Recently, Nintendo announced that the old-but-gold F-Zero X would be returning as a port to the Nintendo Switch. The news isn’t terribly surprising, as this is the third time the 1998 classic has been brought to a modern console; it made appearances on the Wii and the Wii U prior to being brought to the Switch.
Having said that, this is still a port of a game that came out back in the 90s. The last time F-Zero experienced a brand new game was 2004, during the GameCube era. There are a multitude of reasons that the franchise needs a fresh direction, and why doing so would be good for Nintendo as well as the fans. In talking about why this is, we will also assess their tried and true classic and see how it holds up today.
Let’s first start off talking about F-Zero X and what it brings to the table.
Gameplay was remarkably ahead of its time
F-Zero X is unique for being a game released in the 90s that manages to consistently hit 60 FPS or, frames-per-second. Juxtaposed to other racing games of the time- Mario Kart 64 consistently stayed at 30 FPS while Diddy Kong Racing was well known for experiencing frame drop offs, falling as low as 10 FPS at certain times.
Despite the fact F-Zero X has far more racers than either game at 30 per race, as well as boasting much faster gameplay where cars touch 1200 km/h and possibly even faster, it never experiences frame drop offs at any point. This explains why Nintendo has been comfortable bringing it to each new console they release; games in the modern era function at 60 FPS consistently and naturally. Thus, when playing a modernized game and then choosing to play F-Zero X, the transition is surprisingly seamless. This has helped the game to age incredibly well.
Gameplay is extremely fast paced
The difference between F-Zero X and, say, Mario Kart is about the difference between Doom and Call of Duty. F-Zero X is a heart-thumping game where cars can go as high as 1500 km/h and, in some cases, even faster. With narrow roads and 30 total racers on a track, this game is the video game equivalent of boarding a roller coaster. Individual races last just a few short minutes, so players need to think on their feet effectively if they want to succeed. With the game’s Energy mechanic, crashing into too many walls or overdoing it with boosts will cause the player’s car to explode, forcing them into ‘retirement’ and ending their race on the spot. As such, there is a real sense of immersion when playing the game. It isn’t like Mario Kart, where players throw bombs, explosive shells, bananas and turn into rockets to knock each other aside. F-Zero X feels like a NASCAR video game before NASCAR video games became a thing.
Skill expression was incredibly high for its time
The term ‘skill expression’ is an informal term in competitive gaming used to describe how someone’s play style effects a character they choose to play. For example, in Smash Bros, Samus and Link are typically viewed as campy, defensive characters. Someone who decides to play them aggressively, constantly getting up in the opponent’s face, has taken a unique skill expression to playing them.
Skill expression is all over the place in F-Zero X, far more so than games of its time. The player must choose between 30 different racers, all of them having their own personal cars with unique stats. You could choose to play Black Shadow, and in doing so, his Black Bull boasts second to none control and acceleration, but struggles with top speed and making meaningful use of its boosts. Or, you could decide to play as Jody Summer, whose top speed and boosts are outstanding, but comes with the drawback of remarkably poor control and acceleration. Of course, you could opt for the man himself- Captain Falcon — and use a car with well rounded stats that do not excel in any one thing, but is also lacking in any serious weaknesses.
That’s not all, though. Whichever racer the player decides to play as, before beginning a race, they will have the option to ‘tune’ their car in one of three ways which are indicated by a meter. On this meter, a player can drag it to the far right to add some top speed to their car at the expense of acceleration. They could drag it to the left for the opposite approach. They could also just leave it right in the middle for a well rounded approach, while also having the option to tinker with this setting.
As such, skill expression in this game is enormous and allows for players to really paint their own identities in this game. In that sense, it’s somewhat of a “Smash Bros of racing games”.
Characters are incredibly creative and well designed
The general populace of Mario Kart players enjoyed the various crossovers the franchise started to take on. With Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing and, of course, F-Zero seeing representation in the franchise, it was a nice way for fans of these franchises to enjoy Mario Kart more than they would’ve otherwise.
That’s good and fun, but what few people might realize is that F-Zero X barked up that tree about fifteen years before Mario Kart did.
