Retro Scope: F-Zero X

Robin feels the thrill of F-Zero X.

By Robin Wilde. Posted 05/02/2013 10:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

I often find myself thinking of racing games in rather unflattering terms. Certainly, their emphasis on ‘get to the thing first’ puts them very firmly in the gameplay-focused category of video games and my penchant for a strong story and engaging characters often means I can’t find a lot to get excited about. Nintendo seems to be a company that feels much the same, having only two popular racing series among their repertoire– the quirky and fast-paced Mario Kart games and the futuristic high-speed racing of F-Zero.

When I bought my first Nintendo 64 back in 2007 (for I was one of those annoying kids born too late for gaming’s golden age) I got hold of it with six games, but the one I was least able to tear myself away from was F-Zero X.

F-Zero X follows much the same trajectory as the other F-Zero games in that it takes place on a series of airborne tracks populated by about two dozen jet-fuelled racers zooming around at frankly unsafe speeds. What distinguished this game from its SNES predecessor, though, was the improved hardware of the console. It allowed for the use of 3D effects which simply had not been possible on SNES, and instead of merely handling tight turns and jumps, players could now direct their character to wrap around angled and circular sections of track, such that it really did feel futuristic and exhilarating.

In these days of high definition and bloom effects all over the place, the graphical fidelity of F-Zero X is probably not tremendously impressive, but it’s worth noting that, in my opinion at least, it had some of the finest visuals on the Nintendo 64. The menu graphics were all well-drawn and suitably arcade styled, while the aforementioned airborne tracks had high-polygon models and very vivid visual effects. Of particular note are the racers themselves, which look fantastic– almost GameCube quality– and zooming around the track gave them a particularly large draw distance.

Still, I would be remiss not to mention the real draw of the game, and that’s its many different modes and options. Sure, you could easily push through the main tournaments in a few hours if you had reasonable patience and enough beta blockers to stave off the insanity brought on by the maddening difficulty. You could leave the game there, never touching the other modes, but then you’d be missing out on what made F-Zero X such a classic game– of course, I’m talking about Death Race.

Death Race was a minigame of sorts, but it managed to occupy a dozen hours of my time in my younger years. Rather than following the race format of the other F-Zero X modes, Death Race was, as the title suggests, a fight to be the last racer alive from a starting pack of thirty. It was based on zooming around a track bashing other cars at extremely high speed in order to kill their occupants– subject matter rather adult for a Nintendo game, it has to be said. It was hard, too. Colliding with other vehicles harmed yours too, and unless you wanted to meet your maker in a fiery fashion, it was in your interest to keep healing using the pads on the side of the road. Don’t repair often enough? Death for you.

It would be very refreshing to see F-Zero revived for a new generation, since it’s been a whole decade since the GameCube installment and Mario Kart is a little slow for my tastes. Hey, if we can bring back Earthbound, anything can happen!

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