F-Zero X Virtual Console Review

Originally released on Nintendo 64, October 1998
Wii Points: 1000 ($10)
Review it yourself

Time isn't cheap. There's nothing more tedious than a review that rambles on without presenting a clear opinion until the closing paragraph. By that point you've more than likely clicked on another review, or on porn, or on a Ben Heck banner ad. In the interest of appeasing our American appetites by way of instant gratification, I will save us from any exercise and cut to the money shot.

The bottom line: F-Zero X costs $10. A new copy of F-Zero GX for the GameCube can be found for a few dollars more. The latter is mostly the same, but prettier. Both play on Wii. If you enjoy fast, challenging, racing games, get F-Zero GX instead.

With that out of the way, let's explore the heart of the issue: F-Zero X isn't so much a game as it is an example of epochal obsolescence. F-Zero X is a victim of the cruel, persistent phasing of the mechanical world. F-Zero X is a modern technological tragedy.

The year is 1998, and John Houston is milling about in a video game store, staring at a brand new copy of F-Zero X. Houston is a discerning customer, and he carefully gauges the merits of each title via a thorough examination of the back of each box. While Skip the Manager rambles on about the superior nature of Wipeout, Houston harkens back to summer days spent zipping across neon blue highways, the oddly-named Mute City music blasting away, his old dog tripping over the extended controller cords; all this now almost a decade past. "Gee," Houston thinks to himself as he grabs the F-Zero X case, "This is going to be great!"

The year is 2007 and John Houston is downloading an old Nintendo 64 game with a motion-sensing wand. "This could be boring as hell," he reminds himself.

The year is 2003, and a child named William Puritan stands in line at the same store, holding onto a copy of F-Zero GX. Billy never played the first F-Zero. Billy grew up on KLOBBs and Ocarinas. Billy was an F-Zero X purist, a product of the early 3D era, when triangles were new and textures were muddy. Fanning through a strategy guide while his mom pays at the counter, Billy can't wait to get home and play the next F-Zero title.

The year is 2030, and Captain William Puritan is on station at the Chinese-American moon base, slowly killing hours before his first mission to Mars. Pulling out his Nintendo-Sony Gameboy, he calls up an old favorite: F-Zero GX. Billy still fondly recalls his memories of the game, which has since been eclipsed by several new editions. Strapping himself down to a chair, Billy prepares himself for a long racing session, this being the only game he'll have for the eight-hour flight.

All this happened, more or less. And after each person played their once-favorite version of F-Zero later on in life, they experienced different reactions, like two chemicals mixing and producing an unexpected result. Their common love for F-Zero didn't stop time from turning a perfectly admirable game into a dated relic of a former age.

It isn't as if the F-Zero sequels were made into platforming shooters with RPG elements. F-Zero X took the original racer, transformed it into a 3D racer, and added some loop-de-loops. It was a big step for the franchise, but also a logical one. And while it may be an exaggeration to say that F-Zero X is a dull game, it also isn't a game that I wanted to play for very long. I'd seen it all before. I had been to the future.

If someone told you to picture F-Zero on the Nintendo 64, F-Zero X is exactly the game you would imagine. Snappy controls, plenty of cars on screen, 60 frames per second, and a few surprises on its twisted 3D courses. The game plays very much like its successor F-Zero GX, only with stripped-down graphics. The developers had to suck a lot of detail out of the game to get it to run at a high frame rate, and the result is a boring visual landscape. Graphical simplicity is one of the game's few faults, and yet that is ultimately enough to discredit the game entirely. This is where things become unfair.

What happens when a series actually progresses steadily in quality? Some of the stepping stones can be overlooked. After all, who remembers the Model B car? F-Zero X is a product of the same phenomenon. The game is a victim of its own existence. Because it is a logical step, it also lacks any distinguishing features. It comes off as a playable tech demo--a racer that works as expected, but seems unfinished in the context of the series.

When F-Zero GX was released, some critics said it played too much like F-Zero X. The irony is that I am retroactively criticizing F-Zero X for playing too much like F-Zero GX. After all of this, it may seem like I am flippantly dismissing the game. While it does have several modes that add replay value, such as a battle mode, four player multiplayer, and time attack, the bottom line is that I'm still not buying it.

This isn't a genre that projects much of a soul from game to game. We're looking for fast, satisfying action. Captain Falcon's epic story isn't going to keep us returning to a particular episode. As in the case of F-Zero X, if the tracks, mechanics and gameplay are all improved upon by the following sequel, there is simply no reason to return to the forebear. F-Zero X is a 6th-grade school photo; an awkward, underdeveloped entry amidst more memorable snapshots in the series.

So it goes.

Go back for Chris Remo's overview of Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, or continue on for his condemnations of China Warrior.

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