The crossovers are a little less blatant, but the inspiration is pretty obvious. James McCloud is a playable racer — Star Fox fans will immediately recognize that name, because Fox McCloud’s father just so happens to be named James as well. According to Nintendo Power, the James McCloud in F-Zero X isn’t actually related to Fox, but in the magazine’s words “It’s just one of many fun things the developers decided to put into (F-Zero X)”. James McCloud is the most obvious, but he isn’t the only one. Mighty Gazelle wears a mask which is basically identical to the same one Meta Knight from the Kirby franchises wears. Jody Summer’s backstory and general appearance are incredibly similar to Samus Aran of the Metroid series. The racer Pico takes on an appearance which is very much the same as if Charizard from the Pokémon franchised turned green and lost its wings. The most blatant crossover appeared during the F-Zero X Expansion Pack which brought Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road to the game.
Look at how modern Smash games have been able to seamlessly bring in third party characters. Maybe we wouldn’t see Sora, Sephiroth or Persona 5’s Joker cruising down Mute City, but is it unthinkable to imagine a handful of prominent characters across Nintendo history doing so? After all, in Star Fox Command, at the end of the game, Fox and Falco are seen entering a Grand Prix which is a blatant shoutout to the F-Zero franchise. Mario Kart has already proven that the fans would love seeing crossover entries into the series. A modern F-Zero game could definitely make it happen.
As previously stated, F-Zero hasn’t seen a new entry into the franchise since 2004. Nintendo would do well to change that, and video game fans would benefit a lot in the process. Here’s why.
It would give for a more competitive friendly take on modern Mario Kart
Smash Ultimate and its predecessors have made one thing incredibly clear: competitive gameplay can’t feasibly exist with chaotic, random items on uncompetitive stages where luck influences the winner more than skill.
Mario Kart is certainly a fun game, but you’ll never see any legitimate tournament play takeoff. How much fun is it to be in first place most of way, only to get obliterated by blue shells, red shells, lightning and Bullet Bills that you had absolutely no control over? In a party context where nobody seriously cares who wins, that’s all good and fine. But when money is on the line, that’s simply no good.
In F-Zero X, there are no items, tracks are straightforward, and this all tends to promote competitive, skillful play. As a result, this game would have potential on the big screen, with pros all around the world making their mark and helping the game ascend to greatness. This would all be supplemented by a previous point made on the concept of skill expression. The game has obvious potential for a legitimate metagame that Mario Kart can’t hold a candle to. As such, a modern F-Zero game would have its own valuable, marketable niche on the gaming market.
Their last game sold quite well
F-Zero GX for the GameCube became a Player’s Choice game — a prestigious honorary label given to games which sold at least a million copies. This was at a time when gaming was less widespread and more niche, as playing with other people online wasn’t much of a thing just yet.
Imagine then, how a new game which revived the franchise would be received financially. As a point of reference, Metroid Dread, which released recently, served as a ‘revival’ of sorts to the Metroid series. It sold swimmingly well — 2.74 million copies, which was by far the most out of any Metroid game ever. F-Zero could experience a similar resurgence.
There is no longer any real reason not to
In 2015, when F-Zero X was brought to the Wii U, renowned and beloved Nintendo Executive Shigeru Miyamoto was asked why Nintendo hadn’t published a new F-Zero game in, at the time, just over a decade. Miyamoto stated that there “was nothing new” they could add to the series.
Well, the last game in the series released in 2004. There is so much that could absolutely be added to the series by this point. Online functionality, third party support, continual updates to add content and, of course, larger track variety among other things. What’s more, Miyamoto did cite other racing games when stated he didn’t feel they could add more to the genre. The thing with that is, Nintendo as a corporation is far, far bigger and more prestigious than any other racing game company in the world by a long shot. They’ve already proven they can provide a unique creative touch to the game, and that combined with their prestigious status is enough by itself to add plenty to the genre.
Combined with the idea that such a game would likely be pretty profitable, and there really isn’t a good reason Nintendo couldn’t develop an F-Zero game in the modern era.
We’ve seen more than enough Mario, Pokémon and Legend of Zelda games monopolize Nintendo’s attention over the last decade. It would be great to see Nintendo brush up on their older IPs in general, and F-Zero is at the top of this list.