Reboot is an appraisal of a retro game, which discusses how and why it should be updated on the modern generation of hardware.
Nintendo’s lucrative back catalogue is arguably one of the most treasured in gaming, however this first edition of Reboot focuses on a Nintendo series that receives little love from the Japanese giant.
F-Zero GX was originally released in 2003 on the ill-fated Gamecube. Nintendo’s lack of love for the future racer stems from cold, hard sales figures. Despite receiving universal critical acclaim it, was a relative failure commercially shifting around 350,000 copies world wide. When asked in interviews about the prospect of a new F-Zero, Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata have responded dismissively.
What was so good about it?
F-Zero GX was billed as the fastest racer on the planet, featuring thirty competitors per race. The selling point was speed. Racing at break-neck speeds through looping neon raceways was both breathtaking and nerve racking. F-Zero GX was never a Mario Kart style procession, where the same AI character won every race, each race felt different. The starting line resembles a Formula one GP. Racers fight for positing, many often spinning off the track in a desperate attempt to struggle for a good opening place. It was both chaotic and intense.
F-Zero GX wisely featured no projectile weapons, but did allow for two aggressive manoeuvres; an offensive shunt and a defensive spin. If timed right these actions would send an opponent crashing to the sidelines. What made this so versatile was the points system, which rewarded between zero and one hundred points per race depending on position. The crux here: high scoring rivals can be taken out entirely, one well timed shunt and an opponent would receive zero points once the race was over, resulting in a neat balancing act between racing well and aiming to eliminate high scoring rivals. The all important energy meter, which is used as a measure of your racers health could also be used as a turbo thus slowly depleting it, furthering the risk/reward strategies.
The presentation was of a typical Nintendo quality. Each character was instantly recognisable, complete with their own customised ship, theme music and ending sequence, most of which were truly bizarre. There were a total of forty selectable characters, ranging from an alien taxi driver to an octopus. Different racers had different behaviours during races, the dastardly Black Shadow would constantly harass players with aggressive driving in an attempt to destroy their ship, whilst twin aliens the Gomar and Shioh would quickly attempt to take first place without resorting to aggressive tactics.
Unusually for a Nintendo game, F-Zero GX was absolutely rock hard. Winning a Grand Prix on anything above normal difficulty was painfully taxing and produced many ‘control pad thrown at the wall’ moments. Tracks were wonderfully designed death traps featuring mine fields, loops within loops, thrilling narrow speedways and metallic half pipes.
True sadists would attempt the even harder story mode, which presented ten challenges for the player to attempt. Ranging from trying to beat a rival whilst dodging boulders to racing at top speeds through slowly closing doors that leave just inches for your ship to squeeze through – these challenges left no room for mistakes and are some of the most genuinely difficult tasks gaming has offered. It rewarded those who were willing to master their craft and punished those who didn’t have the patience to persevere.
Few games can make your palms sweat and your heart race at the prospect of finally conquering some of the insanely difficult story mode challenges. But doing so was such an achievement. Not the sort that gives you 20G. The sort that makes you jump for joy. Even fewer games can boast that.
Why the update?
F-Zero GX was nearly perfect, so why would this benefit from a ‘reboot’?
Taking this experience to the Nintendo 3DS would be fitting for several reasons. Firstly 3D graphics at such astronomical speeds would look impressive. Those loop-the-loops, neon raceways and hundred-foot drops would make for a phenomenal visual treat.
The 3DS also has reasonable online capabilities, although having thirty people racing at once is unrealistic due to laggy internet connections, having ten online players competing in a five race Grand Prix would render this a brilliant experience. Especially given that the Gamecube version was severely lacking a thrilling multiplayer mode. Add to this the prospect of online leader boards for time trials and the ability to view ghost data from expert players, this would produce a magnificent online package.
The precision control of the analogue stick and the positioning of the shoulder buttons on the 3DS would be well suited to a title that demands such split second accuracy, rather than the somewhat cumbersome setup of the Wii. The idea of imposing inaccurate motion controls on a racer that demands such attention to timing would be foolish.
Finally the chance of commercial success would likely be increased on Nintendo’s handheld. ’Hardcore’ games have a habit of underselling on the Wii, but as Super Street Fighter IV has proved, the 3DS audience are more willing to invest in games for gamers. This boosted by the fact that the game hasn’t received a sequel in eight years.
So what are the chances of this happening?
Even though Nintendo honchos seem resistant to a new entry in the series, it only seems like a matter of time. Captain Falcon continually rears his pompous head in the Smash Brothers series, suggesting that the franchise has not been forgotten. With Nintendo appearing to re-embrace their love affair with traditional gamers, with news of their new console having powerful operating specs, perhaps a Reboot for F-Zero is in the making. Lets just hope it remains as breathtaking and as infuriating as it always was.