Every month at VVV we intend to look back on an old great, not just of the racing genre but video games that defined and shaped what we see today. While we’ll also have features taking you through the histories of the major series we’ll also focus on the aspects that made these titles special and look at what can be learned or adapted to future developments. So with the recent release of Wipeout HD, I thought it would be appropriate to kick off with a classic of the futuristic racing genre and a title that still defines an era.
In the late 1980’s /early 1990’s the racing genre was suffering on home systems, with technology restricted and the currently established hits bringing nothing really inspiring. I remember being impressed by titles such as Lotus Challenge on the Amiga, Race Drivin in the Arcade or the mighty Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix but nothing really felt new, fashion was changing, haircuts getting trimmed and it was time for a new wave of gaming technology.
Nintendo’s F Zero plugged that gap, coming not only as a breath of fresh air but also rocking the current racing trend and with the newly released Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) Nintendo took the opportunity to unleash it’s mode 7 technology, in-turn creating a real 3D feel to the game worlds.
The presentation itself was pretty straightforward but it was the overall design aesthetic, the comic art, colourful backdrops and the perfect soundtrack that really set this apart from the crowd. Initially kicking off with just 4 craft the player is given a range of difficulty settings that each offer a different selection of courses and a perfectly balanced difficulty curve (though the final race on the Queen Cup was pretty tough).
Blasting onto Mute City I remember being amazed by the speed and frame-rate, at the time this really was the fastest game ever made, throw in a little suspension of disbelief you really could be racing miles above that bustling futuristic metropolis. Other circuits such as Death Wind saw the player being blown; this meant taking the side wind straights in a zig-zagging motion while turning into the headwind or vice versa had the appropriate effect on handling.
The game had bags of atmosphere and the refined vehicle handing merely backed up the whole polish, with craft featuring a range of different attributes, under, over-steer and the different air brakes affecting how craft lean into or slide around corners. These crafts were all carefully tested and balanced, an amazing achievement for a launch title on the format.
The game also featured a pit lane with would power your shield, of course, you could boost down the straight in an effort to keep up with your rivals or go slightly slower and gain more of that all-important energy, connecting with other craft could lead to unpredictable circumstances and hitting the wall would often end fatally. When it did end badly the explosion of your craft would be a sudden and quite shocking experience, much like that old Jaws game where you reached into its mouth, as much as you were prepared for the inevitable it always came as a total and unsettling shock.
This was a complete package that took gaming a step forward, it raised the benchmark of the genre and expanded not only the expectations of the home user but the creativity of developers as to the possibilities of future titles. Without this many of the unique racing titles we see today would have been inspired and so we tip our hat to Nintendo in this mighty achievement.
F-Zero was a huge technical achievement that took gaming a step forward both in terms of design and polish. It wow’d audiences at launch while introducing a new benchmark for all racing titles that were to follow, thus expanding not only the expectations of the home user but the creativity of developers as to the possibilities of future titles using this new Mode 7 feature, exclusive to the Super Nintendo hardware. F-Zero is an all time classic and simply one of the finest racing games ever made.