Just let me get a couple of things out of the way before I start this review:
1) If you're coming into this game expect naught but high octane action while rough housing fellow racers, you're in the wrong place – F-Zero isn't so much about experiencing the rush of going 600 km/h, as much as it's about simply navigating through twists and turns at high speeds.
2) F-Zero's biggest long term accomplishment is showing off Mode 7 graphics. Think of Mode 7 as the act of rotating graphics to aid in giving F-Zero that sense of speed and give off the impression of depth without there being much.
Got that? Excellent. Now that you understand what you could possibly get yourself into, it's time to give F-Zero its dues. It's one of those games that takes a genre that, while prosperous in the arcades, was struggling a bit to garner relevancy and quality on consoles and tries to put it on par with what you'd experience at your local arcade. It manages to do just that with some excellently, oftentimes deviously designed tracks and racers that can slip past you if you make mistakes during your turns or treks through obstacles. However, there are a few minor flaws that stop this game from being the fantastic game that it deserves to be. In other words, while it's a great game, a few omissions are a bit too baffling.
If I haven't already made it clear what you do in this game, you essentially race five laps around a track and try to come first. That, or at least stay within a certain position as dictated by the number under SAFE, as if you place behind that number, you will be eliminated and lose a life. Each lap will lower the number, progressing from 15th to 3rd, inspiring you to move your ass or risk losing a life. Conversely, if you bump into walls and other drivers and hit mines far too much due to rushing through the track, you'll destroy your vehicle and lose a life. Losing a life will force you to restart the race, and losing all of your lives will have you restarting the entire cup. In other racing games, bumping into obstacles would simply slow you down and make coming first a lot more difficult, depending on the severity of your *bleep* ups, but in F-Zero, it cuts the crap by essentially telling you to make sure you don't bump into everything, lest you want to restart the race via destruction of your vehicle or falling too far behind. Funny enough, it also motivates you to move your ass as you don't want to be positioned too far behind everybody. From there, you're essentially required to get the feel for each of the fifteen tracks.
The three cups that you'll go through are divided into five tracks. Each cup's tracks are grouped together based on overall difficulty with the Knight Cup having tracks with a few sharp turns and some tricky terrain but nothing too devious while the King Cup goes crazy without hurting the game. I am a little baffled that the Queen Cup – the one that's inbetween the other two cups – has two of the easiest tracks in the game as they don't require nearly as sharp reflexes as the other three tracks. There's also a rather easy track in the King Cup, but it's sandwiched between a somewhat tricky track and mother*bleep*ing Firefield. Simply put, Firefield is what separates the men from the boys as it contains twists, turns, magnetic fields, mines, jumps and rough spots that'll require a good amount of practice to get the hang of and some very sharp reflexes in order to get through. Being that it's the last track of the King Cup, I'd say that's quite a finale, like you have to earn your victory. Doubly so if you're playing on the expert difficulty mode where even the faintest hint of a mistake can have you falling into second, third or even fourth place. Even more so when you consider that if you bump into edges or other drivers at breakneck speed, you're essentially the ball in a game of pinball as you bounce around until you can finally stabilize yourself. Given that the controls are tight and responsive, you can only blame yourself for getting smashed by the walls and eventually blow up.
Getting the hang of acceleration, braking, leaning, turning and knowing when to boost (you get a boost after each lap) is easy enough with a little practice, as are each of the tracks. The harder ones can and will try to dick you over, but it's more in the name of giving you a challenge than anything else. F-Zero is, by no means, an easy game, especially on the expert difficulty mode where the computer racers are fast, make virtually no mistakes and require you to have each track committed to memory in order to win. At the same time however, everything feels tight and responsive, allowing you to feel that sense of speed with no problems. While the core game is fantastic, it's in certain decisions that it doesn't quite hit the mark. For one thing, you're only given four choices of vehicles to drive. Better still, only one of them is any good for expert mode due to its high top speed and acceptable grip. So it has an unbalanced range of choices. There's no multiplayer, so you can't race your friends. Then again, I suppose it'd prevent you and your friend from fighting between who gets to use the overpowered vehicle. The practice mode only covers the first seven tracks. That's just retarded. You should be able to practice the other eight tracks too, especially since they're, for the most part, the harder tracks. But those are admittedly minor flaws in an otherwise great game.
The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the backgrounds underneath the tracks, especially for Mute City and Port Town, are not very good looking. Understandably, pixellation should be expected in a Super Nintendo game, but there are obviously limits. It just looks like they vertically stretched out a city or something and called it a background. Magnetic strips are a bit too blended into the tracks, making them hard to see until you get pulled into one and realize what's going on well after the fact. The tracks themselves are a bit bland as they don't have texture, but unlike with the backgrounds, you'll be zipping by so fast that it doesn't matter. That brings me to the good side of the equation – the smooth scrolling and rotation of the tracks. It never skips a beat and transitions each frame of the track as smoothly as possible to give you a sense of speed without it being choppy, which just goes to show what Mode 7 can do to a game if used right. The vehicles also look good, sporting some vibrant colors and smooth-ish turning animations (well, leaning, but still). Overall, when the game looks good, it looks good, but when it doesn't, it certainly doesn't.
The music... well, I mean, everybody ought to know the Mute City and Big Blue songs, right? I mean, they've only been remixed like a thousand times and were featured in the Super Smash Brothers games! But for those who don't, they're *bleep*ing fantastic tracks that manage to get the blood pumping with their hard hitting fast paced notes. Big Blue has a subtle tinge of serenity The other songs are just as good, with Death Wind having some sinister sounding bass lines to reflect how tricky Death Wind can be, particularly the second Death Wind track. The other songs have their own feels that give each track their own distinct personality, but on the whole, it managed to make fast paced futuristic racing seem even more fun, given the happier vibes and the fast pace of each song.
While the latter F-Zero games are an adrenaline rush in the form of a cartridge and then a small disc, F-Zero for the Super Nintendo is still a rather fast paced affair that requires sharp reflexes and a bit of trial and error in order to hopefully beat the racers on each of the tracks. Simply observing how quickly the track scrolls by and rotates while in motion is enough to get the feeling of speed and having to navigate some tricky turns and hazards can be exhilarating. At the same time, the sequels have most likely given people something more to expect from this classic than what's actually delivered on the cartridge. As I've mentioned in the beginning of the review, if you're looking for breathtaking views while going thousands of miles per hour and knocking people off course, you're at the wrong place because F-Zero is merely a futuristic take on the racing genre with speed. With all that's said and done, F-Zero is definitely worth your time due to its tight controls, smooth moving graphics and excellent track designs that can still give you a bit of a thrill in this day and age where F-Zero GX exists.