== Nixon Computer ==


video games game clear snes nintendo f-zero

F-Zero (1990, SNES)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Re-clear Platform: New 3DS
Re-clear Date: 5/3/24


Why should I care?
Because you care about me.

You are an F-Zero Master!!

Little ol’ F-Zero. The Mode 7 original. After many years, I finally beat the King Cup on Master difficulty. I’ve fully completed the game.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to anyone who will listen (and some who won’t) about how good F-Zero X, F-Zero GX, and F-Zero AX are. I do this because I love them, of course, but also because they’re easy sells. They’re 3D games whose high-speed, white-knuckle action are immediately apparent, and the latter two are quite nice to look at too. It’s easier to convince people on their merits.

The SNES game is a little tougher. As much as I love thinking about Mode 7 and sprite scaling and all that cool stuff, I don’t think those under-the-hood elements are all that compelling to modern audiences. It was a neat way to achieve some mildly convincing pseudo-3D on Nintendo’s shiny new 16-bit console in the early 90s, but what’s the appeal in revisiting that when we’ve had real 3D for decades now?

Fundamentals, baby.

The thing about F-Zero is it just feels great to play. The four available vehicles all have subtle control differences, but each is responsive once you understand their quirks. Then, once you do, winning mostly comes down to skill. Memorize the tracks in your favorite machine, practice your racing lines, and you’re probably gonna come out on top in the GPs. Do all that to the tunes of an absolute all-killer, no-filler soundtrack? There are simply no bad times to be had.

Now you’re playing with Super Power

But there’s also a bit of built-in intrigue because F-Zero is the first game. It’s the one for which so many decisions were made that would form the foundation for the entire series — and it’s so inextricably bound to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

A fun irony of the development of F-Zero is that the reason you’re even racing around in advanced, future tech hovercraft is because of the primitive tech of the SNES. Yes, you’ve got fancy new scaling options that create a more convincing illusion of 3D than the vanishing point racers of yore, but the vehicles are still sprites. That means you gotta draw ’em a buch of times for all the potential orientations they can have relative to the camera. In an interview about F-Zero promoting the SNES Mini, director Kazunobu Shimizu said the decision was made to use hovercrafts to avoid the drudgery of drawing rotating tires. I think that’s a fucking wild downstream effect of hardware. I love it! They also decided to establish that the tracks were suspended high in the air above the cities of the F-Zero world so they could get away with drawing their skylines in low detail and far in the horizon as the SNES Mode 7 rendering allowed. That, in turn, allowed for the risk/reward of the jump-based shortcuts found throughout the game’s tracks. One bad move, and you’re plummeting thousands of feet to your death. All this because it would’ve been annoying to draw a bunch of sprites for a game that was only pretending to be 3D.

Of course, it would only be a couple short years before Super Mario Kart debuted on the same platform, tires and all, but F-Zero was a launch title. Something they had to meet deadlines for and massage into a product that would play nicely on this new console no one had worked with before. If it hadn’t been for the specific time and circumstances F-Zero was developed under, Amusement Vision might never have had the opportunity to cram the franchise into the Monkey Ball engine and create the sublimely perfect high-speed, futuristic racer that is F-Zero GX. It may have been a more traditional racer with all the cultural impact of Pilotwings.

But it’s not just the gameplay, folks. Captain Falcon himself wasn’t even originally conceived as an F-Zero racer. Well, probably. In the aforementioned interview, designer Takaya Imamura recalls with slight equivocation that the Captain Falcon we know was adapted from a request to create a mascot character for the Super Nintendo. Someone asked him to design a “Captain Something-or-other” that would represent the new console. So he set to work designing a hero in the style of American comics, and he tried to make use of the colors of the buttons on the Super Famicom controller for his costume. Once programming on F-Zero was mostly complete, Imamura and the team realized they could use this character as one of the pilots. Hell, they could write a whole comic establishing his lore and the backstories of the other pilots and throw it in the box to act as the manual. Suddenly, this isn’t just some humdrum, anonymous racer. It’s a game with some little guys!

Goodbye from Captain Falcon and the F-Zero Crew

Maybe none of that matters. Maybe it’s not very interesting. Oh, F-Zero is set in the future because it made sense for the SNES hardware? Big deal. Mario wears a hat because Miyamoto didn’t like drawing hair. All sorts of shit happens for silly reasons. And besides, who even really cares about F-Zero?

Great question. I’ll even admit F-Zero’s position in my life in many ways a product of coincidence and was surely magnified by its ~20-year absence. I got into the series, like so many Nintendo franchises, because of its representation in Super Smash Bros. Around 2003 or 2004, I asked for GX for Christmas or a birthday, and that was that. I couldn’t believe the blistering sense of speed and tightness of control I had never before experienced. Over the next couple years, I gobbled up the rest of the series as I was able, and then I patiently waited for Nintendo to announce the inevitable sequel. At the time, the data suggested it was a lock to appear at least once on each Nintendo device. Maybe not more than that, but at least once.

So I waited and waited and waited, unaware that the series I had just taken such a shine to would not see another entry for a then-inconceivable 20 years. I was about as close in time to the launch of the Family Computer as the next F-Zero. lol. Over the years, hopeful E3 viewings gave way to disillusioned Nintendo Direct watches, but the result was the same: no F-Zero.

Did the yearning give the series some outsize position in my psyche? Maybe. It certainly gave me time to revisit the games and iron them into my mind. But that was mostly X and GX. I played through the original so I could say I did, but I didn’t obsess over it.

And then finally in two thousand twenty-three came F-Zero 99, a weird, online-only battle royale game based on the 16-bit original. A game I had always liked and appreciated but never loved. Hours and hours in F-Zero 99, whose tracks and machines are lifted directly from the original, taught me to love it. The ingredients were all there, smashed into 1990 hardware. I still hope for another true 3D entry in the series, but I now know they were fuckin’ cooking way back in ‘89. These games have never not kicked ass.