After years of silence on the future of the series, Nintendo simultaneously announced and released F-Zero 99 on the September 14, 2023, Nintendo Direct presentation. The first game in the series after almost 20 years, this free Switch Online game became a moderate hit in the following months due to its chaotic gameplay. While it didn’t make the same impact as an entirely brand-new F-Zero, fans were at least able to enjoy some nostalgia with a fun twist.
I was one of those fans. Much like Nintendo’s other NSO battle-royale titles, I downloaded the game and was determined to win at least one match. While Super Mario Bros. 35 was far too easy, I’ve managed to score a win in all of Nintendo’s nostalgic takes on the burgeoning battle royale scene. Even the now-closed Pac-Man 99 wasn’t enough to stop me. For the last three months, however, I haven’t been able to claw out a win in F-Zero 99.
For starters, racing games are already a harder genre to win in. There are so many extra factors apart from “playing well” that can turn the tide in a race. When you go to overtake someone, they can suddenly swerve and cause you to brake, losing precious placement. The sheer number of opponents in F-Zero 99 can make certain laps feel like a disastrous game of pinball, meaning climbing up the ranks is a fool’s errand. There is also familiarity with courses, with more seasoned players having a leg-up when it comes to the timing of certain turns or when to use boost. This genre is tough.
That said, I am at least familiar with F-Zero. Nintendo banked on nostalgia here by making all of the available courses ones featured in the SNES original. Even the same four cars are present with the ability for players to shift the focus between pure speed or acceleration at their discretion. There are no weapons and while the spin maneuver from F-Zero X is included as well as the revised boost system from the N64 title, this is essentially the same game that was released in 1990 (1991 in the states).
With that said, why can’t I win?
In the run-up to me writing this feature, I partook of F-Zero 99’s currently ongoing Frozen Knight League and I’m certainly doing well enough. In a full Prix event, I can place 15th or so. In individual races, I can manage a top 10 finish, though I’m usually top 25. Heck, I even managed a clutch placement in the King League by KO’ing an opponent right at the finish line for the final race. I have skills… they just aren’t good enough.
More than Mario Kart, F-Zero is a highly skill-based racer. In the past before the release of F-Zero 99, Shigeru Miyamoto stated the company couldn’t figure out a new angle to take the franchise in. Former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé said something similar. After getting reacquainted with the series, I think the real answer is that the series has always been difficult.
To go on a small tangent, when I finished Super Mario Bros. Wonder this year, my only complaint (if you want to call it one) was that the game was too easy. One of my colleagues responded to me by saying, “Nintendo makes games for kids.” Now, that is certainly simplifying things, but Nintendo has absolutely catered to people less familiar with games than its competition. It’s what makes its games stand out from the crowd and draws in so many different people. It’s hard to market a brutally difficult game for mass audiences, even if Elden Ring has sold tremendously well.
F-Zero is simply not a mass-market franchise. It never has been. F-Zero 99 has proven that to me. It might be popular right now and people can sample it without having to plunk down cash — apart from the NSO subscription — but it’s still hard. For me to finally win a race in this game is going to take more than just a few months, unless I get lucky somehow.
All of this is to say that I look forward to finally emerging victorious in F-Zero 99… eventually. It did take me some time to finally nab a victory in Tetris 99 and while the Mario example above was more a fluke (I won when someone mistakenly fell into a pit), I also have many more hours of experience with Nintendo’s plumber. I can possibly play the NES original blindfolded. F-Zero, though, is a game that demands patience, persistence, and dedication.
So my 2024 gaming resolution is to finally nab that number one spot, even if it comes during a Mini Prix or Grand Prix. A win is a win, after all.
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