A tough, futuristic racer

User Rating: 8 | F-Zero SNES

In 1991, Nintendo released its futuristic racer F-Zero on the SNES. At the time of release, F-Zero's graphics were somewhat impressive; Nintendo's "Mode 7" created the illusion of 3D by scaling and rotation of bit-mapped tiles. Although it looks a bit simple and dated by today's standards, the graphics do not hinder the game-play. It's worth noting that the soundtrack is pretty cool, some of which are fairly iconic like Big Blue which features in the 'Super Smash Bros.' series.

There are three tournament's in Grand Prix mode; Knight, Queen, King. These can be played in four difficulty levels; Easy, Standard, Expert and the unlockable Master. There is a Time Trial mode, but no Multiplayer.

In some retro racing games, if you fail the course, you don't proceed. This is true for F-Zero. The races are Elimination style, where a few vehicles from the 15 are eliminated in each lap. Being eliminated or losing your energy means you lose a 'Spare Machine' and have to replay the race again. If you lose all Spare Machines, then you have to start over. You begin with 2 spare machines and you can acquire an extra machine when you accrue 10,000 points. These points are awarded depending on what position you finished each lap.

There are 5 laps in each race, each taking around 30 seconds. On paper, this sounds like the game isn't going to take you long at all, but the game is pretty difficult. You will soon rack up a fair few hours if you work your way up through the difficulty levels and try out the games' four vehicles. The vehicles include Blue Falcon (Captain Falcon), Golden Fox (Dr. Robert Stewart), Wild Goose (Pico), and Fire Stingray (Samurai Goroh). Each has different strength, handling, acceleration and speed.

You start each race just behind the other three main cars, with the eleven generic opponents behind you. In terms of controls, B is accelerate, Y is brake, A uses your Super Jet (boost) and the shoulder buttons are used for leaning. Leaning without turning just edges your car slightly in that direction which is really useful for dodging obstacles, and leaning whilst turning gives you a sharp turn. Each time you pass the starting line, you are awarded a Super Jet. In order to succeed, you need to plan using your boost to fully utilise its benefit, and to become skilful at cornering; knowing when to ease off the accelerator and when to apply the brakes.

Each track has its own colour scheme and characteristics. The tracks include Mute City, Big Blue, Sand Ocean, Death Wind, Silence, Port Town, Red Canyon, White Land, Fire Field. There are various versions of these, simply defined with a number e.g. Mute City II. Death Wind is an interesting track because the map looks simple, but your vehicle is affected by the invisible, powerful winds which pushes your vehicle. Some of the tracks are just brutal with various hairpins, chicanes and traps littered throughout the course.

The tracks can feature various terrain which affects your vehicle. There are ice-like patches which cause you to skid, rough patches which cause you to slow down, and areas that drain your vehicles power. There's various other types of hazards too such as mines and magnets, and helpful dash arrows which give you a free boost of speed. Jump plates hurl your vehicle into the air, which can be either dangerous or advantageous. You can control your vehicle in mid-air in all directions. This can mean you cut corners or jump over obstacles, but care must be taken because landing off-course is instant death. The game's instructions don't seem to list the fact that pressing down on the d-pad extends your jump and pressing up cuts it short. Extending your jump is vital in Whiteland II which has a large gap in the track.

Your car has limited energy and will deplete when you crash into a racer, barriers or hit specific obstacles and terrain. The thing is, the handling is pretty slippy, and due to the amount of racers on the course, the thin roads, and the tightly contested battles for the podium places, you will often collide with other races which can lead to some very frustrating situations. For example, when you get hit from behind and pinball around the course, draining your energy and slowing you down further. Finding yourself in this situation on the higher difficulties can make it impossible to finish on the podium. Even though cars are eliminated, they stay on the track, so no matter what position you are in, you often find there are vehicles that serve no purpose other than to get in your way. On a positive note, a 'Check' marker appears when a vehicle is approaching to overtake, giving you some warning of a possible collision.

Each course has a Pit area which is used to replenish your energy. You simply drive over this area without any loss of speed, although slowing down will allow you to replenish more energy.

The game is fast and very challenging so you have to be pretty patient and dedicated to beat it on Expert, never mind the Master difficulty setting. There's definitely times where the game will stress you out, either by yourself making a minor mistake or just by having a bit of bad luck. The Expert and Master difficulties are definitely for the hardcore gamer, but casual games could have some fun with the Easy and Standard difficulties. Overall, it's a great racing game, but I felt it would have been nice to have a mode where you move onto the next race, no matter what position you finished in.