I remember the racing games of the 32-bit era pretty well. Most were a stuttering mess that could barely keep a decent framerate and even when they did it was in the low 20s at best. Sure we had our Gran Turismos and Ridge Racers but those were the exception, not the rule. The N64 saw far too many racing games and admittedly a nice chunk of them were decent. But one game stands apart from the rest for its technical achievement and content, and that is F-Zero X.
Released in 1998 worldwide many of the series staples were introduced in this game. The F-Zero Grand Prix is brought back after a hiatus (clever) with new rules and regulations but the name of the game is the same; place first to win. Noted for its rock steady 60 fps performance and abundance of content F-Zero X was an anomaly for racing games of the time. Most racing games back then only had 3 tracks and maybe 5 or 6 cars which when is pretty fucking pathetic considering these were CD games. But leave it to Nintendo and cartridges to pack the game with relevant content that helps the game stand out as one of the best of that generation.
The majority of the characters fans would come to know and love in the series were introduced here. The number of competitors is increased to 30, including the 4 from the original game. The differing characteristics between each vehicle are greatly enhanced and have a notable impact on gameplay. You still have the option of adjusting the balance between top speed and acceleration to offset your chosen racers weaknesses. New to the series is the ability to hit other vehicles with a spin attack and side attack, which when timed right can create awesome pileups and the opportunity to steal first place. While the basic race mechanics were given an overhaul the track design saw the biggest changes.
With the move to 3d came the opportunity to create wicked courses that twist and bend in ways not possible in 2d. The addition of hills, loops and tunnels really changes how you approach the finish line. Most courses have corkscrews and pipes that allow you to drive on all sides, completely bypassing head on confrontations with fellow drivers or creating opportunities to ambush them and completely knock them off the track. The same applies to you as well so you need to stay on your toes. The two attacks at your disposal definitely do a good job of livening up the staid race to the finish without changing the feel of the game into Wipeout or Mario Kart.
Aiding in this are the perfect controls and physics. Maneuvering around each track is a breeze and almost becomes “zen” when you’re in the zone and completely focused. The learning curve is a bit steep and I can guarantee you’ll be making the most of the adjustable difficulty settings. But its worth it put in the time and learn the games quirks because there is a wealth of content to keep you occupied.
Broken down into Jack, Queen, and King Cups, each with 6 tracks you won’t see everything in an afternoon. But on top of that are two hidden cups you have to earn. The first, Joker cup is considered Expert level difficulty and the tracks bear that out. The computer AI is vicious but if you persevere you gain access to X-Cup, which is, get this, a random track generator. Yes, you read that correctly. Although they are a bit simple the game will pump out an infinite number to keep you entertained for as long as you like. The standard Vs and Practice modes are joined by Death Race, with the object being to eliminate the other 29 competitors in a set time limit. You see all that? That’s how you make a racing game. None of those bullshit 3 tracks and 3 more flipped and mirrored.
While the graphics occasionally has its moments its nothing to write home about. But that sense of speed man!
Once you start the game the sense of speed is immediate. F-Zero X was like nothing else on the market with its blistering pace. Even with all 30 cars on screen and bombs going off the framerate never dips below 60 and this applies to split screen multiplayer as well. To achieve this though Nintendo sacrificed detail and effects but it works in this case. There are some subtle lighting effects here and there but nothing spectacular. But when you’re twisting around a pipe at 1500 mph and smacking AI cars around with butt rock in your ear it won’t matter. Speaking of the soundtrack, I’m not the biggest fan of the music but it does seem appropriate for the tone of the game. There are some remixes of the SNES music but overall I prefer the orchestral sound of its predecessor.
Nintendo had a specific goal in mind for F-Zero X and they delivered. With blazing fast graphics, a smooth frame rate and tons of content there’s no reason to skip this installment in the series. It will definitely whet your appetite for the masterpiece that is F-Zero GX.