Retrospective64 – F-Zero-X

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

If I had to explain F-Zero X in just a few words, it’d be that it’s the “this ain’t your dad’s ___” of racing games. While other N64 classics, like Mario Kart 64, provide a night of family fun on the race track, this 1998 entry in the F-Zero franchise is as close to edgy as you’ll get from an in-house Nintendo game.

The game has excellent world building and builds on everything teased by its SNES predecessor. Each pilot and vehicle is unique and the vast major have proven memorable even when I go a good while without playing the game. I can easily recall drivers like Pico, Octoman, Bio Rex off the top of my head and of course the game features Captain Falcon, who’s Smash Bros.’ fame is larger than that of this franchise. The vehicles stand out equally. Like its driver, the Wild Goose was always a favorite of mine, but the Blood Hawk, Fire Stingray, and Red Gazelle are equally iconic.

F-Zero X advertisement art. Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Much like Star Fox 64, this is generally a game that clearly knew how it wanted to look. The tracks themselves mirror this as much as the characters, with the likes of Mute City and Big Blue providing unforgettable racing experiences. It goes beyond the literal track though, the pixelated world around the tracks provides a look into a dangerous, dystopian world that echoes the edgy appearances of the pilots, all of which look worthy of an appearance in a Star Wars cantina or Jabba’s Palace. Like many Nintendo games of the time, F-Zero X is as fun to explore and exist in as it is to race through.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Taro Bando and Hajime Wakai, who both provide a gritty series of rock anthems for the dark and stormy franchise. The music is toned down during the actual races, a reasonable choice given the chaos that ensues in almost every play through, but it’s present enough to help you feel like your at the center of something great. It’s a soundtrack that distances itself from the usual fun tracks we associate with 90’s Nintendo but that’s another aspect of why the game is so memorable. Not to repeat myself, but, this ain’t your dad’s Nintendo game.

The game is quite straight forward. The A button manages your thrust, while the joystick steers your vehicle. After you complete the first lap of any race, you’ll receive a boost ability that drains your shields every time you use it. That can be triggered by pressing B. The right bumper and Z buttons trigger an attacking move to your right and left respectively. Pressing both together causes you to spin and deal more damage to nearby vehicles, though attacking in general can slow you down.

There are four main modes for the game. The first is the GP, which is one of five race sets. These sets are the Jack, Queen, King, Joker, and X GP’s, with the last two being unlocked after certain achievements. There are also three difficulties: Novice, Standard, Expert, and Master.

The other three modes are Time Attack, Death Race, and VS. Time Attack has you complete a three lap track by yourself (a ghost competitor is optional) in an attempt to finish as fast as possible. Death Race has you go on to a special track in which you and the other 29 vehicles race endlessly until only one remains. It’s more or less a death match mode and certainly matches the film franchise it takes its name from. VS is the multiplayer mode of the game and sees you face off against up to three other players. All in all, F-Zero X has all the modes you’d expect. The combination of the GP’s, Time Attack, and Death Race provide enough to keep the player entertained for quite awhile, even for those like myself that don’t love racing games by default.

There are few N64 games I remember as fondly as F-Zero X. It’s one of those games that makes you feel like you’re in an exciting, dangerous world and gives you endless reasons to come back. I’ve played through each cup with dozens of different pilots over the years, always finding new challenges along the way and always coming back to the game when I find myself plugging the N64 back in.

If you love some old school dystopian sci-fi, racing, or seeing the edgier side of Nintendo in the 90’s, this is really the perfect game to get you started. 8/10

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