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F-Zero X

Rated E for Everyone

Platform:

Nintendo 64 (N64)

Publisher:

Nintendo

Developer:

EAD

Released:

October 1998

ROM Size:

128 megabits

Players:

One to Four Simultaneous

Genre:

Racing/Driving

Save:

Cartridge

Optional:

Rumble Pak, 64DD compatible

 

 

> Final Rating: 4.6 out of 5.0

Introduction

When it comes to video game sequels for well-known games, Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo are notorious for taking their sweet ol' time. The original F-Zero debuted for the Super NES in Japan in 1990. Guess what? It's now 1998—eight years later! So how does the sequel to one of the most popular and beloved games of the 16-bit era stack up? Very well. F-Zero X is a worthy successor to one of the all-time classics.

 

From the onset, Miyamoto and his EAD team decided to make the game fast and furious. In order to achieve this, even on a system as powerful as the N64, the designers had to go with a simplistic polygon engine that would permit the game to move at 60 fps (i.e., very fast) and have up to 30 cars on the screen at once. That means the game looks like crap at times, but the result is a feeling unlike no other in the video game world.

 

The first few times you play F-Zero X there's a very good chance you won't be all that impressed with the game. I'll admit it. The first times I played F-Zero X I was less than impressed. But as I started to play the game more and more, getting further into cups and playing at higher levels of difficulty, I began to truly appreciate what Miyamoto was aiming for when he designed the game. F-Zero X is an adrenaline-pumping, vertigo-inducing experience that will continually challenge you as you make your way through the numerous cups and difficulty levels.

Gameplay & Control

As with any other game that comes from Nintendo out of Japan, the control in F-Zero X is fabulous—responsive, easy to learn, not overly complicated, yet filled with technique. First of all, Rumble Pak support in the game is pretty good. It's probably one of the top five or seven best uses for it on the system. Since the game doesn't need the Controller Pak, you'll be even more inclined to use it. As expected, the Control Stick is used to move your machine. When going off of jumps, pressing forward will cause you to descend more quickly and pick up speed. If you press back, then you'll slowly float in the air, but you'll go farther. So you need to find a median between those two depending on the jump you're going off. The A button is the accelerator. The B button activates your turbo boost. The Bottom C button is your air brake.

 

Finally, the Z and R buttons are used to drift and slide. For the most part, you'll just want to slide around bends, but drifting can be helpful, too. In order to slide to the right, you must hold down R and press to the right on the Control Stick. In order to slide to the left, you must hold down Z and press to the left on the Control Stick. Drifting is accomplished by holding down a button and pressing the opposite direction on the Control Stick. So to drift right, you would hold down Z while pressing Right on the Control Stick. To drift left, you would hold down R while pressing Left on the Control Stick.

 

New to the F-Zero series is the inclusion of attacks. Yes, there are actually limited attacks in F-Zero X. Fortunately, they aren't anything of the Mario Kart variety and are actually a decent addition. There are two types of attacks you can perform: the side attack and the spin attack. The side attack is done by merely pressing Z or R twice. Pressing Z twice obviously will send you to the left while pressing R twice will send you to the right. This move is effective for finishing off weak opponents and for sending them off portions of tracks without boundaries. A more powerful, though harder-to-control, attack is the spin attack. You can pull this off by holding Z and pressing R twice (or holding R and pressing Z twice).

 

Before talking about F-Zero X's modes and gameplay, it should be noted that there's an unfathomable number of cars from which you can choose: 30! Like the original, each machine is different and has its own driver who has a little story. Unfortunately, the cool character design and story take a back seat to the racing action. At the Machine Select screen, there are five rows that contain six machines each. Only the first row, which includes all four cars from the original plus two more, is available when you first play. Each time you win a circuit on a different level of difficulty, you'll earn an "X" that appears above the cup's name. For every three X's you earn, you'll open up another row of cars.

 

Each of the machines is rated in three categories: Body, Boost, and Grip. The categories are given letter grades from A to E. So if a machine is given an E for Body, then that means it's very weak and can't take much damage. If its grip is given a B, then it handles pretty well. You get the picture. Additionally, after selecting your machine, you're given the opportunity to tweak your Machine Setting for each track. The only tweaking you can do, though, is to balance your car between Acceleration (to the left) and Top Speed (to the right). Just in case you're wondering, I personally use the Fire Stingray, which is the pink one that was in the original, and set the balance to a three-fourths speed setting on every track.

