|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
A common strategy when releasing a new system is to provide new versions of classic hits. With the Nintendo 64, Super Mario and Pilotwing were given immediate facelifts; but it isn't until now, two years later, that we revisit the first Super NES racing game in the form of F-Zero X.
It was well worth the wait.
F-Zero is a futuristic racer with thirty vehicles speeding on 3D courses set high over the ground that dip, spin, curve, and loop. Whoever can survive the onslaught and earn the most points, wins!
Some original F-Zero courses have been updated to the 64-bit system, but most are new. The racing system has changed: there are still four difficulty settings, but there are four cups of six courses each, with three laps to a race. "Turbo" speed boosts may be used as often as wished after the first lap, but deplete's one's energy, making it possible to literally race yourself to death.
At first look, the graphics may seem bland: the cars are small and drab, and the almost nonexistent backgrounds have little to do with the courses. (example: there are no trees in Devil's Forest) But once the race starts, the processing power of the N64 kicks in at 60 frames per second. Curves rush forward at blinding speeds, and jumps materialize quicker than thought, all with the player and 29 other cars on-screen simultaneously. It's enough to make one jump for joy.
The soundtrack is sometimes a remix on the original F-Zero tunes, other times new material, but always fast and rocking. An announcer occasionally has a few words to say, and is intelligible despite sounding like he's drowning. Other sound effects are minimal but effective.
Control is also simple: gas, brake, turbo. Additional steering buttons make for tight turns or power slides, but almost as important is the ability to attack opponents by crashing into them. Doing so ruins their chances of winning while improving the player's health and status.
There are so many ways to play F-Zero, it's hard to count. 18 courses are available initially, with six more later, and then a hidden X-Cup which features randomly-generated courses with every play. Although the possibilities are endless, they do not capture the imaginative design of the preset courses.
Although there are four difficulty settings, F-Zero is tough at any level. Even the best racers should start on Novice to get a feel for the game.
Besides the Grand Prix, there are also Training and Time Attack modes, and a Death Race, the goal of which is to eliminate all 29 competitors as quickly as possible. And, like all the best Nintendo 64 games, F-Zero supports up to four players.
Although racing is a popular and well-populated genre on the N64, F-Zero rises above them all. With clever course design, pure, aggressive driving, and many modes of play including multiplayer, it offers many reasons to play and to continue playing. When a racing game comes along that's this good, there are zero reasons to pass it up.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 26-Oct-98