Let’s have a driving launch game for the SNES! Wait a second. Let’s have a FUTURISTIC driving launch game for the SNES! Hurrah! That’s what I imagine the meeting at Nintendo went like when launching the new hardware to programmers. And you know what, it’s as sturdy a launch title as you’re likely to see. Cars have been replaced with hovercraft type things and race circuits replaced with futuristic arenas complete with electrified barriers. It’s a competition, like all other driving games, with several options to keep you entertained.
Initially it doesn’t seem so great. The presentation is firmly 8-bit with some horrendous sound effects when selecting your vehicle, my ears are still ringing. You have practice mode, which lets you go one-one-one with another driver on one of the introductory circuits, but it’s the grand prix (of course) mode that will keep you engaged.
Static, the graphics don’t seem that much better than the NES. However, when it starts moving, its pretty, slightly elevated racing position works very well. And it’s fast. The “cars” are well detailed enough, although the flickering shadows leave something to be desired. Even though the detail is minimal and the borders flat, it has a very futuristic, cool look about it.
Unfortunately the sound effects don’t improve any from the options screen so you’ll have to mute it almost completely. A lot of the music tracks are repeated and can also make you go a bit crazy.
Cool graphics, terrible sound, but it’s F-Zero’s gameplay that keeps it going. This game is really easy to pick up, as a driving game should be. You have speed boosts and ramps to hit but the coolest part of F-Zero is the damage to the vehicle and the “pit stops”. Every game you crash into an opponent or into the electrified barrier, you lose health. This can be replenished by slowing down in the pit line just before the finish line, a spacecraft beaming health down on to your vehicle. Lose all your health and you explode, losing the race. Each lap encourages you to be in a certain position, the penultimate lap requiring you to be in the top five, the last lap the top three. Fail and you’re also out. I think this works very well and encourages the player to get better, quickly.
The gameplay is far from perfect. Even though the circuits have a nice difficulty curve to them (the King circuits being the hardest, the Knight circuits the easiest), there are too many instances where you can boing off barriers like a pinball and get stuck, the computer imploring you to reverse, to reverse! The King circuits also have mines on them, which can make for absolute mayhem, and not the fun kind!
Flaws aside, this is a very accessible, fun game, that unfortunately doesn’t have a two player mode. Every single player mode, coupled with the three difficulty settings, means there is a lot of game here. A great way to kickstart the driving life of the SNES.