Retro Respawn: F-Zero

Despite all the plus sides to being a kid, and there are quite a lot of them, one of the definite negatives for most of us growing up was the pronounced lack of disposable income. Sure some people reading this may have been the beneficiary of wealthy family members, but for the rest of us we weren’t exactly bursting at the seams when it came to pennies and farthings. Even if we managed to bag a paper round or other forms of paid work, it would take months of savings to even get remotely close to the £40-60 required to buy a brand new video game. It certainly limited how many some of us could acquire and there were certain games as a result that we never played as consequence.

Granted, sometimes a friend may have owned the game we didn’t and trades could be arranged. This is how I ended up having “Street Fighter II Turbo” about my person for a few glorious weeks while another child enjoyed my copy of “A Link to the Past” during the same timeframe. Occasionally a trip to a local department store would allow for a brief stolen 5 minutes on whatever the latest game they had on display was. The feeling of playing a new game for the first time on the shop floor while my parents perused the aisles is one I still look back on favourably. The memory is powerful even to this day. Finding the section of the shop which had the consoles set up followed by that agonising moment where you had to wait for the kid in front of you to be taken away by his/her parents, feverishly looking over my shoulder, willing my parents to take just a few moments longer buying whatever it was we’d come out for so that I could snatch a few breathless haughty moments with Donkey Kong or Star Fox.

Sometimes the queue of kids lined up to play would mean that I’d never get a chance and I’d have to go home empty handed while another youngster reveled in a moment of gaming bliss. I’m quite lucky in that I managed to play most of the big games from the fourth generation of gaming back in the 90’s, but due to lack of fiscal prowess, there were some which slipped through the net. It is for this reason why I was never able to play “F-Zero” on the Super Nintendo. None of my friends owned it and the only time I ever saw it in a shop I couldn’t get a go because some other young lad was hogging it. I did ask him if we could take it in turns to play, but he promptly refused and then called his mum over to yell at me while he happily raced away. I don’t know who you are pal, but should you be reading this, you’re on my list! I’ve been biding my time for decades and I shall have my vengeance, in this life or the next!

But anyway, that should hopefully go some way to explain to you why one of the more highly appreciated games from the SNES’s peek years eluded me during my youth. I was not intentionally dodging it and always harbored a desire to play it one day, if only to see what all the fuss was about. So seeing as I had a Retro Feature that I needed to write and the game I was actually planning to play has had to be put on the backburner due to technical issues (Namely a cable that doesn’t work. I would avoid making any purchases from https://www.konsolenkost.de/ as I’ve bought both a cable and a game from them in the past month and neither works properly) I decided to finally scratch an over two decade itch and finally play some F-Zero!

F-Zero, along with Rollcage which I featured a couple of weeks ago, is a futuristic racing game. It was a first party release for the Super Nintendo and came out in 1990. You race in specially designed Hover Crafts and there are a total of four different racers you can choose from with each having their own specific traits and abilities. Your hover craft has a power bar that depletes every time you collide with another racer or by hitting the barriers of the race course. Should your power bar fully decrease, your craft explodes to smithereens, at which point your race is over. Your race also ends if you are too far behind the other racers, with the position you need to be in decreasing after every lap. For the final lap you have to finish in at least the top 3 or you automatically lose the race and are forced to replay the course. This was similarly used in the original Mario Kart for the same system, but unlike that game F-Zero doesn’t provide you with any additional power ups that you can use throughout the race itself.

F-Zero was acclaimed highly by critics at its release for its excellent graphics. The game uses a graphical mode called “Mode 7” which allowed the course to be scaled and rotated around the racers hover craft. This simulated a 3D environment and was revolutionary for the time. Graphically, the game has aged well although the backgrounds look a little sparse to a modern eye. The colour palate jumps all over the place depending on the track, going from worn greys all the way to rich purple and reds. I often find that colourful games from the SNES and Mega Drive days have an almost timeless charm to them because you tend to view them more in context than other types of games. Games from the early 3D era of the PlayStation and Saturn tend to show their age much more than the 2D or faux 3D ones of the fourth generation. This could be my nostalgia talking, but I think a game like F-Zero is still pleasant to look at even today despite the simpler art style compared to some of the games that followed it on more advanced hardware.

Gameplay wise F-Zero is thoroughly unforgiving but can be a lot of fun at times. What I found annoying about F-Zero was less the tracks and more the opposing racers. The tracks themselves can be decidedly fiendish, with sharp turns out of nowhere and huge jumps that can lead to fiery doom if mistimed. However, with practice and liberal use of braking a decelerating you will be able to command these corners and when you achieve that it is both intensely satisfying and genuinely thrilling. However, the other bastard racers in their bastard hover crafts can be the most annoying bastards you ever saw bastarding. The problem is that with 15 racers all taking part you inevitably get to a point where you have to overtake the stragglers and every single one of them drives like a 75 year old windbag with cataracts and a gimpy knee.

These terrible racers swerve in the middle of the track and halt your progress at every turn. As the courses get harder and narrower, these pitiful hacks seem to get even slower and more obstructive. It’s bad enough when you have the chasing pack breathing down your neck without having to contend with the slowpokes in front of you. It doesn’t help that one of the hover crafts is ALWAYS one that is one collision away from exploding, meaning that if you happen to bump into it your craft will not only lose vital power but will also be blown off course, allowing the racers behind you to gleefully overtake. You can always tell which one it will be as it will be pink and flashing like a warning light. Oh how I would dread rounding the final corner only to see it chugging along in the middle of the lane, just waiting to blow me out of contention with a sickening boom.

Despite this, I would certainly recommend picking F-Zero up if you have a SNES. You can get it for just under £15 on Amazon, which isn’t bad and you could easily get your money’s worth at that price. There is a downside in that the game doesn’t have any multiplayer, but there’s enough single play fun there to keep you occupied and you could always alternate tracks with friends to see who can get the best time.

As always, I’ll post some game footage below.

Thanks for reading

Peace Out

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