F-Zero is dying. The Futuristic racing genre as a whole has been releasing fewer and fewer games every year, and the F-Zero franchise in particular, despite defining the futuristic racing genre, has not released a new game since 2004 and that one sold extremely poorly in Japan and was never brought overseas. Compared to the ridiculous fanbases of other games such as fighting games or Role-playing games, the F-Zero community is rather small. However, they do retain a much tighter community of people sharing racing times and strategies, compared to most other communities surrounding other genres of games.
So what makes a game, a futuristic racing game? This genre of games typically is set apart from other types of racing games by having much much higher speeds than a normal racer and does not feature randomized elements such as items or hazards, unlike kart racers. The vehicles themselves usually are given much higher turn speeds and tighter cornering to accommodate for the ridiculous speeds: thus requiring the player to have absolute control over the vehicle while learning the track. Newer iterations also tend to feature fully 3D environments that tend to ignore the laws of gravity, having you drive on walls, ceilings, etc.
The Futuristic Racing game genre did not really exist until one day Nintendo needed to show off the capabilities of their new console at the time, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System or SNES. Its CPU had relatively new technology at the time, called mode 7. Mode 7 allows an image to be taken and tilted, allowing for some nice effects, essentially having a 3D environment, during a time when pretty much all other games up to that point were 2D games. To showcase this, Nintendo created the first game of its kind, F-Zero. At the time, it was one of the fastest and smoothest of the racing games. Many critics such as Famitsu, IGN, and Gamespot gave the game high scores, praising its fluid controls. However, looking back, the lack of a multiplayer mode brings down a bit of its legacy, and the difficulty later on in the game can be extremely frustrating. However, and more importantly, F-Zero set the stage of what is to be expected from futuristic racing games, in level design, game balance, controls, and probably the most important feature: time attack. A visual representation of how fast you could finish a track gave a reason for its current community to exist- by competing with each other, meticulously coming up with new strategies, and practicing to achieve the fastest completion times possible. So, F-Zero SNES was a nice flagship to the genre. However, its replayability is slightly questionable due to the lack of multiplayer and the game being fairly overshadowed by other more casual racing games such as the kart racing genre.
Nintendo had a new console coming out featuring another breathtaking technical advancement at the time, which was real 3D imagining. That console was the Nintendo 64. And to help show off the capabilities of a Nintendo 64, they turned to the Entertainment Analysis and Development Division to make the next F-Zero game, F-Zero X. The game runs extremely smoothly even while having all 30 racers on-screen at the same time. The last iteration in the series had a great soundtrack; however, it was difficult to hear in-game due to the loud engine sound effects. The original themes were expanded upon to create a rebellious rock feel, and in my opinion, has one of the best soundtracks out of any game. The game feels even faster than its predecessor and was praised for being able to render at a smooth steady 60 frames per second, which was unheard of for its time with its blistering speed and player control. However, the game had to make a lot of graphical sacrifices to maintain its extreme speed, which makes the game look extremely bad by present-day standards. It did not sell as well as its predecessor due to the popularity of other 3D games on the system such as Mario 64 or Goldeneye 007.
The next installment of the main series was F-Zero GX for the Nintendo Gamecube, released in 2003. Using the massive graphical improvements compared to the Nintendo 64, It created fully realized 3D environments. The track design differs massively from F zero X featuring more mechanics and unusual geometry. The speed of this game is even faster than its predecessor, and coupled with difficult computer-controlled opponents, made this game notorious for being one of the most difficult video games in history. Due to its difficulty and Nintendo’s decision to become a more family-friendly video game company, this began the downfall of F-Zero as it is not well suited for a casual market. Shigeru Miyamoto, the producer of X and GX, hinted that there wasn’t much they could do with the game, stating, “What do you want from F zero that hasn’t been done before?”. However, in recent years and especially in 2020, the more hardcore population started to grow again, bringing a recent boom in popularity in competitions for the fastest time completion or “speedruns”.
Overall the games delivered solid gameplay. However, due to the lack of a recent addition to the series and the current consumer market at the time, F-Zero sadly has fallen into obscurity as a Fad for diehard Nintendo fans, and will most likely continue to stay that way as long as Nintendo continues to refuse to produce another F-Zero game.