 

F-Zero X contains quite a few more modes of play than its predecessor. You can choose from GP Race, Time Attack, Death Race, VS Battle, Practice, and Options. The GP Race mode is the main method of play. It consists of exhilarating grand prix-style races for one player against 29 other computer opponents. And, believe it or not, the computer doesn't even cheat. There are four different cups with six tracks per cup plus a special fifth cup. There are also four levels of difficulty, which means even the most seasoned F-Zero X veteran will be challenged. What's pretty cool is that machines can drop out of the race—either by falling off the track or by blowing up. If they blow up on the track, then the remains of their machine might still be around, so you have to be careful not to hit them! Of course, if any computer driver doesn't finish a race, then it will get zero points for that race! Speaking of which, the designers opted to go with a very odd point scheme for the GP Race:

 

Place

Points

 

Place

Points

 

Place

Points

1

100

11

50

21

25

2

93

12

47

22

23

3

87

13

44

23

22

4

81

14

41

24

21

5

76

15

38

25

20

6

71

16

35

26

19

7

66

17

33

27

18

8

62

18

31

28

17

9

58

19

29

29

16

10

54

20

27

30

15

 

As you go through the GP Race, there's a good chance (especially on the higher difficulty levels) that you either won't finish a race or need to finish much higher as you near the end of the cup (you have to pause and pick restart before you cross the finish line). Fortunately, F-Zero X is forgiving yet fair in this respect. On the Novice level, you get six lives. On the Standard level, you get five lives. On the Expert level, you get four lives. On the Master level, you get three lives. By falling off, blowing up, or picking restart, you'll get a chance to play the track over again. It won't cost you anything in the points standings, but it will cost you a life. You might be thinking to yourself that it would make the game easier, but trust me, you need those few extra chances on the two highest levels of difficulty.

 

Moving on, let's talk about the Time Attack mode. F-Zero X undeniably has one of the best time trial modes ever. First of all, your track and lap times are not saved from the GP Race. The only way to save times is through the Time Attack mode. At first I was a little disappointed in this, but I realized it was for the better in the end. Second, it plays the same as the GP Race. That means you can only use your manual turbo boost once the second lap starts. You also can play any level that you've opened up from any of the first four cups—but not from the special fifth cup. It saves your top five overall times, your single best lap time, and your maximum speed. It also lets you enter your initials and shows which machine and which balance setting were used to achieve that time. Nice. The coolest thing, though, is how the game can put up to three ghosts on the track along with you. Say, for example, you're trying to shave a few precious hundreds of a second on Mute City. You're probably going to race the level over and over. As long as you play the same level without switching to a different one, the game will put multiple ghosts on the track with you. It will keep track and make ghosts of your three best times—as long as you don't switch levels or turn off the power. It's great to be able to see multiple ghosts of your best times to let you gauge your performance even more accurately.

 

A novel addition to F-Zero X is the Death Race mode. At first I didn't even bother with it. But after a while, I decided to give it a shot and immediately got hooked. The object of the Death Race mode is to get rid of all 29 computer opponents as quickly as you can (it will take a few minutes). In line with the other modes, you can either try knocking them off or you can try blowing them up. The Death Race has its own short track that is 100% straight with a jump, a loop, and an energy pit. Also, parts of the track have boundaries while other parts are open. It's surprisingly fun.

 

The most important addition to F-Zero X is the best and worst part of the game—the VS Battle mode. It's the mode in which two to four players can compete against each other. If only two players are participating, then the computer will take control of the two other machines. If three players are playing, the computer will take control of the fourth machine. You get five points for finishing first, three points for second, one point for third, and zero points for fourth. There are also three options you can switch between in the Options mode from the main screen. You can turn the following on or off: Vs. Computer, which is when the computer takes control of remaining machines when only two or three players are playing; Vs. Slot, which is a lame feature that lets people who retire from the race early try to screw the others by matching three slots of the same kind; and Vs. Handicap, which means the game will use computer assistance to keep races tight when turned on.

 

Here's the good news: You can pick any level you opened up in the GP Race, and all of the multi-player modes run nearly as quickly as the one-player mode. Here's more good news: three- and four-player racing is an absolute blast—a very good multi-player game for the N64. Here's the bad news: A maximum of four cars can be on the track at once, even in the two-player mode. I find it absolutely appalling that the two-player mode doesn't have more computer competition. With such a simple graphics engine, I don't see why more computer cars couldn't be added to put like 8 or 12 or 16 cars on the track. Even Mario Kart 64 had 8 racers on the track at once.

 

As far as the other two choices from the main screen go, Practice and Options, there's not much to say. In the Practice mode, you pick a track and you race on it for as long as you like. You also get your turbo boost from the start. And most of the options are for the multi-player mode and were mentioned above. The only other options are to switch the sound between stereo and mono and to clear all data.

 

So what's the gameplay like in F-Zero X? The game has quite a few subtle but important changes. As a matter of fact, there's a chance some people may not like the game as much as the original. But most gamers will enjoy the game just as much, if not more, than the original—that is, as long as they play it long enough.

