F-Zero . . . it's like the original version of Podracing, and it's fantastic!

User Rating: 9.5 | F-Zero SNES
F-Zero for the Super Nintendo is a futuristic racing game where instead of steering cars around a track, players get to navigate futuristic space ships that hover just feet off the ground, through crazy race tracks that feature all manner of pitfalls! Do you have the guts, and the racing finesse, to complete the three circuits this game has to offer and become the ultimate racing champion?

From F-Zero's main menu you have three choices, the first of which is titled "Grand Prix", which encompasses the main mode of the game. In Grand Prix mode there are three racing circuits you can choose to compete in, but first things first you have to select your vehicle. There are four options in total, including the Blue Falcon, Golden Fox, Wild Goose, and Fire Stingray. When you select one of these vehicles a screen will pull up showing it's vital statistics, including it's engine unit, max power, max speed, weight, and acceleration. At this screen you either confirm your choice or go back and select something different. Once you've decided on your vehicle you then have to choose which circuit you want to race in. Like I said there are three choices, the easiest circuit is "Knight League" (consisting of 5 races at Mute City I, Big Blue, Sand Ocean, Death Wind I and Silence, respectively), the middle circuit is "Queen League" (consisting of 5 races at Mute City II, Port Town I, Red Canyon I, White Land I and White Land II, respectively), and the hardest circuit is "King League" (consisting of 5 races at Mute City III, Death Wind II, Port Town II, Red Canyon II and Fire Field, respectively). The final step is to select which Class you want to race in, which is basically just a difficulty level selection. Your options here are Beginner, Standard, or Expert. Once you confirm this detail you are whisked away to the first race of your respective circuit. If you manage to achieve the minimum finishing requirements for all five races (each race is 5 laps long, fyi) and not get blown up in the process, then you have completed the circuit and won the day!

Back at the main menu the second option is called "Practice". Setting this mode up is pretty much exactly the same as in Grand Prix mode, actually. First off you select which vehicle you want to use. Once you've done this you can select which of the other vehicles you want to race against as your rival, but if you want to fly solo then just select the No Rival option instead. The last step is to pick which track you want to race at, but note that the selection is limited to just seven of them, including Mute City I, Big Blue, Sand Ocean, Death Wind I, Silence, White Land I, and Port Town II. Once you've selected your track you are then taken to your track of choice to practice, where you complete five laps around the track only with no rival racers (except for the one, if you've chosen to do so) and no consequences. Practice mode is simply a means of setting top times and memorizing track layouts without the usual outside interference.

The third and final option from the main menu is "Records". When you select this option you will be taken to a menu that displays all of the race track names in the game, grouped in bunches of five according to what League they fall under. When you select any of the individual race tracks a screen will pull up that displays the top 10 overall times at that track, a map of the track in question, as well as the fastest lap ever recorded there. When you shut the game off these records don't get wiped either, they are saved for good!

Now, once you are out on the track in F-Zero there are many things to watch out for and be wary of. First and foremost are the other racers, they are a pain in the arse and can cause your vehicle a lot of damage if they get in your way and you start colliding. Another main danger are the sides of the track, represented by coloured orbs. These orbs are electrified or something and will cause your vehicle damage if you come in to contact with them, so it's a danger of the ever present variety. Sometimes just the layout of the track itself can be an issue as well, with many hairpin turns and wacky, awkward layouts to navigate. On top of these there are many environmental objects that come along from time to time that can impact your journey along a stretch of track. These include rough patches of ground that cause your vehicle to slow down significantly, patches of ground that are slippery, patches of ground that function much as the sides of the track do and cause your vehicle damage, magnetic beams that attempt to draw your vehicle towards the sides of the track, hell, on a couple of tracks even the wind works as your enemy! Another more rare threat are land mines, they only appear a couple of times throughout the game but they can be devastating. Ramps are present fairly often and are kind of two sided. If you jump off of them properly you can gain time and positions on other racers, but if you take them poorly you can end up dropping in to the abyss beside the race track and losing in a pretty unstylish fashion! The only truly good thing to watch out for on the race tracks of F-Zero are the recharge zones, which usually appear right after the start/finish line, off to the side, and are represented by horizontal red and yellow lines. When you enter this zone a space ship drops down from above and recharges your vehicle, recouping some or all of the power you've lost during the race, depending on how long you stay in the zone and how much power you've lost to begin with.

