Bring it Back | F-Zero
Life was Viewtiful last week as we took a look back at Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe, but this week, we focus on a franchise that has been in high demand for over 15 years. Nintendo has been a powerhouse lately, especially with their Nintendo Switch selling nearly 80 million units in under four years. The house of Mario and The Legend of Zelda continues to see success thanks to fan favorite franchises. Despite this, there’s one big franchise that fans have been clamoring for, and it’s about time it came back. That franchise is none other than F-Zero, Nintendo’s fantastic futuristic racer.
Interestingly enough, we’re actually in the 30th anniversary year of the F-Zero franchise. The original came out in Japan in November of 1990, while the American release was in August 1991. As a launch title for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the game made for quite a show on the system. Utilizing Nintendo’s new Mode 7 mode at the time, a pseudo-3D effect was achievable on the platform. This allowed for F-Zero to have a ton of depth for several different tracks. While the track gave off a 3D effect, the vehicles were simple sprites on top of the rotating tile map. It was truly an outstanding achievement, and it helps that it was also a pretty fun game.
The idea of F-Zero takes racing into the far future, where vehicles can hover and travel at incredible speeds. As one of four racers, you’ll race around 15 tracks in three leagues while avoiding obstacles like mines and magnets, trying to maintain your power meter. You can recharge your power meter by moving across energy pit stops, and you can even earn “super jet” boosts every lap. There’s also various boost and jump pads on the tracks that can help to give you an extra edge in races. It was in some ways a game of survival, on top of a race. Not only was the game good looking, but it also had fantastic sound effects and excellent music from Yumiko Kanki and Naoto Ishida. The music tracks from stages like Big Blue or Mute City are iconic songs to many Nintendo fans today.
The game was a smash hit, and even spawned a remixed version and a slight sequel for the Super Famicom’s Satellaview attachment. BS F-Zero Grand Prix brought back all the content of the first game, but also added a new league and a new track. The game also gave us four different vehicles to choose from, though their legacy wouldn’t be as strong. Due to the downloadable live nature of the Satellaview games, not many know of them. They offered slight improvements, mostly in the sound department, using SoundLink to deliver a commentator to the game. Despite being a direct sequel, BS F-Zero Grand Prix 2 wouldn’t be the true evolution to the series.
In 1998, F-Zero X released for the Nintendo 64, a true sequel in every way. Not only did the game jump the series to true 3D, but it also raised the stakes. Instead of four racers, there were now 30 different characters and vehicles to choose from. This was an opportunity for Nintendo to even add some Easter egg characters like James McCloud and Mr. EAD. The tracks were also able to take advantage of the new hardware, adding elevation to bring the series to new heights. This also meant more complex track designs using corkscrews, loops and tunnels. The game also added a new attack system, allowing racers to utilize side attacks and spin attacks. This was essential to one of the new modes, the Death Race, where a 30 vehicles enter, only one leaves.
F-Zero X also changed the way the power meter works. Now, players could use their energy gauge to perform boosts, making it work sort of like a stamina gauge. This would unlock at the second lap, and acts as a sort of comeback mechanic. Finally, the game allows players to unlock the X Cup, which puts players through six randomized tracks. The game would get an expansion via the N64DD, though not many had the chance to experience it. While F-Zero X was a true evolution to the series, up until this point, the characters in the game were minor and didn’t really add much to the game. It would be in 1999 when the series would find a new series to put it into the spotlight. Of course, we’re talking about Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros. is Nintendo’s gigantic crossover fighting series. Many around the world are familiar with the franchise, though one of the key elements of the game was how it managed to take an F-Zero pilot out of his vehicle for the first time. Captain Falcon, pilot of the Blue Falcon, was added as an unlockable fighter for the game. Since the character had no known history of abilities, all of his attacks were based on his namesake. This includes his devastating Falcon Punch, and presumably, his speed is in reference to the fast racing in F-Zero. With somewhat broken English and a stylish moveset, the character gained a huge boost in popularity thanks to the Super Smash Bros. series.
Despite the popularity of Captain Falcon, the next game in the series would be the only main game not to feature him. NDcube’s F-Zero: Maximum Velocity released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001, introducing new pilots for a new era of the Grand Prix. While it was an impressive launch title for the popular portable, it does take a couple steps back for the series. Attacks are now gone, boosts revert back to super jets, and now there are 20 racers. Now with five laps, this game introduces a mechanic that disqualifies racers if they aren’t in a certain rank during each lap. The game basically calls back to the original SNES game, but still displays better visuals and sound.
