Japanese Nintendo 64 cover art
F-Zero X is a futuristic racing video game for the Nintendo 64 (N64) console. Developed by Nintendo's EAD division, it was released in Japan, North America, and Europe in 1998. In 2000, an expansion pack was exclusively released in Japan providing numerous extra features not in the original game. F-Zero X was ported in 2004 to the iQue Player in China. The game was re-released on the Wii Virtual Console in Japan, Europe and in North America, in 2007. To honor the 100th Virtual Console release in Europe, it became available on June 15.
It was a sequel to the original 1990 F-Zero game, and was the first F-Zero installment to feature 3D graphics. The game has a steep learning curve and its gameplay experience is similar to that of the original F-Zero game. F-Zero X introduced a "death race" mode and a random track generator called the "X Cup". In the death race, the player's objective is to annihilate the 29 other racers as speedily as possible, while the X-Cup "creates" a different set of tracks each time played.
Critics generally praised F-Zero X for its fast gameplay, abundance of courses and vehicles, track design, and maintaining a high framerate. However, the game has been widely criticized for its lack of graphical detail.
F-Zero X is a fast-paced futuristic racing video game where thirty competitors race on high-altitude circuits inside plasma-powered hovercars in an intergalactic Grand Prix. Taking place after the original tournament was discontinued for several years due to the extreme danger of the sport, F-Zero X begins after the Grand Prix is brought back with the rules and regulations revised under the same name as the video game. The tracks in the game include hills, loops, tunnels, corkscrews, and pipes. Players can drift into turns without losing momentum by using the control stick and trigger button. The game introduces 26 new vehicles, and brings back the 4 from the original F-Zero game. Each has its own performance abilities affected by its size and weight, and a grip, boost, and durability trait graded on an A to E (best to worst) scale. Before a race, players are able to adjust a vehicle's balance between maximum acceleration and maximum top speed.
Each machine has an energy meter, which serves two purposes. Firstly it is a measurement of the machine's health and is decreased, for example, when the machine hits another racer or the side of the track. The game introduces the ability to attack other racers by either utilizing a side or spin attack. Secondly it is a boost meter used for manually boosting, usually starting with the second lap of a race. Energy can be replenished by driving over recharge strips, called "Pit Areas", located at various points around the track. The amount of time spent in these areas is relative to amount of energy regenerated. There are also dash plates around the track that give a speed boost without using up any energy.
F-Zero X has five different gameplay modes: GP (Grand Prix) Race, Practice, Time Attack, Death Race, and VS Battle. In GP Race, the player races against 29 opponents through 3 laps of each track in a cup. Players get a certain number of points for finishing a track depending on where they placed, and the winner of the cup is the character who receives the most total points. If the player has a "spare machine"—the equivalent of an extra life—then falls off a track or runs out of energy, the race can be restarted. Each cup has four selectable difficulty levels: Novice, Standard, Expert, and Master. The higher the difficulty level selected, the tougher the opponents, and less spare machines the player starts with. Furthermore, the three cups initially available are ordered by increasing difficulty (Jack, Queen and King respectively) and have 6 tracks each. Eventually, the player can unlock the Joker Cup with its set of 6 tracks, followed by the X Cup. The X Cup is a set of 6 randomly generated tracks every time played. The randomized track elements lack loops and can be simplistic, but others are intricate.
There is a Practice mode which allows the player to practice any track with opponents. Time Attack lets the player choose a track and complete a 3-lap race in the shortest time possible. Transparent re-enactments of Time Attack performances, or ghost data, from the player or game developer can be raced against. Up to 3 player-contributed ghosts can be raced against simultaneously, but only one can be saved per track. Death Race has the player annihilating the 29 other racers as speedily as possible on a specialized course. There is no selectable difficulty level, or set amount of laps, but the boost is immediately available. Vs. Battle is the multiplayer mode where 2 to 4 players compete in a 3-lap race, and slots not in use by players can be operated by the artificial intelligence. A slot machine for those out of the race early will appear if the option is enabled. Players can adversely affect the energy levels of those still competing by matching symbols.