As for F-Zero's game screen, there is a fair bit of information presented for you to digest. In the upper left hand corner you will see your current game score (you receive points when you cross the start/finish line after each lap and for completing the race). Just below your score is an icon indicating your current rank in the race you are competing in, and just to the right of this number is your "safe" position indicator. Basically in order to continue on in any given race you must complete each lap in a position higher than the number indicated in this display. With each passing lap the number displayed in this indicator gets higher and higher, so you must save your best performance for late in the race as it gets much harder because there is less room for error. If you complete a lap outside of the minimum position indicator's range, you lose the race and are forced to spend a continue to try again. In the upper right hand corner of the screen you'll see a power gauge filled with a red/pink colour. As you take damage out on the track this gauge will become depleted, if you lose all your power your vehicle blows up and you are once again forced to spend a continue to try again. Conversely, you can refill this gauge using the game's recharge zones, as I talked about in the paragraph above. Just below your power gauge you'll see a speedometer that indicates your vehicle's current velocity, and just below this you'll find a timer indicating your total elapsed race time. In the bottom left hand corner of the screen is a basic map that shows the layout of the race track and your current position within it. And finally in the bottom right hand corner you will see a small icon of your ship with a number beside it. This number represents how many continues you have at your disposal. You begin each game with two continues, but more can be earned out on the track (you gain an extra continue for every 10000 points accrued). Just below your continues indicator are three icons in the shape of S's, when they fill with green that means you have earned a nitro (you earn a nitro every time you complete a lap, but can only carry a maximum of three at any given time).

There are other screens to be aware of as you make your way through F-Zero as well. After you complete a race in Grand Prix mode a breakdown will be presented to you, displaying your individual lap times as well as what position you were in at the completion of said lap. At the very bottom is your total elapsed race time and finishing position. When you complete all five races in any of the three circuits a recap will be given, displaying all of this information again for all five of the races you finished. In Practice mode the same information is given at the end of your race, only without the race position. As for a pause screen, there is one but the options are very basic, you can choose to either give up or not give up on your current race.

Game controls are really good on F-Zero, simple, intuitive, and they work great. The directional pad is what you use to steer your vehicle left or right, and you can also use the up/down buttons to fine tune your landings when you are coming down off of a ramp. The B button is what accelerates your vehicle, while both the X and Y buttons can be used to brake and eventually come to a stop, if needed. As for the A button, it is what you press when you want to engage one of your available nitro speed boosts. Finally, the L and R buttons are used to tilt your vehicle to either side, allowing you to complete tighter turns when the need arises.

The presentation behind this game is excellent, it was way ahead of it's time back when it was released. The visuals are sharp, colourful, detailed, and the action all stays in good focus while these hover vehicles hurtle down the track. The music was also very well done, it's one of those games that you turn on and immediately start humming along with the game music as it's so catchy and recognizable. And as I just mentioned for the controls, they are well laid out and respond just perfectly. If every game was executed as well as the original F-Zero, there would be no such thing as a bad video game.

Now, the pros far outweigh the cons for F-Zero, it really is a superior game of it's age. The biggest pro was the innovation it brought to the racing genre in the video game world. The illusion and sensation of speed you get as you fly down the track in this game is like nothing that came before it, they really paved the way for future generations of racing games to become way more realistic and authentic. Also, like I just said, everything about this game, the way it looks, sounds, and feels, is spot on. There are also a decent amount of tracks in the game, at 15 in total. Lastly, I really love the zaniness they threw in to the mix, such as the land mines and other obstacles you stumble upon during a race, the wacky track layouts, and the overall crazy futuristic vibe. As for cons, there is only one I can think of, but unfortunately it is a big one and is the reason this game didn't get a 10 from me. The reason is that there is no multiplayer mode in F-Zero . . . they really missed the boat on that one! This game is so much wacky fun, imagine how much crazier it would have gotten if you could play with a buddy simultaneously?

For tips and tricks there are a couple I can offer up. First of all, try out the four different vehicles and find out which ones you like best. Depending on the track layout certain vehicles tend to have an advantage over others, so taking a certain vehicle in to a particular circuit will increase your chances of escaping with a victory. Also, the tight turn buttons can be tricky to use and I found they usually caused more trouble than they were worth. To get around particularly nasty sections of track I found following a proper racing line and just goosing the throttle (while also tapping the brake button when needed) tended to work a lot more effectively.

Overall, despite the glaring omission of a multiplayer mode, F-Zero hits so close to the mark in video game perfection it's scary. If you haven't played this game I highly recommend seeking it out and downloading it, as it is an important piece in the evolution of video game racing.