Genre: Racing Game
Rating: E for Everyone
Original Release Date: August 13, 1991
Virtual Console Release Date: November 19, 2006
Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Virtual Console
Number of Players: 1
F-Zero has a very unique plot in that very little is mentioned about the plot in the game itself. The instructional booklet that came with the original SNES game, as well as the overview on the Shop Channel have background information, but the game itself is sheer gameplay.
In the year 2560, Earth has had continuing contact with alien lifeforms. However, instead of spawning wars and violence, the multiple planets began trade routes, trading cultures and technology. A lot of people began making money off intergalactic trade hand-over-fist, and began to get bored raking in cash, apparently, and used their earnings to fund the F-Zero races, based off the F-1 races. The brutal races were dubbed F-Zero and from that Shigeru Miyamoto added yet one more title to his army of best-sellers.
Like many SNES games, the gameplay for F-Zero was very simple. Only four vehicles were available, but the essential gameplay was great for 1991. F-Zero's gameplay can be summarized into five categories, practice, Grand Prix, obstacle tactics, recovery, and car selection. Some parts are less important than others, but they all factor in in their own way.
Practice makes perfect. Personally, I spent more time in the practice mode than Grand Prix mode. The essentials of practice mode are simple, to work on your skills with a certain car on a certain track against a certain enemy. First, choose the car you want to hone your skills on. I will elaborate on choosing a car later. Then, choose from a track you have unlocked to work on. Only seven tracks are available when you start the game, including the famous Big Blue and Mute City. Finally, chose a rival, or no rival. Four rivals are available, the same four cars as you can chose from. The games autosave feature saves record times for laps and tracks.
Second most importantly is the games main feature, the Grand Prix. The best game I can compare the Grand Prix mode to would be Mario Kart 64, in that once you choose a cup and a class, the games begin. The main difference between this and Mario Kart is based on two things: damage and rank. In Mario Kart, all 8 racers race all the time, and no matter what rank you are in you have a shot to make it back to first (provided the race doesn't end first). In F-Zero, if you pass under a certain rank you automatically fail the race. The rank limit starts at 15, and since only 15 cars are in the race you cannot fail on the first lap. With each lap the limit decreases until you have to be in the top 3 to pass the race. The other detail is damage. In the upper left hand corner, and "Power" meter is shown, and it gradually goes down as you hit things. Going too close to the edge of the track with slow down you car and damage your power. If you hit an obstacle your power meter will go down, etc. When your meter reaches zero, you will explode and lose. Also, if you use a jump to go out of bounds you will explode and lose.
Third, obstacle tactics. Obstacles litter most tracks, some more than others, and lead-foot petal-to-the-metal driving can cause you to hit them. For instance, on "Silence" red land mines are the consequence for trying to take a shortcut, and they will greatly decrease your power meter. On "Port Town II" you must steer straight on a jump to clear a where there is no track, which falling on will cause you to lose. Some obstacle tactics are simple, such as steering sharper (L and R) or slowing down. Racers who have a need for speed are the easiest to beat, because they pay no attention to obstacles.
Recovery is a very, very simple tactic. On each track, generally in the beginning, there is a flashing recovery zone. When you drive through the zone, a yellow vehicle floats above you and sends down a tractor beam that recovers your power meter. However, if you simply speed through the zone your power will not benefit much, so to utilize the zone you must slow down or even stop to recover a nearly dead vehicle. This sets up a give-and-take scenario of speed and power that varies the gameplay and the results a lot.
Lastly, car selection. Four vehicles are available, a blue one, the famed Blue Falcon, a yellow one, a green one and a pink one. The Blue Falcon has extreme acceleration, but a lower top speed. One the opposite end of the spectrum, Samurai Goroh's vehicle, the pink one, has less acceleration, but with a steady hand you can reach a higher top speed. Depending on your style and skill, you will have to rationalize about which car to use. For example, the Wild Goose (the green vehicle) is more suited for tracks with many turns but some straight zones, because it has a balance of speed, but handling for turns, while the Blue Falcon may be more suited for many turns and no straight zones type of tracks, because with the constant slowing down turns require you will never reach top speed anyway.
F-Zero jumped the gun on repetitive 1990's music. Each track has it's own short little loop-song. The songs were more creative than say, Uniracers or Top Gear, two other SNES racing games, but for a Miyamoto work I found the sounds disappointing. I have to give credit where it's due, though, some songs from this first installment made it all the way to current hit games such as the theme of Mute City in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, so I gave sounds a decent grade.
F-Zero may have sold it's one million copies and made the Player's Choice line resting on one thing alone: graphics. When reviewing a game, it's more important to look more at how were the graphics received then than now. In 1991 Mode 7, a style of simulating 3 dimensions exclusive to the SNES, was revolutionary. By moving the background around the vehicle as opposed to a side scrolling style racer like Uniracers, a previously mentioned SNES hit, Nintendo upped the ante on racing games by putting them in 3rd person view. To test the Mode 7 interface, I placed a sticky-note with my own hand-drawn F-Zero car on it over the part of the screen where the car is. I could then play the game as my own vehicle, because in reality the car doesn't move out of place, the screen moves around it. This creates an optical illusion of speed that made today's racers the adrenaline-pumpers they are instead of a poor side-scroller.
Honestly, I have little to say good or bad about F-Zero's longevity. While it doesn't have a terribly short amount of replay value, it isn't amazingly long either, which is common of racing games. I gave it more than an average grade simply because I still play it today on my SNES, and because it has a legacy that made it one of the first virtual console games to be released.
Storyline. There is no storyline in the game itself, just cut and dry races. I would have liked to see some plot, but sadly there is none. The other two things that disappoint me are the multiplayer (or lack thereof) and the cliches. There is only a one player mode, including on the virtual console. While the Mode 7 sets it apart from other racers, at least the other racers have multiplayer. Also, the concept is very cliche. Futuristic games got old after Speed Racer and Transformers, but Miyamoto and Co. have seemed to crank out one more in a mildly decent manner.
Some games will never be classics. No one will ever say "Oh E.T. I loved that game when I was a kid!" or "I wish I still owned a copy of NHL '94". F-Zero is a big exception. F-Zero is a classic all the way. I was talking to a friend of mine who grew up in Algeria circa 1991, no joke, and when he saw I had a copy of the original Algeria he told me he loved that game at my age. That shows how worldwide classics spread, and I highly recommend spending your eight dollars on this racing game.
85%. Letter Grade: B