 

While the tracks in the original F-Zero were all flat, F-Zero X introduces longer jumps, banked turns, tunnels, loops, and twists. Fortunately, it won't make people who get motion sickness as nauseated as Extreme-G. The races are also only three laps long while the original had five-lap races. Expect a single lap to take anywhere from 20 seconds to 50 seconds. A three-lap race may take anywhere from 1 minute and 5 seconds to 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete. The "zippers" from the original have made a comeback, and they're more prevalent than ever. You'll need to maximize their use on the highest levels of difficulty. Jumps are mostly confined to going between sections of the track (with a drop-off in between) and are not just in the middle of the track for no reason. The ever-important energy pits are around, too. They're not always in the same place on each track, though, and there is sometimes more than one place to pick up energy.

 

The two things Miyamoto and his team aimed for when developing F-Zero X are really what separate the game from the original: speed and intensity. F-Zero X is, well, fast. Just racing on a normal balance setting without using boosts may not seem overwhelming. But if you tweak your machine to give it a faster overall top speed, combine it with hitting all of the zippers and strategically using your boost, and pump up the difficulty level, then you'll find that F-Zero X is unquestionably the fastest racing game ever. Now imagine all that speed while racing against 29 other cars who want to win as much as you do and will prove it to you. This intense racing experience is simply unmatched.

 

Maybe the biggest difference between F-Zero and F-Zero X, however, is when it comes to turbo boosts. In F-Zero X you have to trade energy for an extra boost, and each machine is rated differently in how much energy it takes for a boost. On top of that, you cannot use your boost until the second lap. So once the second lap starts, you'll have to strategically use your boost as much as you can. And you better make sure you go through every energy pit. As you become a more advanced F-Zero X player, you'll realize that you'll have zero or almost zero energy before you get to each energy pit or before you cross the finish line. Maximizing turbo boosts—both through the use of on-track zippers and your manual turbo boost—is the key ingredient to victory on the higher levels of difficulty and the way to get the best times in the Time Trial mode.

Graphics & Sound

If you ask me, when it comes to graphics, F-Zero X looks like crap. The only two things that make it look better than a 16-bit game are the 3D tracks and the non-pixelated graphics. But since the developers made the graphics simple to make the game mind-bogglingly fast, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, some jaded gamers who need great graphics will undoubtedly be turned off. Also, there's quite a bit of pop-up in the distance. We can forgive it, but it does look odd from time to time.

 

The sound, on the other hand, is very intriguing. It's the best-sounding, most realistic music on the system—but it's in mono! The reason for this is because the developers opted to use pre-recorded digitized songs instead of the typical MIDI fare. Because of the N64's cartridge format, stereo music wasn't possible because of space. The pre-recorded music was used because it takes much less processing power than MIDI, which freed up more CPU time for the graphics.

 

The music is actually quite incredible. All of the songs are hard rock, heavy metal, or death metal. Some of the levels from the original that made it into the sequel even have remixed music. The music generally falls into one of three categories: upbeat, hard rockin' music; Yngwie Malmsteen-inspired heavy metal; or death metal with "scary" voices and mumbling. And, yes, there is music in the multi-player modes, though the sound effects get too loud. The sound effects, interestingly enough, are actually in stereo. There are different sound effects for boosting, colliding, blowing up, jumping, landing, etc., which are all pretty decent. There's also some voice in the game such as "Pour it on, you're way out in front!" or "Watch your back!" or "You got boost power!"

Conclusion

F-Zero X is yet another N64 game from Nintendo's EAD group that's very awesome but still falls short of "god-like status" because it seems to be missing a little something and not everyone will not find it as good as the original. The lackluster two-player mode also brings it down a notch or two. But with a wonderfully addicting and invigorating one-player mode, a very good four-player mode, one of the best time trial modes around, a surprisingly fun novelty mode, and lots of machines and tracks, it may also have the most replay value of any N64 game. F-Zero X simply should not be missed by any gamer.

 

Graphics:

3.0

Sound:

4.6

Control:

4.6

Gameplay:

4.7

Lastability

4.7

OVERALL:

4.6

 

DOWN THE ROAD

Sadly, some gamers will pass on F-Zero X because it doesn't look like a 64-bit game, let alone a 32-bit one, and just barely beyond a 16-bitter. The Japanese release showed strong evidence of that with a quick drop-off after good first week sales. Don't be a dummy. Get this game and like it. F-Zero X is all about gameplay, and the gameplay definitely wouldn't be as good without the incredible speed, which is possible by having simple graphics. There are many ways to play, and each is equally fun. I'm not certain F-Zero X will reach the legendary status of its predecessor, but I don't see why it doesn't deserve to be. Remember, graphics aren't everything.

 

Review by: Scott McCall

First Reviewed: August 18, 1998

Appendix Added: October 26, 1998

 

 

 

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