by Grant Jones
F-Zero is probably the most hardcore series Nintendo has; one that happily ticks off the prerequisites needed to throw up unrelenting racing for adrenaline junkies on each system it graces. Brutal difficulty curves, intensely heavy soundtracks and a sci-fi setting all lend Captain Falcon and his unsightly chums a level of superiority over lesser racers. For us fans that endured F-Zero GX’s lenient speed camera policy and suffered mild epilepsy as a result of the trippy 60 frames-per-seconds flashing from a fat 20” TV back in 2004, have we really missed F-Zero as much as we think?
It was brutal. When you fell off the course you weren’t met with instant confirmation of your failings as a futuristic Lewis Hamilton – you had to wait, watching your ship plummet in to a densely populated urban area. Even then, when it was clear that your character was clearly dead, you were told “Retire”, rather than “Game Over” or “Continue?”. “Retire? You’re saying that my shattered remains and decimated ship should retire from the race?” It was this added lack of empathy for the player that treats you as its bitch rather than a player, that gives F-Zero its hardcore credibility the most. Recently, we’re reminded of this nasty side to Nintendo, by Luigi’s death stare, the common culprit of many an argument - the blue shell, or my personal nemesis that is the cheating AI. Mario Kart 8 knows when to be a right prick – usually just as you look to acquire your fourth 1st place finish on 150cc to get the gold trophy and three shiny stars, it’s snatched away from you on the last corner of the last race.
F-Zero, as a series, has a place on either of Nintendo’s home or handheld consoles, but deserves to be more than another dazzling, space racer. I’d love to explore the world of F-Zero and get to know the inhabitants – particularly the local council that approved floating death races. Or how about a racing RPG, akin to TOCA Race Driver? Driving RPGs are rare and while car games such as Forza help replicate the sense of achievement and progression as you gradually obtain better cars, it’s never that fun. Perhaps a Metroidvania style game, whereby new upgrades to your vehicle allow you to access new areas or engage in new races? Or high-charged, weaponised death matches reminiscent of Vigilante 8 and Twisted Metal, albeit with 30 competitors and manic gravity-defying levels? There’s so much potential within the F-Zero universe beyond the bog-standard racing. More importantly, an F-Zero racing game in 2015 is near enough redundant thanks to the aforementioned Mario Kart 8. Here’s why:
1. Ever since Double Dash on the Gamecube helped introduce 2+ lanes on to our roads (hey, they appeared around 2005, it’s no coincidence), Mario Kart has had a gimmick to help justify the existence of a new entry in the series. The Wii had motorbikes, 7 had flying and underwater sections, and Mario Kart 8’s gimmick is the ability to race up walls and upside down, something fellow (and equally dead) racing series Wave Race and 1080 can’t really utilise. This was an F-Zero ‘thing’ until now.
2. The arrival of DLC. Nintendo can now sell F-Zero levels to fans of the franchise, allowing them to race upside down in Mute City, while controlling a character they actually care about (Toad excluded). Racing as Bowser through Mute City, in a Mercedes? We don’t realise how lucky we truly are.
3. The introduction of 200cc. This uber-fast new mode is the final nail in F-Zero’s coffin, proving that the levels in Mario Kart 8 have been carefully designed so that they can still be navigated at ridiculous speeds.
4. It’s only a matter of time before full blown F-Zero DLC is released, with Captain Falcon and his blue ship available to throw shells and bananas at. And yes, he can still slip on bananas despite actually floating above the surface of the road – else how would grit and ice affect him?
The only area that Mario Kart 8 hasn’t superseded F-Zero in is the Battle Mode. Nintendo could easily shoehorn in a Death Race mode (name may need a change – suggestions welcome!) – Rainbow Road is perfect for this, although 30 racers may be stretching the limitations of the Wii-U. If there was DLC for Mario Kart such as this, it could help extend the life of a game that’s already heralded as the best Mario Kart ever, and be used to milk fans later in the Wii-U’s life.
Mario Kart 8: Game of the Year Edition anybody?