Retro Game Review! SNES, F-Zero

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

If the thought of a “zero gravity racing game on the SNES” sounds about as exciting as stabbing yourself in the ear with a spoon, then you might want to read on. Not, I might add, due to my sadistic tendencies, but because this game is an absolute gem.

In essence, F-Zero is a racing game. A very shrewd move from the game developers, in fact. Where they could have put some wheels on the vehicles, had them skidding aroung the track, they chose not to. And as such, they lifted away the physical limitations of a wheeled vehicle.

So, what we have here, Ladies and Gentlemen, is Mario Kart SNES, on speed, with no wheels. And it’s fantastic!

The game is slightly limited in playable levels, but no more than similar but later racing games such as wipeout. What I’m saying is, it’s not Project Gotham. You have three leagues, “Knight, Queen and King”, and three difficulty levels within those, “beginner, standard and expert”. To be honest, this is enough. It would be nice to have a slightly more shallow learning curve though, as even later on in the beginner league, it begins to get frustrating. Each league has a seperate set of tracks, although they may be in the same “city”. The arrangement of leagues vs tracks is akin to Mario Kart.

It’s not difficult to complete the game on beginner. Once you get the hang of the controls, which are oddly the same as Wipeout, (shoulder buttons to tilt the craft on corners to give extra turn power), you will sail through the first two levels. From then on, you will start to feel the challenges of the game, as the corners get tighter and more obstacles get in your way, including but not limited to ice, or blobs that damage you, or even edges to the track that you can fall off. And one track also punishes you with strong gusts of wind.

On the harder leagues, it’s as frustrating as Wipeout. Seriously, you find that there becomes a sort of imaginary magnetism between the controller and the screen. The other players’ AI becomes increasingly defensive, and they’re almost always behind you, waiting for you to take a corner a little too slowly, or to bump into one of the seemingly endless supply of droids that seem to exist solely to get in your way by driving slowly infront of you, like a pizza boy on a moped, or a self righteous cyclist who won’t move over on a country lane.

Easy straights on level 1...

Easy straights on track 1...

...not so easy hairpins on track 3!

...not so easy hairpins on track 3!

You choose between four vehicles.¬†Each has its own characteristics. The yellow one is rubbish. The blue one is pretty good. Other than that, it depends on your personal preference and ability. If you keep hitting stuff, you’ll be wanting the biggest acceleration. If you’re good at missing stuff, you’ll want a high top speed.

Four cars to choose from, the blue one is a good starting point for sure.

Four cars to choose from, the blue one is a good starting point for sure.

The game is fast. This is good. A lot of racing games of this time really didn’t give you the illusion of speed. F-Zero really does. You may actually find yourself tilting the controller, perhaps even your body, as you go round the corners. The speed and responsiveness is what really makes the game fun to play.

Winning the game is a matter of coming first. Each lap of the game has a “Safe” ranking which you must achieve in order not to be kicked out of the race before its ending. In the easier levels, this is not typically a problem unless you mess up real bad. However in the harder leagues and with the higher difficulty, you might find this becomes a problem.

Get out of my way, stupid droid, I've got a deadline here!

Get out of my way, stupid droid, I've got a deadline here!

Power is another factor thrown into the race. You are given a full power bar at the start, and every time you hit something, this is decreased, by a factor of what you’ve hit, and how hard. Run out of power and you explode, quite literally. There is a pit style area where you can power up on each lap. Indeed on some tracks, the pit is compulsory, you can not help but pass through it.

Power up!

Power up!

Ka-boom! Oops, power failure!

Ka-boom! Oops, power failure!

I can’t really do this entire review without mentioning the two magic words at least once. “Mode 7″. There, I’ve done it. The game is what it is because of Mode 7 graphics. That is, the ability to rotate and warp what is essentially a giant picture, i.e. the track. You note that the track looks especially flat as a result of this. But, it works. It works very well, in fact.

Well, it’s score time. Overall scores:
Graphics: 8/10, nice, but not the main focus of this game. If you want good graphics, find a slower game.

Gameplay: 10/10. You will come back again and again.

Lastability: 8/10. Completing it will take a very very long time. Most gamers won’t. But, lack of ability to save between levels and relatively steep curve between tracks can make it hard to keep you playing forever.

Worth Playing? Are you mad? Of course it is. Stop reading this and go play!

One Response to “Retro Game Review! SNES, F-Zero”

  • F-Zero is one of my all-time favourite SNES games. You’re entirely right – I keep coming back to this thing, over and over again, even though I’m unable to finish one particular track in the King league (I forgot its name – it’s the one with the ridiculous jump halfway, right after a turn).

    The music never seems to bore me, in fact that’s one of the reasons I love to pick it up again. Awesome!

    Another thing I noticed is that the yellow spacerocket is actually one of the better ones, as long as you maintain your momentum. It’s the fastest car by far as long as it is fully accelerated, and you’ll consistently lose if you don’t drive the yellow spaceship in harder leagues.

    Anyway thumbs up for reviewing this more obscure game, it deserves the attention!

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