F-Zero エフゼロ Review (SNES)

The start of a true racing game legacy

F-Zero was many things to Nintendo when it was released. It marked the first high caliber racing game Nintendo developed themselves, starred the mature character in Captain Falcon, a bounty hunter for hire, and showcased the amazing graphical capabilities of Nintendo’s 16-bit platform.

Although the original F-Zero pales in comparison to today’s racers in terms of complexity and versatility, it carries a certain charm that cannot be denied.

F-Zero captivated players and brought them to the 26th century where humans and aliens alike complete for the ultimate title – being named the F-Zero champion. It would take mastery of control, course layout and a little luck to even hope to reach this goal, and F-Zero did this all while being a mere launch title.

So what makes this game is epically awesome? Doesn’t it have its share of flaws? What can you teach me about the history of this series? All this and more shall now be covered over the course of this review.

Premise

As a racing game, the premise of F-Zero is to cross the finish line in first place. Simple really, but under the higher difficulty settings and tougher courses, this is a lot easier said than done. Multiple difficulty levels give players of all skill a chance at victory. This is a single player focused Racer. No multiplayer.

Story

It is the 26th century. Man has ventured off into space to discover he is not alone. Far from it, many alien civilizations are quite like man himself: Interested in fame, fortune and  women. So naturally enough, high stakes thrill sports are commonplace. But nowhere are the stakes higher than the F-Zero Grand Prix, a championship racing series over dozens of planets where custom built high speed hover cars race at speeds illegal everywhere else.

Graphics

Utilizing the mode 7 sprite scaling capabilities of the Super Nintendo, F-Zero is a pseudo-3D racing game in a time when most games struggled with even the simplest of 3D graphical flares. The game is played in a third person view behind the car view which was universally used for racing games at the time, and is still used in racers today.

Using the system’s abilities to render sprites at different sizes while warping and rotating others, F-Zero’s engine simply looked stunning for its time. Even today’s most graphic savvy gamer can easily detect the appeal of the graphics used in F-Zero.

The game’s courses are each varied and distinctive. Despite everything being completely flat, Mute City makes you feel as if you’re racing above a bustling city. Big Blue gives the impression the race track is the only place above water for miles around, and so on.

Even though the Super Nintendo would go on to really show us some pretty graphics, launch title F-Zero continues to hold its own as one of the best looking game on the system.

Audio

What would a racer be without awesome music to accompany the action? Luckily, it seems Nintendo asked themselves this question and delivered the goods in spades. Composed by Yumiko Kametani and Naoto Ishida, the original F-Zero boasts the most memorable soundtrack in any F-Zero game to date. It’s fast, frantic style fits the game very well and it’s the sort of music you just can’t hear enough of.  A true treat for the ears.

Here’s a sample of just one of the many awesome tracks in F-Zero

Gameplay

Four cars, fifteen tracks and more twists and turns than you’ll know what to do with. The gameplay in F-Zero is solid, for the most part. Each track in the game has five laps, two laps longer than most racing games. Once you complete a lap, you get an “S” to store. An “S” gives you a temporary speed boost that can mean the difference between first and second place. You can carry up to 3 “S”‘s at once, giving the player the ability to boost up to 3 times on a single lap.

Like an action game, F-Zero uses a health meter, called here the “Power Gage”. Whenever you collide with an object weather it be another racer, the course guardrails or a mine, you loose energy. Loose all your energy and your car will explode. Luckily though, on every track is a pit stop that you can drive through to regain some lost energy.

Although there are four distinctive hover cars in the game, only the Fire Stingray is worth using. The Blue Falcon, Golden Fox and Wild Goose all suffer from low grip and poor handling, and in a game where precision movement is vital they are immediately tossed out of the realm of possibilities. If not for the Fire Stingray, F-Zero would be unplayable.

Thankfully though, the Fire Stingray is here to save the day. Weighing in at nearly 2 tons, it has the best handling in the game, and at 478km/h the Fire Stingray is also the fastest craft in the game. Its sturdy body can also take the most amount of damage of any of the cars. Due to its heavy weight though, it has the weakest acceleration.

While the gameplay elements would definitely be expanded upon in later F-Zero titles, the original game still manages to hold its own.

