The Games of Summer: F-Zero GX

A long time ago, back when the SNES was king, Nintendo introduced a great new racing franchise, one that would take advantage of the system’s Mode 7 rotation and zooming technology while, at the same time, introducing some futuristic thrills that haven’t been touched on too often in the industry.  The result was F-Zero, a game that would go down as a favorite for racing fans everywhere, right alongside Super Mario Kart.  Since then, the series has moved on to bigger and better terrain, including the Nintendo 64 favorite F-Zero X, complete with four-player split-screen and unreal track design, including tubes that allows you to race completely around them, with no walls or barriers to worry about.

But who knew what Nintendo would be planning next for the franchise?  For the next F-Zero game on GameCube, they turned to an unlikely business partner to develop the sequel – Hiroyuki Sakamoto and his team at Amusement Vision, over at Sega.  That’s right, Nintendo had called upon a developer that, at one point, had been its rival, with the SNES butting heads with the Sega Genesis, and so on.  Now the teams were working together to bring forth the 2003 racing game F-Zero GX – and the rest is history.

F-Zero GX revolutionized not only GameCube racing, but it also perfected connection with arcade games, thanks to the subsequent release of the F-Zero AX arcade game.  Players could take their data from GameCube memory cards, head to the arcade, and play that game with their uploaded stats, not missing a beat with their favorite drivers and continuing to dominate the open road.  The differences between the games weren’t much, outside of playing with a deluxe arcade cabinet compared to a GameCube controller, but being able to take your experience anywhere was a nice touch – and you didn’t need a five-digit code, like the ones you used with Midway racers like San Francisco Rush 2049.

Amusement Vision managed to keep the futuristic design of the series completely in check, along with the feel of controlling a vehicle and using the ramming ability to keep opponents from getting the better of you.  So those who got used to the battle system in F-Zero X were certainly rewarded for it in GX, with its superb gameplay.

But, at the same time, with the introduction of GameCube technology (which, for the first time in Nintendo’s history, utilized a disc format in favor of a cartridge), Amusement Vision was able to put together some dazzling track designs.  Everything from raging fire pits along a tube line to beautiful, Wipeout-inspired futuristic landscapes could be raced through at a trailblazing 60 frames per second, with players taking hairpin turns while enjoying the fast, breezy ride that followed.  And of course, since F-Zero X was built for multiplayer, F-Zero GX also capitalized on it, with multiple players being able to jump in for split-screen.  (Sadly, online multiplayer was still missing.)

With five Grand Prix cups to conquer (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Diamond and AX), a number of ghost options to stay competitive with others, several drivers to choose from (Captain Falcon returns!) and a customization mode (letting you design vehicles however you pleased with decals and such), F-Zero GX came with all sorts of replay value.  It’s easily considered one of the GameCube’s greatest games.

And yet, for some odd reason, that’s where the F-Zero legacy ended.  There hasn’t been an entry announced for the Wii, nor is there one in the works, at least as far as we know, for the 3DS or the Wii U.  And we can’t quite figure that out, because F-Zero GX seems like the kind of game that could take advantage of those formats.  For the 3DS, the sheer thrill of blazing through tracks in 3D sounds quite impressive, and online multiplayer can easily be achieved through the Nintendo Network, in the same manner that Mario Kart 7 did.  By the same token, the Wii U seems like an ideal place to bring back F-Zero, especially since players can race on-screen while the one holding the tablet-style controller can have their own perspective in the race, or perhaps survey racers in action through their own replay system.

This is one series that needs to come back, Nintendo.  And F-Zero GX is the living proof.  If you guys haven’t seen it yet, track down a GameCube unit and a copy of the game (it’ll probably run you $30 total) and dig in.  And grab some extra controllers, too!

See you next week for another Games of Summer!