Development and audio
Initially titled "F-Zero 64", Famitsu magazine revealed the project in mid-1997. Tadashi Sugiyama and Shigeru Miyamoto served as director and producer, respectively. Taro Bando and Hajime Wakai served as composers. Several key Wave Race 64 programmers including the lead programmer made up the in-house development team. Developed by Nintendo EAD, it was a sequel to the original 1990 F-Zero game, and was the first F-Zero installment to feature 3D graphics. The game made its debut at the Nintendo Space World event on November 20, 1997 where the public was able to play it for the first time. Soon after IGN reported F-Zero X consistently ran at 60 frames per second. Consequently, background detail and textures were lacking as well as polygon count on vehicles which lessen more so as they pass the player. They noted that "[tracks] hide most of the limited backgrounds with their girth and undulating nature which block out almost everything else." Fogging effects are used to hide background shortcomings such as where the sky and ground meet.
F-Zero X features remixed music from its predecessor. Due to compression, the game features monaural music tracks, but ambient effects are generated with stereo sound effects. Two soundtracks were released featuring music from this game onto CD. The F-Zero X Original Soundtrack was released on September 18, 1998. The F-Zero X Guitar Arrange Edition, which was released on January 27, 1999, contains ten guitar arranged musical tracks from the game. The game came out in Japan on July 14, 1998, but its North American release suffered from a three-month delay due to Nintendo's policy of spacing the release of first-party games out evenly. It was eventually released on October 26 followed by Europe on November 6. It was released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, and as the 100th Virtual Console game in Europe.
Overall, critical reception of F-Zero X was positive; the game has an aggregate average of 86.93% based on 15 reviews at Game Rankings, and a metascore of 85 at Metacritic. Critics generally praised F-Zero X for its fast gameplay, abundance of courses and vehicles, keeping a high framerate with up to thirty racers on screen at the same time, and track design. However, the game has been widely criticized for its lack of graphical detail. Peer Schneider of IGN considered the game to rival Wave Race with its "perfectly fine-tuned controls and a fresh approach to racing". The title received Game of the Month for November 1998 from Electronic Gaming Monthly. An editor stated "the graphics may be simple, but they're smooth and the action is fast".
Allgame called F-Zero X as "certainly not up to Nintendo's usual standards" in terms of detail and texture quality. GameSpot also criticized the games' graphical detail, calling the low polygon count on the vehicles "particularly uninspiring" and saying that the "track detail is also very limited, giving the track a spartan feel to it". Despite its visual setbacks, critics exalted the game for managing to keep a steady 60 frame/s, which some felt made up for the lack of graphical detail. The Electric Playground found the framerate to give "the game a major boost in the feel department" making it "seem like your vehicle is bursting through the sound barrier". According to GameSpot, F-Zero X became the first racing game to run at 60 frames per second with up to 30 vehicles on screen at the same time, but in order to keep the frame rate, polygon counts on the vehicles, textures and track detail are sacrificed.
In regard to the music, EGM considered it "really good with some excellent remixes of the old F-Zero tunes", while CVG called the music dreadful. The Electric Playground thought it goes hand-in-hand to the simulation of speed in the game, but the reviewer commented "I wouldn't in a million years buy music like this to listen to". In GameSpot's retrospective review, they gave it a 6.5/10 calling it "the black sheep of the series" when compared with the other F-Zero games in "visual style and technical flair". IGN described F-Zero X as an exceptional update to the original game that "only suffers under its generic look". Peer Schneider believed that unlike the first game, F-Zero X "is not about showing off graphics or sound capabilities -- it's all about gameplay".
F-Zero X sold 383,642 units in North America and 97,684 units in Japan. The game sold 56,457 copies during its first week of sale in Japan, but sold nearly five times less the following week due to the N64 having a small dedicated fanbase.
