With SNES classic F-Zero coming to the end of its spell as the 30 cent/30 pence Famicom Anniversary promotion on the Wii U eShop, some of us in the Nintendo Life team thought that it was the perfect time to talk about the franchise. With just four main releases — include the GBA title but discounting the arcade unit — it's not been particularly prolific, and has now been in the wilderness for a number of years.
So, joining features editor Tom Whitehead for this friendly chat are editor-at-large Jon Wahlgren, US reviewer Ron DelVillano, as well as contributors Ken Barnes and Martin Watts. We chew the fat over the series to date, as well as our faint dreams of what could be yet to come.
Tom Whitehead: First of all, please introduce yourselves to the readers.
Jon Wahlgren: I'm Jon, editor at large and pilot of the Blood Hawk.
Ron DelVillano: I'm Ron, US based reviewer and I recently trimmed my beautiful beard.
Ken Barnes: I'm Ken, editor of PureXbox.com, and I have ridiculous dyed red hair.
Martin Watts: I'm Martin, lowly contributor by day, driver of the Wild Goose by night.
Jon: Which, incidentally, runs on Grey Goose.
Tom: And I'm Tom, features editor and probably in need of a beard trim. First up, what was your first experience of F-Zero on SNES?
Ken: After being a Mega Drive kid for many years, I finally took the plunge and bough a SNES with F-Zero. I'd never seen anything like it - the speed was just insane.
Ron: The first time I ever played F-Zero on the SNES was with my older cousin. This was many years ago, but I'm pretty sure I ended up stealing his copy of the game that day and bringing it back to my house.
Martin: I've actually never owned the original F-Zero, but I did manage to play it around the time it released at a friend's house, and was amazed with the impressive visuals. Although I seemed to be a bit of a wall magnet when it came to the gameplay side of things...
Tom: This may get me run out of Nintendo Life forever, but as a Mega Drive kid of limited means I didn't own it until the Wii Virtual Console. I was struck by how well the gameplay held up by modern standards, to be honest.
Jon: I was a Genesis/Mega Drive kid but a few friends of mine had SNESes, so all my 16-bit bases were covered. I remember thinking how inferior their games were, with the exception of F-Zero. The speed and twirly Mode 7 graphics left a huge impression, and I remember being really wow'ed by the shredding soundtrack and colourful tracks. They weren't really that colourful, but prettier than RC Pro Am.
Show of hands, how many of us owned a SNES in its prime?
Ken: I did.
Martin: Me too
Tom: I'm the odd one out, yay for an inferiority complex.
You rich kids...
Jon: I had a Genesis, so you and me both.
Tom: Awesome, so I’m not on my own!
So it was impressive at the time, I think we're all agreed, yet it had no multiplayer. Looking back, was that something that you actually noticed?
Ken: Not in the slightest - I was too busy trying to get through single player to even worry about that.
Ron: Really? For some reason I'm remembering split-screen action. Maybe we were just trading the controller off though...
Jon: Yes and no. We'd take turns on the tracks so everyone got to play, but we were more interested in other games for multiplayer, like Mario Kart, or tricking each other into controlling Tails.
Martin: I was quite young at the time, so it never really crossed my mind. Again, I was swapping the pad with a friend while playing, but it was no different from playing multiplayer in Super Mario World.
Ron: I guess I'm with Martin on this one!
Jon: Yeah, multiplayer or a lack thereof was never really something that bothered me. I also played Doom with two people, one controlling movement and the other in charge of shooting and actions. You've not played coop until you have to coordinate to strafe.
Tom: What made it truly stand out, if you have to pick just one thing? Graphics, music, sense of speed, gnarly vehicles?
Ron: As far as gameplay goes, it was the speed for me. But to this day that soundtrack is what resonates the most.
Jon: At the time it was the sense of speed, definitely. As the games got faster and prettier, though, that soundtrack has stuck with me.
Ken: The speed was the only thing, for me. I could live without the soundtrack as I didn't think it was that special.
Jon: Shun! Shun!
Martin: For me, it had to be the visuals - I just loved the pseudo-3D effect. It was quite unreal at the time.. .or at least I thought it was.
Tom: As a European, having the Wii U release at 60Hz made me very happy; I finally enjoyed the full speed. How many of you have picked it up on Wii U, and does it stand up well?
Jon: Apart from the cheap drone cars on the track, I think it's just as fun as it was back then.
Ken: I've picked it up on the Wii U, and it stands up very well, I feel. The series has been bettered by Wipeout HD for my money, but the Wii U VC release is really good fun. At 30p, it was an absolute steal.
