26 years ago, on a cold morning in Japan, the Super Famicom launched with Super Mario World and F-Zero. Can you believe today marks the 26th birthday of F-Zero? What better time to look back on the game that was than now? I have fond memories of F-Zero — it was the first SNES game I ever played. A futuristic high speed racing game, it blew away gamers with its Mode-7 graphics. Tonight let’s pay homage to an early SNES classic.
And while the graphics were amazing for its time, perhaps it was the incredible sense of top speed that really left us all speechless. I don’t think there was anything like F-Zero on the home consoles back in August of ’91. You had to experience the game back then to truly appreciate it. It’s one of those games you play for the first time and never forget. Ask anyone who played it back in ’91 and they’ll probably have a memory to share with you. And since you asked so nicely, here is mine…
- The year: 1991
- The month: December
- The spot: Beautiful Lake Tahoe, located along the border between California and Nevada, west of Carson City
I was eight years old, on vacation with family and friends. You know, back in the good old days when folk had time, my family developed a strong friendship with four families. Together, between the five of us, 10 parents and 16 kids, we had some of the most legendary sleepovers in the history of such. 11 boys and 5 girls, ranging from birth dates of 1977 to 1987. Growing up, those were my brothers and sisters.
In December 1991 the parents wanted to go skiing at beautiful Lake Tahoe. We rented out a huge cabin where all 26 (!) of us stayed. It was insane, needless to say! One of the guys, Tommy, brought along his newly acquired Super Nintendo. He lugged three games along with him: Super Mario World, Final Fight and of course, F-Zero.
That Sunday morning I woke up to an empty cabin, with weird noises coming from the house in every which direction. I tip-toed downstairs timidly and yelled out the names of my family and friends.
No answer… except for the hissing of the house. I felt a chill creep up and down my spine. Some thing felt terribly off.
As I made my way to the kitchen, I found a note on the fridge.
We all went out for breakfast. We’ll be back soon. You had a long night last night, and I wanted you to get the extra rest. Make yourself some Honey Nut Cheerios, and don’t watch too much TV.
How could they? Without me? THE HEATHENS!
The cabin continued to groan and creak. It was freezing too! And I couldn’t help but feel… a presence in the house. I shivered as I stood prisoner in that cabin from hell.
It was the uneasiest feeling I ever had up to that point in my young eight-year-old life. I sat there in the kitchen and living room section of the house, petrified to go down the hall to use the restroom, much less head back upstairs. Hell, I passed up drinking that ice cold can of 7-UP I spotted in the fridge out of fear of having to use the restroom. Hey, if you saw that demonic hallway, you wouldn’t either…
I’ve never seen a ghost before in my life. And I hope that I never will. But have I ever felt the presence of one? If I ever did, that cold dreary December morning of 1991 definitely was it.
But I was a resourceful kid. Whenever I was alone and felt apprehensive, I’d turn on the radio or TV. My theory: the spirits would hear that I’m not alone, and therefore, they’d find someone else to mess with. So I turned on the TV and one of the WWF shows came up. It made me think of home sweet home, and for the next half hour, all was good.
Then the show ended.
And the haunted house was back.
Not able to locate any cartoons, I glanced down and saw Tommy’s Super Nintendo. F-Zero was sitting pretty in the cartridge slot. I hit power and was immediately engrossed by its high-end futuristic world. It took my mind from thinking about ghosts to intergalactic racing warfare. I played F-Zero and Final Fight until the gang came home. F-Zero was the first Super Nintendo game I ever played.
And I never looked back
As one might say… the rest is history.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE OF RACING
As far as racing games go, F-Zero holds claim to having a pretty nice plot. In the 20th century, mankind was gripped by the fear of being invaded by extraterrestrials. They referred to such space crafts as UFOs. Now, to those of us living in this day and age (the 26th century), this sounds like a fairy tale.
Basel, Switzerland. August 7, 1566. These men saw SOMETHING…
It is now the year 2560, and due to the human race’s countless encounters with alien life forms throughout the universe, Earth’s social framework has expanded to cosmic proportions. Now trade, technology transfer and cultural interchange are carried out on an interplanetary basis.
The millionaires who earned their enormous wealth through intergalactic trade, while satisfied with their rich lifestyles, yearned for new entertainment to stimulate their senses. Their wishes were met by a call for a new project based upon a seemingly simple premise: “Why not hold, on a galactic scale, some competition like the F-1 races once held on Earth centuries ago?”
Everyone jumped at this idea. Rich merchants from cities in the clouds or asteroids with almost uninhabitable environments immediately invested their wealth in the construction of various racing circuits.
These racing circuits were located as high as 300 feet above ground and held in place by sturdy anti-gravitational guide beams on both sides of the course. The racing machines developed for these tracks used the very latest in super-magnetic technology and were designed to travel without wheels, hovering one foot above the course track.
When the first Grand Prix race was held, people were angered at the brutality of the competition. The organizers had, during construction, placed various obstacles and traps along the raceway. But as time passed and people grew used to these dangers, they soon demanded even more excitement in the race. In time, winning this race meant earning the highest honor that could be bestowed upon anyone in the universe.