Of course, while the Game Boy Advance got Maximum Velocity, the GameCube would get a different title. Sega’s Amusement Vision team would go on to develop F-Zero GX, releasing in 2003. This was it, the golden child. Not only was the game visually stunning, but the game took everything about F-Zero X and amplified it. With increased speed, more complex tracks, and intense clashes, GX was the pinnacle of the series. The game even gave a story mode to give more background on some of the characters, giving a lot to the presentation.
While the game keeps 30 racers on the track, there were 41 total characters. Players could unlock these characters by completing difficult story challenges, but there was another method. If a player took their memory card with GX save data to an arcade, there was a chance they might be able to use it in F-Zero AX. That’s right, the game had an arcade counterpart. With that GameCube memory card, you could unlock the other characters. Of course, it was incredibly rare, and not many people were able to play the arcade version. Thankfully, the content was still unlockable for those unable to find one.
Continuing further with GX, the game also gave players the ability to create their own vehicles. Using three custom parts from the in-game shop, players could build their dream racer. Yes, GX was everything an F-Zero fan could ask for. Despite the success of selling over a million copies, Amusement Vision was disbanded shortly after. While fans continue to want another title, the expectations were set pretty high. Despite this, it’s clear that some of those that worked on GX would still like to work on another game. This includes producer Toshihiro Nagoshi, who spoke about this earlier this year.
Of course, with the success of GX on the GameCube, Nintendo would keep the ball rolling, though not how some would expect. Interestingly enough, the franchise was given an anime series. F-Zero: GP Legend would have 51 episodes, including many of the characters from the game while also introducing a new character with Rick Wheeler. While the show did premiere in the United States, only 15 episodes were dubbed. This was unfortunate because we would only get to see the epic Falcon Punch performed toward the end of the series. While the anime was short-lived outside of Japan, it did still get a video game adaptation.
Suzak’s F-Zero: GP Legend would release on the Game Boy Advance after GX, mixing elements of Maximum Velocity and X. While the game offered X’s boost and attacks, the game would still use the Mode 7 graphics due to the GBA limitations. Using the story of the anime, the game would see a story and traditional Grand Prix mode. With 34 playable characters, four of which from the anime, it was a pretty impressive game. It’s also one of the few Nintendo games based on a TV series of their own franchise. The game did get a Japan only sequel in 2004 with F-Zero Climax, adding new characters, a track editor, and 53 total tracks. Climax is also ironically the last game to release in the franchise.
While there haven’t been any F-Zero games since 2004, the series still maintains a presence. This is mostly due to Super Smash Bros. as all installments feature Captain Falcon, and all the most recent entries include music, stages, and even characters from the franchise. While the Super Smash Bros. series is the main series to keep the spirit alive, there are other examples. Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 8 feature Captain Falcon’s vehicle as an option to race with. Star Fox Command made several references to the series, including a G-Zero Grand Prix. There was also the Wii U title Nintendo Land, which features Captain Falcon’s Twister Race. It was mostly a short obstacle course for one player, but it was still a reference to the iconic series. Of course, this isn’t enough for the fans of the series, and it’s about time to Bring it Back!
Of course, to bring back F-Zero is no easy task. With no Amusement Vision, a new title would likely need some new talent. Even so, many fans have expressed interest in an HD remaster of F-Zero GX. If the source code is still available, then this is something Nintendo could easily consider. Not only could we get the game in full HD, but we could even implement an online multiplayer mode. To have that would at least be something, and after over 15 years, we’re getting pretty desperate. Now, while an HD remaster would be fantastic, it would also be great to get a new game. If not done by the team that worked on GX, then the question is how to improve upon it.
The Switch would be the perfect place to release a new game, but to improve upon it would take some brainstorming. It would be great to include all the features seen across the series. This includes the Death Race, the X Cup, a Story Mode, vehicle creation, and a track editor. It might be a tall order, but maintaining all these features would surely make fans excited. Of course, the gameplay should have a new feature too, but the question is what? Perhaps a new projectile attack? Or maybe take a page from Mario Kart and add transforming vehicles? Maybe even transforming tracks? There’s not a lot of ways to spice up a racing game, but there are definitely options.
No matter what happens, it’s clear that Nintendo needs to revive this series. While F-Zero GX would be difficult to top, fans would be fine just having something comparable. With games like WipeOut, Fast RMX and Fast Racing League, the market for F-Zero is definitely there. We just need the right team to pick it up. What do you think? Who would you have develop a new title in the series? Let us know in the comments below! Also, stay tuned for our feature next week for one of Konami’s franchise adoptees.