Retrogaming Challenge Week Nineteen: F-Zero X (N64)

I’m a little later than usual getting my thoughts on F-Zero X up, but that’s OK. It’s not like Nintendo is in any hurry to deliver a contemporary F-Zero game.
As usual, there’s a list of the previous week’s games is down the bottom for those who need to catch up, as is the voting bit if you just want to decide on my next retrogaming challenge. After fifty two weeks, I get to play Bubble Bobble, but until then, I’m working my way through Internet-voted games each and every week.

F-Zero X: The X stands for X-TREME!

Because everything was X-Treme in the 90’s, that’s why.
Can we take it as read that if you are indeed reading this, you’re aware of what F-Zero X is, yeah? Futuristic racing game, sequel to the SNES original, couple of Gameboy Advance sequels and a single Nintendo Gamecube game… yeah, that’s that one. You know it.
When I started this retrogaming challenge, I did so because I realised I owned a large library of games, many of which I hadn’t played for a considerable length of time.
F-Zero X may as well have been the prototype example of such a game. When it was fresh and new (and I was considerably fresher and younger) I played it obsessively.

It was a different time. I had hair, and robot voices screaming at you was "futuristic".
It was a different time. I had hair, and robot voices screaming at you was “futuristic”.

Then I stopped, and I’m not certain that I’ve been back to it since. Which meant, to be entirely transparent, I was somewhat scared to come back to F-Zero X. F-Zero has always been a series that was about both speed and precision with little quarter for anyone with lesser experience and ageing reflexes. I’d already been through this with Unirally, and I didn’t relish the possibility that I’d have the same issues with F-Zero X.
Thankfully my worries were short-lived, because while F-Zero X is a great, intense racing title, and it’s still as tough as nails at anything above (low level?) difficulty, it’s not quite as physically punishing on my thumbs as Unirally was. I’ve had a lot of fun this week, and it’s inspired me to play other retro games as well. This didn’t feel like cheating, because I returned for fresh, fast F-Zero X racing every time as well. A win-win-win situation, really.
If you stop even for a second to think how insane this all is, you'll fall off. So don't stop, and don't think. Just drive.
If you stop even for a second to think how insane this all is, you’ll fall off.
So don’t stop, and don’t think. Just drive.

Something I never appreciated at the time I was originally playing F-Zero X is how well the game handles the N64’s somewhat limited draw distance problem. Most games used some form of “fog” to hide their draw-in issues, but with a fast racing game you don’t have that luxury. So what F-Zero X does instead is twist the track in front of you to hide the bits it’s still dropping onto the track as you go. It’s not 100% perfect, and if you watch the post-match replays, which revolve the track around it becomes much more apparent, but when you’re in the moment the lack of draw distance really isn’t an issue. Yes, F-Zero X is both blocky and grainy in appearance, but it totally doesn’t matter.
If you can't see that it can't draw the track, you don't know it can't draw the track. Very clever.
If you can’t see that it can’t draw the track, you don’t know it can’t draw the track. Very clever.

Here’s a sobering thought. If you exclude the GBA F-Zero titles, which were largely rehashes of how the SNES game worked (and in one case, never released outside Japan anyway), there are only three “main console” F-Zero games. The SNES original, F-Zero X here and F-Zero GX (Gamecube).
Captain Falcon is a playable character in the Super Smash Bros games, of which there are four so far. Maybe four and a half if you count the 3DS game as its own distinct entity. Which means that it’s been both X years since we had a “new” F-Zero game (or Y if you don’t live in Japan), and the game’s ostensible “star” has been in more fighting games than racing games.
Sweet SWEEEEEEEET boost power. Come to daddy!
Sweet SWEEEEEEEET boost power. Come to daddy!

F-Zero X is, in my view, the best Nintendo 64 pure racing title. Yes, of course I own a copy of Mario Kart 64, and that’s a great, fun racing title. But it’s not a pure racing title. Skill has its place, but any game where you can change the outcome because you kept hold of a red shell until just before the finish line has its elements of luck (or if you want to be stubborn, resource management) isn’t a pure racing title. If you’ve played Mario Kart before you know exactly what I’m talking about.
You'll only get in first with skill, and you can stay there with skill too.
You’ll only get in first with skill, and you can stay there with skill too.