F-Zero X Expansion Kit, released in Japan on April 21, 2000, is the first expansion disk for the 64DD, Nintendo's peripheral for the Nintendo 64. Copies of F-Zero X are programmed with "64DD hooks", which allow it to detect whether the 64DD is connected or compatible software is being used. This allows the cartridge to be compatible with add-on disks such as track editors or course updates; however, none of these were utilized outside of Japan due to the 64DD's commercial failure. Expansion Kit will only operate in conjunction with the cartridge of the original game. However, all of F-Zero X 's regular features are accessible in addition to twelve new tracks, a car editor and a track creator. As the Expansion Kit benefits from a larger amount of storage on disk when compared to the original cartridge version, it includes new soundtracks in stereophonic sound as well as the entire collection of monaural audio tracks from the original game.
In addition to the two new cups, it is also possible to create custom cups. The disk can save up to a hundred tracks and up to three ghost racers per course. IGN singled out the track creator as the F-Zero X Expansion Kit 's strongest feature since it is virtually the same tool the designers of F-Zero X used for themselves to create the original circuits. The Car Editor offers a variety of options when creating a vehicle. Using a set of pre-existing parts, the player must balance their creations' settings and performance abilities before the machine is finished and named. The Track Editor is a detailed track creator that allows the player to design their own racing circuits. Using a cursor, the player can determine the basic layout of the track and also add points to it to create track elements such as curves and hills. Furthermore, numerous different properties like half pipes and cylinders, as well as numerous road surfaces, such as slip zones, can be added. The player can test their creation at any time and run practice laps.
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- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 4: "F-Zero Machines: [...] Using their ultra-compact plasma engines, their maximum speeds can exceed the speed of sound. F-Zero Circuits: Courses for F-Zero are set high above cities."
- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 5: [...] As you know, due to the many accidents and dangers involved, the Grand Prix was discontinued for several years. [...] We have changed the competition's name to the F-Zero X GP and have revised the rules and regulations."
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Another addition made in X was attack maneuvers, allowing you to slam your ship sideways into the opposition or execute a 360 degree spin to deflect too-close competitors.
- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 13: "In Novice Mode, a pilot will have five spare machines. Four will be available in Standard and three in Expert. One spare machine will be given to a pilot each time he or she retires five competitor machines. 3-3: If a pilot retires and has no spare machine, the game will be over. [...] The amount of energy recovered depends on how much time a pilot spends in the Pit Area."
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F-Zero X is a stunning achievement in that it's truly the first racing game that runs at a brisk 60 frames per second, even in multiplayer.
- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 7: "Grand Prix Race: Twenty-nine other contestants will race against you in this one-player circuit. Select Class: Before jumping into the Grand Prix, you'll need to select a difficulty level: Novice, Standard or Expert. The higher the difficulty level, the tougher your opponents."
- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 12: "A driver who completes a course will receive points. These points will depend on where you finish. The driver with the most points at the end of the sixth course will be declared the winner."
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- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 11: "Practice: On the Select Mode screen, select Practice and you can practice the GP (with rivals) in the Cup course of your choosing."
- Nintendo EAD 1998, pp. 14–15: "Time Attack: Select a machine and see if you can finish a course in record time. If your time is fast enough, you'll be able to race against the developer's ghost machine (or Staff Ghost). [...] Race results will appear once you've finished the three-lap race. [...] The Ghost is a translucent machine which mimics your previous performance. Drive with the Ghost and try to improve your time. Up to three Ghost machines can appear in the same race. [...] While up to three ghosts can appear at the same time, you can only save one to memory."
- Nintendo EAD 1998, p. 17: "Death Race: [...] There is only one course and no difficulty level. [...] There is no limit to the number of laps, and Boost can be used right away."
- Nintendo EAD 1998, pp. 18–19: "In VS Battle, two to four players can play simultaneously [...] Select With and four machines will race in all multi-player modes (machines not used by players will be operated by the computer). [...] Like GP Race, this is a three-lap race."
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The steep decline in sales is indicative of Nintendo's problems in Japan. Any release is anticipated by the small, but faithful number of N64 owners, who will buy the game on the day it comes out... F-Zero X sold little more than 11,000 copies last week, as opposed to almost five times as much in its opening weekend.
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