This review originally went live in 2016, and we’re updating and republishing it to mark the release of F-Zero X on Switch, available as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack N64 library.
The original F-Zero on the Super Nintendo really blew gamers away with its stunning use of Mode 7 visuals, colourful graphics, infectious music and tough-but-fair difficulty curve. It was really the first of its kind and has inspired many imitators over the years – and arguably laid the groundwork for the wildly successful Super Mario Kart. Taking all of this into account, Nintendo must have known the expectations were high for the N64 sequel and it duly pulled out all the stops in creating a game worthy of its predecessor.
Races are frantic affairs in F-Zero X; there’s a real thrill to be had as you zip around the tracks, finding a way through traffic, trying to hit the boost arrows and avoiding crashing into the barriers. After lap one, you gain use of the famous “Boost Power” where some of your precious energy meter can be exchanged for a burst of speed. It’s important not to overdo it, however, or the slightest bump will turn your craft into a flaming mangled mess of metal. Thankfully, the controls are incredibly tight and precise, so when you do hit the wall, it’s almost always your fault and not the game’s.
Another way to ruin your race day is to fall off the course entirely, which results in a long drop, a big explosion and an instant retirement. As the racetracks are placed above cities, presumably you also mess up some poor sod’s garden party. Luckily, you appear to have a friend within the sport’s governing body as (assuming you have a spare craft remaining) the race is then restarted from the beginning, giving you another chance to succeed (or maybe just to find a new spot in which to burst into flames).
The tracks are well designed, with a mix of bends and straights of varying width. Sometimes there’s a smooth line to take, other times you’ll find yourself crashing around the corners. There are loops and various degrees of elevation changes, whilst half-pipe sections feel like a particularly intense bobsleigh ride when you swish side-to-side trying not to get thrown from the track, and tunnels get dizzying as you spin upside down trying to wrest some degree of control. The drives across large pipes suspended high in the sky can be terrifying, with each collision or mistake threatening to end your race.
You can rely on just your driving skill to see you to victory or you can be a little more aggressive, as by using the drift buttons it’s possible to perform a spin-attack to try and knock other racers into danger. Doing this can be a mistake as it can send you into a corner awkwardly, slowing your race or even lead to your own destruction, but should your championship rival (helpfully indicated by an on-screen marker) be alongside you, it can be tough to resist. If you develop a taste for this extreme road rage the game also features a “Death Race” track where the aim is to take out the other 29 competitors as quickly as possible.
In addition to the main game mode, there is a practice mode, time attack, VS battle and death race. The death race is good fun as you have to take out the other racers by any means possible (the Black Bull craft is highly recommended!). These features are what you would expect from a game like this and extend the game’s lifespan considerably. There are several cups of increasing difficulty to compete in and when all those are beaten you can try out the random track generator for kicks.
Initially, just six of the racing machines are available for player selection, but the rest unlock as you progress through the game. Each has a different rating for body, boost and grip, and once selected a slide meter is available to adjust the performance of the craft, depending on if you favour acceleration or speed. Once you’re happy with your pick you take on one of the Cups – each consists of six three-lap races; score more points than the other competitors to become champion.
There are four main Cups in the game, but you can also unlock the “X Cup”. The twist here is that the tracks are randomly generated and the unfamiliar layouts can lead to many a disaster as you stumble your way around the unknown dangers. A random selection of course parts can lead to some straightforward stress-free drives, but other concoctions can be brutally difficult. For example, one course we encountered saw thirty cars enter a corner and only thirteen make it out the other side. On another X-track the Nintendo Life mean machine was the only one that managed to finish the race. Amusingly, it then plummeted to its doom during the victory lap.
With the regular tracks you’ll be kept busy, trying to figure out the best line, learning a good way to manage the controls, knowing where it’s safe to spin-attack and how much boost power you can use before you can safely make it to a recharge strip. The cups get more difficult and there are (eventually) four difficulty settings to tackle, so there’s plenty here to keep you occupied. As well as the Grand Prix mode you can take on “Time Attack” where shaving tiny fractions leads to hours of “just one more go”.
Visually, the game has a simple, stripped-down appearance that can look very basic at times. Where there are no flat colours there are low-resolution textures and the fogging effect doesn’t always hide the distant track popping up into existence. What it does do, however, is move along quickly and smoothly, even at the start as the thirty different craft jostle for position.
With 30 racing craft and 24 exciting tracks, there’s a lot of fun to be had with F-Zero X. An enjoyable multiplayer mode, the crazy unpredictable nature of the X Cup and trying to improve your times in the Time Attack and Death Race modes all add to the replayability. The visuals can look a bit basic at times, but the smooth frame rate and the speed at which you’re hurtling around the tracks help to make up for this. If you are in any way a fan of the racing genre this game cannot be recommended any more highly. It’s one of the finest non-Mario games that Nintendo has ever made and deserves your attention. Dare we say it? This is the best game in the F-Zero series.