There was some F-Zero-related DLC for Mario Kart 8 and a mini-game in Nintendo Land, but disappointingly the Wii U has not proven to be the console where the series made its return with a brand spanking new game. Whilst hopes for a new entry in the series must now switch to future hardware, Wii U-owning fans of futuristic racing action can at least download Nintendo 64 installement F-Zero X from the eShop.
Visually the game has a simple, stripped down appearance that can look very basic at times. Where there are not flat colours there are low-resolution textures and the fogging effect doesn't always hide distant track popping up into existence. What it does do, however, is move along quickly and smoothly, even at the start as the thirty different craft jostle for position.
Initially just six of the racing machines are available for player selection, but the rest unlock as you progress through the game. Each has a different rating for body, boost and grip, and once selected a slide meter is available to adjust the performance of the craft, depending on if you favour acceleration or speed. Once you're happy with your pick you take on one of the Cups - each consists of six three-lap races; score more points than the other competitors to become champion.
Already available via the Wii Shop Channel, this Wii U version offers the usual extra gubbins such as remappable controls, Miiverse integration and the always welcome Off-TV play. As for the game itself, there's a rumble feature that was absent from the Wii re-release, although it is somewhat annoying. Every collision, boost or even change of direction causes your controller of choice to impersonate a pneumatic drill; don't be surprised to find yourself diving into the controller settings to turn it off.
In a bit of good news for European and Oceanic gamers this is the 60Hz version of the game (released in the regions for the first time). 60Hz is actually the norm for Virtual Console releases these days, but a racing game such as this really shows the benefit of that extra speed as you fling your craft around the various tracks, with scenery and rivals whizzing past at satisfyingly extra quick speeds.
In less good news the controls have suffered with the move to Wii U thanks to a large control stick deadzone. This deadzone size appears to be the standard for Nintendo 64 games on Wii U, but it's not really caused issues with previous releases. Here, though, where a large range of differently-sized movements are required (and required quickly) frustration ensues; a slight movement that registers as no movement results in a smash into the barrier. It's also far too easy to make a more severe turn than intended. You can get used to it, adjusting your style by using the drift buttons where previously you wouldn't and simply turning into corners you previously slid around, but these are solutions to problems that should not exist. It adds an extra level of difficulty to the game and even a successful race is more ragged than it should be, giving the game a much different feel.
If you can get past the issues with the controls (and admittedly that's a big if) there's still an enjoyable game to be found. Races are frantic affairs as you zip around the tracks, finding a way through traffic as you try to hit the boost arrows and avoid crashing into the barriers. After lap one you gain use of the famous "Boost Power" where some of your energy meter can be exchanged for a burst of speed. It's important not to overdo it, however, or the slightest bump will turn your craft into a flaming mangled mess of metal - and with these controls, you will certainly pick up a few slight bumps.
Another way to ruin your race day is to fall off the course, which results in a long drop, a big explosion and an instant retirement. As the racetracks are placed above cities, presumably you also mess up some poor sod's garden party. Luckily you appear to have a friend within the sport's governing body as (assuming you have a spare craft remaining) the race is then restarted from the beginning, giving you another chance to succeed or maybe just to find a new spot in which to burst into flames.
The tracks are well designed, with a mix of bends and straights of varying width. Sometimes there's a smooth line to take, other times you'll find yourself crashing around the corners. There are loops and various degrees of elevation changes, whilst half-pipe sections feel like a particularly intense bobsleigh ride when you swish side-to-side trying not to get thrown from the track, and tunnels get dizzying as you spin upside down trying to wrest some degree of control. The drives across large pipes suspended high in the sky can be terrifying with each collision or mistake threatening to end your race.
You can rely on just your driving skill to see you to victory or you can be a little more aggressive, as by using the drift buttons it's possible to perform a spin-attack to try and knock other racers into danger. Doing this can be a mistake as it can send you into a corner awkwardly, slowing your race or even lead to your own destruction, but should your championship rival (helpfully indicated by an on-screen marker) be alongside you it can be tough to resist. If you develop a taste for this extreme road rage the game also features a "Death Race" track where the aim is to take out the other 29 competitors as quickly as possible.
There are four main Cups in the game, but you can also unlock the "X Cup". The twist here is that the tracks are randomly generated and the unfamiliar layouts can lead to many a disaster as you stumble your way around the unknown dangers. A random selection of course parts can lead to some straightforward stress-free drives, but other concoctions can be brutally difficult. For example one course we encountered saw thirty cars enter a corner and only thirteen make it out the other side. On another X-track the Nintendo Life mean machine was the only one that managed to finish the race. Amusingly it then plummeted to its doom during the victory lap.
With the regular tracks you'll be kept busy, trying to figure out the best line, learning a good way to manage the controls, knowing where it's safe to spin-attack and how much boost power you can use before you can safely make it to a recharge strip. The cups get more difficult and there are (eventually) four difficulty settings to tackle, so there's plenty here to keep you occupied. As well as the Grand Prix mode you can take on "Time Attack" where shaving tiny fractions leads to hours of "just one more go". Being on Wii U you can of course post your best times to Miiverse – although they may get lost amongst all the complaints about the controls.
Finally "VS Battle" offers split-screen races for two to four players; CPU racers can make up the numbers if required. Naturally this provides a lot of fun, particularly if you've turned on the slot machine option that gives retirees a chance to deplete the energy of those still racing.
With 30 racing craft and 24 exciting tracks there's a lot of fun to be had with F-Zero X. An enjoyable multiplayer mode, the crazy unpredictable nature of the X Cup and trying to improve your times in the Time Attack and Death Race modes all add to the replayability. The visuals can look a bit basic at times, but the smooth frame rate and the speed at which you're hurtling around the tracks help to make up for this.
Unfortunately an old game looking old is not the only problem F-Zero X has on Wii U. The deadzone issue results in a harder to control game with many unintended scrapes along the barriers, and your craft generally not moving as you intended. It's not unmanageable but compared to the smooth controls of the N64 cart it's a rougher, tougher, more frustrating experience. This Wii U eShop edition of F-Zero X will still entertain, but unless its control issue is patched out it's not as highly recommended as it should be.