F-Zero X has little of that; you can push and shove other cars around, and you have to manage your energy resources carefully, but if you’re in the lead at the end you can sail to victory on a speed boost without having to worry about anyone else’s powerup robbing you of your moment of glory.
Was it worth my time? Yes, absolutely. I’ve got a lot of nostalgic warmth for the F-Zero titles generally, and F-Zero X still stands up very well indeed. I may in fact use it in future weeks as a quick palate cleanser, because races are fast and fun every time, even when I’m losing.

F-Zero-tastic! Where can I get it?

For the very first time this challenge, I’ve hit upon a game that you actually could have bought on a Virtual Console service. When Nintendo made it available for the Wii many critics savaged F-Zero X on the grounds that the sequel, F-Zero GX was superior in many respects. I don’t disagree that it’s a better looking game — it would want to be — but it’s not available except as a disc, and in any case you can’t run Gamecube games officially on a Wii U, although there are homebrew hacks to cover that side of things.
However, that’s the Wii virtual console store, not the Wii U one. You can’t buy F-Zero X for the Wii U virtual console in Australia, even though the hardware could, I’m certain, handle it. Major bummer.
Bear in mind that with the NX incoming, there’s no clear path for what happens to virtual console titles in the future, although the smart money (i.e the money that’s been through this before with the Wii) says you’d have to buy it yet again if it’s even offered. Given the no-Wii-U version yet plus no sequel yet issue, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
If you like physical hardware (and I think by this stage I’ve made it clear that I do) then
You can hunt for a copy on eBay here.
As always, that’s an affiliate link, support the sites you like, etc, blah, blah.

Next week: Medal is not a verb

Voting was slow on Olympic games, and I only realised after the fact that I also own Asterix At The Olympic Games for PS2. Although on second thoughts, perhaps I dodged another bullet by not playing that one.
In any case, Athlete Kings for the Sega Saturn won the voting pretty handily. That’s good in that it’s my favourite of the Olympic-style games, although strictly speaking an old agreement with a friend means he has to be present every time I play it. I may have to either appoint a substitute, or kidnap him or something. Hmm.
What about the week after?
I need a fresh vote!
As I’m writing this, the world is going nuts over the trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One. Sadly, some idiots folks are bitching about the fact that there’s a female lead, but then you can’t help some folks. Except maybe with a Sarlacc pit, but I’m fresh out.
Anyway, there are plenty of Star Wars games, and more than a few in my collection. So we’ll go to a galaxy far, far away for next week’s vote. Also, a simple request: If you’re voting and you’re interested, please share this article around! More traffic means more votes and input for future games (and feel free to drop me a line if you’ve got any criticism, suggestions, etc) and allows me more time to dedicate to this. In the end, the games will thank you.*
[socialpoll id=”2381085″]
*Games can’t technically thank you. But I feel sure they would if they could.

Retrogaming Challenge: The story so far

Want to catch up on the action you’ve missed? Check out the list below:

Shin Nippon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Road 2: The Next Generation (N64)Toukon_ReversalDonkey Konga (Gamecube)DonkeyKonga_2
The Firemen (SNES)Firemen_FiresSpace Invaders (2600)SpaceInvaders2600_1
Three Dirty Dwarves (Saturn)3DD_BossFightTrog (NES)TROG_EAT
Robocop vs The Terminator (Megadrive)RBvT_gunsJames Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Xbox)EoN_Bond_Corner
Godzilla Generations (Dreamcast)Zilla_1Devil Dice (PSOne)DD_Trial
Asterix (Sega Master System)Asterix_RomansToki (Atari Lynx)Toki_1_600
Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home (PS2)byw2Super Monkey Ball (Gamecube)SMB_Goal
Unirally (SNES)Unirally_1Mutant League Football (Megadrive)MLF_Ref_600
Q*Bert (Atari 2600)QBert_2_600Alien 3 (SNES vs Megadrive)Alien3_MD_600

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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