F-Zero and the virtue of getting one thing right
Nintendo | 1991
I don't have much to say about F-Zero because, as it turns out, there really isn't much there to talk about. It arrived alongside the Super Nintendo seemingly with the sole purpose of making a case for the SNES's Mode 7 graphics tech, which allowed for cool sprite-scaling and perspective tricks. It's unfair to call it an expanded tech demo, but it's clear that this game arose from a simple vision: "show off the power of this new tech by making something fast and exciting."
To its credit, F-Zero is still very fast and pretty exciting in a modern context. The sense of speed you get from piloting your hover-car is palpable.
I mean, look at it:
The game has its faults, of course. Opponent AI is largely garbage, some courses are better designed than others, and the lack of a two-player mode is still a pretty tremendous bummer.
But there is one lesson I want to pass along from my time revisiting F-Zero:
If you're gonna do one thing, do it right.
The one thing F-Zero does is go fast. It does this one thing with precision, grace, and consistency. It was a fast game in 1991; it's a fast game in 2017.
For me, its enduring value comes down to the nuances of the experience. Acceleration, braking, drifting, cornering, colliding—the entire vocabulary of bizarro future-racing is well-considered from all angles. Crunchy sound effects, a surprisingly evocative score, and liberal use of screen shake all enhance the on-screen action and help build a unified tone that drives the game forward.
F-Zero may not be a good case study for how to craft a complete package around a racing game. But if you're looking for a minimalist exercise in conjuring up a strong, thrilling sense of speed, you oughta start here.