People came to call this Grand Prix simply…
PRACTICE (MODE) MAKES PERFECT
Jump plates make for some major hang time, but sloppy handling here could prove fatal.
These rough spots will deprive your machine of its speed if contact is made.
Careful not to slide out — the special coating blocks your magnetic field.
Talk about cutting it close! Gets the old heart pumping a tick or two faster.
Some of those right angles are downright BRUTAL!
Ahhhh, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN. How I remember thee. Back in the late ’80s my crazy uncle often took me to a mom and pop video shop called Video Mart. Next to the horror section was sci-fi. I rented this film once and the cover would forever burn itself into my memory. G-Fans have long debated Gigan’s forehead laser thanks to this cover you see here. It never did appear in the movies, that is, until 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. Curiously, it also appeared in Toho’s 1994 Super Famicom brawler. Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen.
At any rate, NEW WORLD [Order! For life for life! -Ed.] VIDEO’s logo graced the bottom of the VHS cover, and for whatever reasons it was an image that stuck. When I played F-Zero‘s Silence track, I could not believe the similarity! Take a look for yourself.
Right?! Surely it wasn’t just me… [It was ONLY you -Ed.]
One path sends you down a deadly explosive mine field. Yikes!
While the other path is clear. Make sure you hit that jump plate. Otherwise it’s Molasses City!
Key thing to remember here is ease off the pedal and let your momentum do the work.
Lots of jump plates are strewn about the course, but beware of the magnets that pull your vehicle down.
“No matter how bad you got it, someone somewhere else has it worse.” Yeah, don’t tell that to this guy.
Pretty gnarly and dramatic back in 1991. When your car crashes the camera moves forward briefly, then rotates 180 degrees to show you the burning wreckage. Nice.
You’re given your time results and this nifty option screen at the end of a practice run.
Check the records menu for… er… records. Brilliant! And so forth.
THE GRAND PRIX
Alright hotshot. You’ve mastered the seven courses in the practice mode. You’ve crushed your rival more times than you can count. Now it’s off to the real deal: the Grand Prix. Choose from three leagues and difficulty levels.
R2: Rendering Ranger is a Super Famicom game that commands a ton of dough. It switches from Contra-esque side scrolling run and gun levels to a space shooter. It’s an impressive display of the Super Nintendo’s capabilities.
Then I think about,
All the years we put in this relationship.
Who knew we’d make it this far…
Then I think about,
Where would I be if we were to just fall apart…
And I can’t stand the thought of losing you.
TIPS AND NOTES
- If you start the race with the throttle (B button) held down, you will start off with a powerful dash. However, after the initial boost there will be a momentary stall from which it takes time to begin to accelerate again
- During a jump, your machine will accelerate as it travels above the course. So to get the best speed don’t avoid the jump plates. Take care, however, to prevent your machine from leaving the side of the course and falling to a crash landing far below!
- When landing after a jump, press down on the control pad to tilt the nose of your machine upward. This prevents the impact shock of landing from decelerating your machine. You get more lift this way and it’ll help propel you over that extra long and nasty jump on White Land II
- If a rival machine approaches you from behind you will be alerted by the CHECK mark. Watch for your opportunity to block it from overtaking you
- If your machine loses its stability and begins to slip or slide you should momentarily release the throttle to restore the machine’s grip. Also keep in mind, for those icy patches simply let your vehicle’s momentum do all the heavy lifting
- Beat all three leagues on EXPERT and you’ll unlock MASTER. Beat all three leagues on MASTER and a different ending will be revealed…
- Astro Go Go! is a blatant (and rather poor) F-Zero rip-off. It was slated for a US release under the terrible name of Freeway Flyboys. Having played the game, I can see why it never happened…
- In their 100th issue (November 1997) EGM ranked F-Zero as the 18th best game of all time
Uncanny, I say…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
- EGM: 9, 9, 8, 8
- Super Play: 86%
There are things in life that stick with you forever. I’ll never forget playing F-Zero on a cold, dreary December morning 25 years ago. It was the first time I played the Super Nintendo. I was completely in awe. Although current gen games have long redefine our idea of amazing, nothing will ever strip F-Zero of its simple magic and intense high speed. Maybe some of the magic is gone, but it’s still a quality game. Some may find the rather straight-laced racing a bit outdated, but for my money there’s nothing like making that long jump by just barely clearing the strip line. Or using the speed boost to barrel ahead at 900 kilometers per hour only to hit a jump plate that flings you across the track like a man possessed. Sure it’s lacking the all-important two-player mode, but there’s no arguing its place in SNES history.
I think we all play games to be awed in some way. We play them to take us far away from the daily grind of our lives, and we play games that are simply fun and evoke a sense of wonder. After all these years, F-Zero has still got it. Though not the perennial classic of a Super Mario World, it is a classic in its own right, especially for its time. I’ll always have a special place in my gaming heart for F-Zero, the first SNES game I ever played. No Super Nintendo library is complete without a copy, if for nothing else, historical value. A great showcase launch title that won the hearts of many, F-Zero is a memorable and noteworthy relic from a bygone era. Happy 26th birthday, F-Zero!