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History Lesson: F-Zero

By Matthew Castle on Sunday 8th Sep 2013 at 10:00 AM UTC

What is F-Zero? Over to you, Miyamoto: "It is more of a racing game than a driving game."

Wise words, sir. F-Zero isn't about mastering a road surface - for one, you don't have wheels - but going for broke by juggling speed and safety. Beat or be beaten, that's the F-Zero spirit. As Captain Falcon yells from the manual: "There are two types of world: me and LOSERS!" Falcon should write for CVG.

F-Zero is also one of those games hidden behind Nintendo's secrecy shroud. It was created alongside Super Mario World and Pilotwings for the Super Famicom launch, but the facts are few: Miyamoto produced, Takaya Imamura designed the world (Nintendo's resident sci-fi man, he would later design the Star Fox universe) and, erm, that's it.

Better understood are the game's ties with the SNES hardware. Though it was championed as the fastest 3D racer of its time, the technique is, of course, an illusion generated by creative scaling and rotation of background graphics.

The SNES had eight modes for creating background images, this technique was the eighth and was thus branded Mode 7 (throw that Correction Corner draft letter away: the modes started at zero). It's not the most timeless of effects - the pancake-flat style now screams SNES era - but the speed never aged.


Shipping on November 21, 1990 as the Super Famicom made its debut in Japan, F-Zero delivered the basic franchise template (five laps, boosts awarded for crossing the finish line), albeit scaled back with just four racers on the track. Captain Falcon was the prominent star, featuring in a small comic strip in the manual that painted a picture of his life as an intergalactic bounty hunter turned racer.

During developer interviews for F-Zero GX/AX, Sega's Amusement Vision president Toshihiro Nagoshi (the man responsible for the Monkey Ball series) stated that the first F-Zero "taught me what a game should be". This probably explains the appearance of his Daytona USA in 1994 - an arcade racer with a nippy sensibility many attribute to the F-Zero influence.

F-Zero was released to massive US and European acclaim in '91 and '92 respectively, so work began on a SNES sequel. Now, either that title's PR was handled by the same team behind Disaster: Day Of Crisis or the game never surfaced. Hint: it was the latter.

What content Nintendo did develop for the unfinished F-Zero 2 was released through the Japan-only Satellaview system - the Super Famicom's download content service. But don't weep - BS F-Zero Grand Prix (as it was called) and a later sequel were little more than glorified expansion packs.

Annoyingly for F-heads (maybe we should rephrase that?), the Japan-only content continued in the 'proper' sequel to F-Zero, the N64's F-Zero X. While UK gamers appreciated the 30 on-screen cars and blistering speed, owners of the 64DD were treated to the F-Zero Expansion Kit, featuring a course and vehicle editor that pretty much paralleled those used to design the game. It was a crying shame that our run-of-the-mill 64s couldn't take the strain.

The appearance of Maximum Velocity on GBA in 2001 marked a return to the series' Mode 7 roots - albeit with an all-new cast (set 300 years after the original, it's the only F-Zero in which Captain Falcon, Samurai Goroh, Pico and Dr Stewart don't appear). A GBA sequel called F-Zero Climax featured another course editor but, once again, it was only released in Japan. Why do Nintendo fear our track design skills so?

While it was good to see Mode 7 dusted off, a later partnership between Nintendo and Amusement Vision saw F-Zero gloriously reclaim its gorgeous status. In 2003, Amusement Vision released arcade and GameCube versions of F-Zero - AX and GX - which broke eyes with their immense speed, and smashed souls and fingers with their difficulty.

Now fingers and souls have had a full decade to heal, isn't it time to return to the grid? Port Town Aero Dive was looking great in Super Smash Bros Brawl, but we demand a full Wii U outing. Because there are only two types of console in this world: those with a new F-Zero and LOSERS! (Thanks, Cap'n.)

A 500mph drive down memory circuit

It's been nearly a decade since the last console version of F-Zero, but there was a time when fans of the series were treated to regular instalments. The good old days, we call them.

Here's the complete history of F-Zero releases, including the games that never made it to the west.