Control

F-Zero has flawless controls. The d pad moves your craft left and right. Once you hit a jump, hold down to tilt your craft so you make a smooth landing. The B button provides the accelerator. Y breaks. A boosts. Hold in L or R when going around a turn to make a tight turn. X is unmapped. Start pauses and Select moves the cursor around menu choices.

Fun Factor

Since before recorded history, people have always found thrill in competitive races. The sudden rush feeling of traveling at extreme speeds while under pressure to remain in control is alive and well in F-Zero. Travel the straights of Death Wind while the gale forces push your craft around, or defy nature as you race above the surface of a star in Fire Field. It’s all awesome.

Frustration

F-Zero requires mastery at higher difficulties, but beyond that there isn’t a whole lot that’s frustrating about the game. The practice mode lets you get used to the twists and turns of the gameís stages and can easily be the difference between victory and defeat. The AI isn’t cheap and nothing happens unexpectedly.

System availability & Price:

F-Zero was first released with the launch of the Super Famicom in 1990 and the Super Nintendo in 1991. Since then, the game has also appeared on the Wii Virtual Console in all regions around the world. Beyond the VC, there have never been any ports to any other systems.

Prices are tame for the original F-Zero. If by some chance you don’t own it already, here’s the rundown of prices. On average, you should expect to pay between just $1-15 for the Super Nintendo version, just $3-20 for the Super Famicom version, and 800 points for the Wii Virtual Console version. If you have an HDTV, I would personally recommend the Wii VC version only because of the ability to play this short game in high definition. F-Zero’s Japanese Super Famicom release is identical to that of the North American one, so import away.

History

Development of F-Zero started in 1988 during the peak of the Famicom and NES’s popularity. During early development, a full roster of 20 racers and their cars were designed, but due to technical limitations of the then experimental Super Famicom hardware, all but four were dropped from the final release. As a result, the remaining 16 cars were designed around a single model and were all merely different colors of the same craft. This explains the seemingly misplaced filler cars that populate the race track.

F-Zero’s legacy is one of praise and glory. It has been called the fastest and smoothest pseudo-3D racing game of its time, and offered a level of realism unmatched for some time after.

Sometime around 1995, Nintendo started working on an F-Zero sequel for the Super Nintendo to take advantage of their then in depth knowledge of the hardware and larger cartridge sizes available.

However, like many Super NES games under development at the time, F-Zero 2 was canceled in its early stages due to the soon to be released Nintendo 64. Nintendo felt that their talents could be better put to use working on a title for that system, which ultimately didn’t arrive until 1998.

In Japan, one of the most unique and simi-popular add-ons for the Super Famicom was the Satellaview. The Satellaview was a satellite modem that attached at the bottom of the console, allowing Japanese gamers to download game titles and various other things directly from an orbital dish at certain times of the day.

The unfinished F-Zero 2 was released as a Broadcast Satellaview game, or BS for short. The full title of the game became BS F-Zero 2 Grand Prix.

BS F-Zero 2 Grand Prix reuses the same graphics engine, play mechanics, and music from the first F-Zero, making it more akin to a rom hack of the original game than a stand-alone title.

Although there are four new cars, they are all identical to the ones from the first game except in appearance.

There is only one league in the game called the Ace League, which in has five new courses.  These tracks are all extremely difficult and even crossing the finish line is a feat in some of them.

Overall

Good

  • Amazing Graphics
  • Top-Notch Music
  • Spot-on Control
  • Competitive AI
  • Challenging Courses
  • Four Distinctive Hover cars

Bad

  • The limitation of only four racers is disappointing when you consider that most of its sequels have 30 or more
  • The duplicate filler cars that populate the race track often get in your way
  • No multiplayer at all
  • You can’t run time trails on all 15 courses

Conclusion

With all things considered, F-Zero is an amazing game that has stood the test of time remarkably well. If you don’t already own it, well what’s wrong with you? Go get it! Its super cheap and totally awesome.

Oh, and if you were wondering how I managed to write this review so quickly it’s because I had previously written it. Over two years ago. Here’s my original video review!

Data

Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Famicom, Wii Virtual Console

Genre: Racing

Release Date: August 23, 1991

Developer: Nintendo E.A.D

Publisher: Nintendo

Also from the developer: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3, F-Zero X, F-Zero Maximum Velocity, etc

Game Length: 3 hours

ESRB: Nonexistent at the time, but re-released as “E”

Buy, rent or skip: Buy

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