Ron: For 30 cents? I'd be a fool not to buy it! And it's still a great game, but way more difficult than I remember it being. My reflexes aren't quite what they were in my salad days.
Martin: I'm ashamed to admit I haven't got it yet. I'll get my coat...
Tom: Dear me!
Ken: I found it easier than I did back in the day - which is strange.
Tom: So let's move onto the brave world of polygons, with F-Zero X (the first one I owned) on Nintendo 64 — when you first played that one, what was your reaction compared to the feeling of the SNES original?
Martin: I rented F-Zero X the week it came out and it just utterly blew me away. The sense of speed was overwhelming (even in the PAL version!).
Jon: Obsessive. It was the first one I owned all to myself and I was so thrilled with the sense of speed (even for PAL), the complexity of the tracks and the quantity of vehicles on the track.
I really loved the spin attack too, added a little more depth to it.
Martin: Funnily enough, I got a Japanese version of the game the other day - it's amazing how much of a difference it makes to the overall sense of speed!
Ron: I never got too invested in X, but I remember being overwhelmed by it in a good way. I also competed in a tournament at a local game shop and I placed 2nd. I won nothing.
Tom: 2nd is nowhere, Ron.
Ken: I thought it was good, but it didn't have the initial "wow" factor or me, mainly because I'd been playing Wipeout for three years by the time F-Zero X was launched.
In comparison, FZX was weak.
Jon: I remember being super excited about and then disappointed over how, as a non-import player, I'd never be able to use the 64DD track editor.
Tom: It was my second console — well, my brother's — after the Mega Drive (cue violins), so I thought it was outstanding. It was also one game that I feel flourished with a 3D engine; some of the track design was outrageously good.
Jon: I've never liked the way WipEout handled so I was far more excited about F-Zero X.
Martin: Ken, I'm intrigued - did you not find the speed of F-Zero X impressive in comparison to Wipeout?
Ken: I did, but I just felt that Wipeout was a vastly more complex game, with many more tactical nuances. FZX's speed was amazing - of course it was - but it just felt a little...I don't know...basic, maybe.
The tracks were massively impressive, though!
Tom: And it had multiplayer.
Ken: Well yeah, and that.
Jon: I always felt like WipEout was too fiddly. Granted I didn't have a PSX at the time but since then I've sunk hours into WipEout 64 (yeah, yeah) and HD + Fury and never really felt comfortable.
Tom: We should probably mention F-Zero Maximum Velocity, the only handheld entry to date.
Ken: Didn't play that one...
Tom: Good start!
Jon: Aww I really like that one. It was a great return to SNES form and an awesome way to show off the GBA.
I was super excited about it and it did not disappoint. I think it's held up pretty well too in the Ambassador program. It would kick your ass and it did not care if you cried.
Tom: I feel it was off a little in the controls, myself. Whereas I immediately got into F-Zero X and F-Zero on Wii, I didn't get on with this one, and couldn't really be bothered to go back...
Martin: My only experience with the game is through the 3DS ambassador program – very reminiscent of the original. I didn't like that they replaced the characters though...
I've gotta agree with Tom with regards to the controls - they seem a tad funky.
Jon: You're all nuts.
Ron: I was actually excited to see Maximum Velocity as part of the 3DS ambassador program. I know it's not really a fan-favourite, but it's still a pretty fun racer, and different from everything else being released as part of the promotion.
Tom: Martin's funky description is spot on. Or maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance.
Jon: What was so funky about it? I've never understood the hate.
Martin: The turning just doesn't seem as tight as it should be.
Tom: I remember feeling like I was on ice, which is impressive for a hovering vehicle.
Martin: Plus, the walls are super bouncy - F-Zero Pinball anyone?
Jon: That's what the shoulder buttons are for, and pumping the gas. If you keep holding down the gas you won't be able to turn properly.
Tom: Yes, I know Jon! I just didn't feel it worked instinctively, that's all. I didn't invest a huge amount of time in it.
Jon: I still believe it added some nuance to F-Zero.
Tom: I will give it a fairer shake one day.
Jon: I will passionately defend Maximum Velocity until the day I die!
Martin: I should probably adopt the techniques you describe, Jon - truth be told I always struggled with Diddy Kong Racing until the other day when I realised you could use the brake to turn...
Ron: I tend to agree with Jon on this one. The GBA controls were a little lose, but it felt natural. Also, shoulder buttons and brakes, guys. Shoulder buttons and brakes.
Tom: A nice split down the middle then...
On the next page we chat about F-Zero GX on the GameCube, and speculate wildly (with little actual hope) about the future of the series.