GameSpite Journal 10 | F-Zero

Title: F-Zero | Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: Racing | Release: August 1991

There’s a concept called “the one-two punch” that most people are familiar with. In its most basic form, the phrase means following a first hit quickly with a second. The intended effect is that the two punches combine to be more effective than either could be on their own. While this concept may be most commonly used in reference to boxing, the art of the one-two punch is not lost in the world of video games.

F-Zero is a futuristic racing game set in the 26th century. The back story of the game establishes that bored billionaires worked to create a new and exciting motor sport based on Formula One. Huge, dangerous tracks were built all across the known universe, playing host to plasma powered cars that rocket around them in excess of 500 km/h. Their drivers are a hardened lot, risking life and limb in pursuit of racing glory.

This was the second punch of the Super Nintendo’s opening attack. A release title in both Japan and the United States, the game proudly stood beside Super Mario World as a proof of concept for Nintendo’s new 16-bit console. Developed in-house at Nintendo, there is likely little coincidence that F-Zero bears next to no resemblance to Super Mario World?. These two games were the means by which Nintendo would show the world just exactly what the SNES could do.

The differences in the two games start almost immediately. While Super Mario World featured the well-loved plumber of the 8-bit generation, F-Zero introduced players to a whole new futuristic world that was both intimidating and exciting. It was almost as if Nintendo wanted to say, “Look, we’ve got what you already love and something new for you as well.” It was an enticing offer.

Where Super Mario World proved that a vast, free-roaming adventure with tons of levels was possible with the new machine, F-Zero showed that arcade-style gameplay had not been left by the wayside. Instead of dozens upon dozens of courses, F-Zero featured fifteen race tracks, each meticulously designed. Learning precision through replaying tracks was an absolute necessity for succeeding on higher difficulties. Mastering the three leagues required a dedication and finger-twitching talent that would seem right at home if applied to a classic arcade cabinet.

The differences don’t stop there. While Mario’s journey continued to take him left-to-right, the cars of F-Zero appeared to jet forward in space, by means of the SNES’s new Mode 7 technology. While not a “true” 3D engine, it was noticeably eye-catching and engaging in 1991. Distant objects grew closer and changed perspective as the racer hurtled down the path. Other cars faded away as they passed. F-Zero breached the Z-axis, and looked good doing it.

In a way, it could be said that F-Zero is as notable for what it is was what it was not. While it certainly broke new ground and showed us what a racing game could be, many things about it seemed as if they were designed to be Not Mario. With F-Zero, Nintendo’s one-two opening punch was complete. Super Mario World may have left us awestruck, but it was F-Zero that knocked us down. The Super Nintendo was ready to put the pedal to the metal.

By Aaron Littleton? | Oct. 31, 2011 | Previous: Make the Guy Jump | Next: Mode 7