Barely an E3 or Nintendo Direct goes by without someone in the Nintendo Life team muttering that maybe, against all odds, F-Zero will return. It's now been over ten years since F-Zero Climax, a thoroughly disappointing Game Boy Advance entry that's ignored by many, arrived in stores. It was an inglorious end to a franchise that, primarily through its three home console releases, captured the imagination of racing fans and ensured that the appearance of Captain Falcon in Super Smash Bros., as an example, can still be a hugely satisfying moment.
In an article looking back at this 10 years absence over on Red Bull, some current Nintendo eShop developers have spoken about their memories of the series. Aurelien Regard, who's bringing The Next Penelope to Wii U, explains the impact of the SNES original on his young self.
F-Zero is really something special to me. I remember how F-Zero on Super Nintendo scared me at first. I wouldn't dare play it on the demo pods in stores because it looked so different, so fast! It's hard to imagine any modern racer giving the same kind of feeling today; it just looked so impressive and 3D-like back then.
Shin'en Multimedia's Manfred Linzner talks up the N64 entry, though feels the peak came in F-Zero GX; that, he explains, may help to put Nintendo off bringing the series back.
F-Zero 'clicked' for me first time on N64. The feeling of speed was simply beyond anything I played before. The music and the smooth graphics left a big impression for years.
...It was simply amazing how much excellent content there was in the game (GX). Just look at all these racers and their signature songs. Some of these songs are among the best I ever heard in any game. I also loved the arcade feeling of the game, the varied courses and of course the dazzling speed.
...I somehow feel the series peaked with the GameCube entry. Without something drastic and new it would feel just more of the same. That would be maybe fine for many fans but I'm sure it's not what Nintendo would strive for.
Nintendo's continuing silence on the franchise, beyond its mini-game in Nintendo Land, leaves futuristic racing fans looking elsewhere. Linzner certainly suggests that, while FAST Racing NEO is its own game, it takes some cues from aspects popular in F-Zero.
We certainly tried to have a similar feel of speed and immersion, just because no game before or after ever felt that intense, in our opinion. And we are quite happy that we got to that special point in development where simply everything snapped together and became bigger than its parts. We are really looking forward to seeing how gamers will react to our game.
As for The Next Penelope, Regard has also been inspired by mechanics from the Nintendo series.
I mainly keep in mind how clever the energy trade mechanic in F-Zero is. You're able to boost at will, but this acceleration costs bits of your life gauge. I used this as a start for the Penelope game design, and tried to push it on a ridiculous level. You boost, you shoot, you drop a mine, your teleport yourself, you cancel projectiles, all of this causes you to burn some vital energy.
The whole point is to be very powerful: you don't pick items on track, instead you can use and combine all your abilities at any time, but you'll always be close to exploding at the same time. That's a lot of pressure for the player, but that freedom and this high difficulty level is very rewarding. From the playtests I'm doing right now, it sounds like some gamers were really in need of this kind of challenge.
Are you excited about eShop games with clear inspiration from the F-Zero series, or primarily frustrated at the IPs long absence from Nintendo hardware? Sound off in the comments below.