Why F-Zero 99 Falls Short: Is Nintendo’s Racing Royale a Missed Opportunity?


F-Zero 99 Nintendo Switch Online

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers initiate our weekly open discussion for sharing gaming plans and recent gaming achievements. However, the real excitement lies in the comments section, where we encourage you to answer a timeless question: “What’s on Your Gaming Menu this Weekend?”

The contrast between Tetris 99 and Nintendo’s latest endeavor to emulate it, F-Zero 99, can be succinctly stated: Tetris 99, a game we still embrace three years after its launch as Nintendo Switch Online’s standout title, versus F-Zero 99, which, frankly, we can’t fathom being installed on our Switch a week from now. Here’s the crux: When the multiplayer dynamics of Tetris 99 fail to engage you, you can still savor the timeless joy of playing Tetris. In contrast, F-Zero 99, despite its attempts to align with modern gaming, remains entrenched in the shadows of Nintendo’s secondary racing franchise.

Not to say that the concept of a battle royale racing game is inherently flawed. For instance, Fall Guys seamlessly integrates this concept with its quirky minigames. However, when you strip away the undeniably fantastic soundtrack, F-Zero (especially the Super Nintendo F-Zero, which 99 closely emulates) has never possessed the depth to compete with a juggernaut like Mario Kart. Infusing 98 other players onto the track fails to fill the void. Sure, watching a multitude of vehicles collide is visually stimulating, and occasional thrills emerge, especially when you find yourself at the rear of the pack with warning sirens blaring. Yet, the franchise has never decisively leaned into either its racing or automotive combat aspects, making it struggle to find its own identity. Moreover, it hasn’t adapted well to the gaming trends of 2023. Regrettably, it harbors a fundamental flaw.

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In F-Zero 99, beyond the franchise’s simplistic arcade racing mechanics, the core challenge is resource management: Power, the controller of both your speed boosts and your health. This compels players to constantly decide between cautious play for survival or risking it all to lead the pack. In theory, this concept appears intriguing, laden with strategic weight. In practice, it boils down to having a button that makes the game enjoyable but may also lead to your downfall if overused. A significant portion of our deaths (resulting in ejection from the race, naturally) occurred because we grew bored and decided to overdose on speed boosts. If high-speed racing is your game’s main attraction, something is amiss when this feature must be used sparingly for survival.

While a focus on conservative and thoughtful play can flourish in a racing game like Gran Turismo, where strategy often prevails over reflexes, it seems that the gameplay in F-Zero 99 lacks the depth to support such mental engagement. It’s also puzzling why races don’t conclude when the field narrows to one, as seen in every other battle royale game; there are few experiences as anticlimactic as finishing a multi-minute race only to find yourself in the 53rd place.

In conclusion, we eagerly await Nintendo’s call to action with the launch of Mario Kart 99. In the interim, we’ll stick to our trusty Tetris.

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