Nintendo are a very special company. I’m sure that’s news to absolutely no one, but when you look back on their various franchises and all the good times they’ve brought us, something becomes apparent that isn’t common in the gaming industry: in most of Nintendo’s franchises, there is not one singular high point that bests the other games in the series. Here’s a few examples: Mario has Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy, Paper Mario, the Bros. series, World, Yoshi’s Island and many more amazing entries. There is not one definite best game; everyone will have their own favourite. The same goes for the Zelda and Metroid series; there are so many high-quality titles in them that it’s hard to distinguish which one is truly the best.
The same can be said for one of Nintendo’s cult series, F-Zero. The SNES debut was a graphical revolution, employing high quality sprites and Mode-7 which allowed tracks to scale and rotate around your vehicle to create the illusion of steering. The releases in this series were few and far between, with only three home console releases between 1990 and 2003. The Gamecube release, F-Zero GX, followed in the footsteps of the original by pushing the console’s hardware to its limits, creating a visual experience that is still impressive today, but more on that in a later reflection.
In between these two releases came F-Zero X for the Nintendo 64. In many ways, it was the black sheep of the series, lacking the graphical prowess to really sell the system as well as the complexity and attention to detail found in GX. In other areas, however, F-Zero X can be seen as the best of the bunch, and its evident as soon as you power up your N64.
Mute City…? Hardly
It’s the perfect introduction to one of the most fun racing games of all time.
A blazing guitar hook presents the Nintendo 64 logo and seconds later you’re thrust face first into a badass title screen accompanied by a cheesy, yet somewhat mind blowing solo. It’s the perfect introduction to one of the most fun racing games of all time.
As the menu screams into view, you’re greeted by six ample-chested women holding up various options and modes of play. The real meat of the game is found in the GP Race, which is where you’ll spend 99% of your F-Zero racing career. There’s also options for time attack and practice modes, as well as a fiendishly addictive multiplayer mode, but more on that later.
The GP Race is split into cups, much like in the Mario Kart series. Initially you have access to three cups: Jack, Queen and King. Each contained six tracks to conquer at impossibly high speeds. After selecting your desired cup, you’d select which vehicle you wanted to race with. In a move away from the SNES original, ships had performance grades to show how well they’d…well…perform, in certain areas. Ships were graded in accordance to their Body power (how much damage the ship can take), Boost power (the effectiveness of the ship’s boost, a burst of speed that unlocks on the second lap of every race, but drains some health when activated) and Grip (how well the ship handles turning).
As you progressed through the cups and difficulties, you’d be given access to more vehicles and tracks by way of an additional Joker cup (which even features a futuristic rendition of Rainbow Road), and finally the X Cup, a completely ridiculous addition that would randomly generate a course; some of which were almost impossible to finish based on their composition.
The tracks themselves are stars in their own right. There are a many memorable examples, like Big Blue’s giant cylinder, or Fire Field’s high jump, as well as the aforementioned Rainbow Road (subtitled Psychedelic Experience in the game) and a giant hand. Yes, one of the tracks was called Big Hand and it was just that. A big hand. Great work, Nintendo!
The tracks were made even more fun by the fact that there were thirty ships on the course at a time, and you were even able to kill off the opposition via a shunt or spin of your own ship. This was a risky but hilarious way of regenerating health and gaining extra lives.
Big Blue Brilliance
Yes, the game’s incredible speed and smooth framerate came at a price.
The music is by far the best thing in this game, and it’s still badass to this day. Composed of speed metal and nothing but speed metal, the soundtrack in F-Zero X is borderline cheesy, but at the same time gets the adrenaline flowing and is just, in a word, awesome. Metal renditions of the original Mute City and Big Blue themes make an appearance, with all other tracks having original compositions. It’s genuinely one of the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time.
The same can’t be said for the game’s announcer. His bellows of “You’ve got boost power!” and “Woah! You’re way out in front!” were super compressed to the point that you’d think Nintendo made him record his lines with his face submerged in a bowl of water. This was one of many areas Nintendo had to cut down on to achieve the blistering speed seen in the game.
Yes, the game’s incredible speed and smooth framerate came at a price. The graphics in this game are poor, even at the time of release time. Ships look like cereal box art projects, the tracks are bland and lifeless with the occasional poster of building thrown in for good measure, and the backgrounds wouldn’t look out of place in a SNES game. The worlds where these tracks are situated are simply differentiated by their song, background and colour of the sky. But to be honest, if you go into this game looking for sheer graphical prowess, you’re sort of missing the point. F-Zero X is about going really fast and having fun while you’re doing it.
Shunt Me If You Dare
F-Zero X’s multiplayer is a blast. It’s basically the standard game, but with up to four players. The best part about it is if you’re killed during the race, you were presented a slot machine-style interface. If you matched three of the same picture you could deal damage to your friends, making those final laps incredibly intense.
Lastly, an expansion pack for the game was released in Japan for the ill-fated 64DD system. The expansion featured new tracks, as well as a ship and track editor for added customisation. It’s a shame such features couldn’t have been made more accessible. These were probably too big an addition for the base game to include, although later F-Zero titles did feature similar modes.
Still Quick Out Of The Blocks
As a game, F-Zero X could be seen as merely a nostalgic novelty were it not for its sheer amount of charm, as well as just how fun the game is overall. The combination of ridiculous speeds, satisfying handling and shrewd track design help create a racing experience unlike anything before it. For those of you who love exploring gaming’s past, definitely check out this N64 gem, and for long-time series fans, why not strap on those rose-tinted racing goggles? This is a racer that holds up even to this day.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then check the video retro reflection here.