boss Rush Discord and Facebook to let us know!
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