Sometimes, I’m not even sure I like videogames.
Okay, yes, that’s a complete lie. Of course I like videogames, and you can guess that by the fact that we’re quickly approaching #200 on a blog almost exclusively about playing videogames. But! You will note that I have a tendency to… maybe veer a little off course of traditional videogame “reviewing”. Take my ongoing Xenosaga LP, for instance. This isn’t a Let’s Play of Mario Bros. or Mega Man (both series I love), this is Xenosaga, a videogame that has always been just left of being an outright movie. Similarly, my Kingdom Hearts FAQ isn’t about how to find all the puppies or defeat the secret bosses, it’s about how to tell the difference between the different Ansems/Soras, and their impact on the world of Disney and Square-Enix (Disquare?). If you’re noticing a pattern there, it’s that I have a tendency to focus more on the stories of games than the games themselves. It’s not unusual for me to hit a game for its gaminess, but it is a lot more likely for me to hit, well, Ice Climber fanfiction.
And, God help me, I’ve always been like this. Even back when games had mayfly plots and I was, ya know, seven or so, I had a tendency to come up with absolutely ridiculous “stories” for my favorite games. Skyward Sword and Aaron Diaz can hug a nut, I came up with the idea of Link hanging out with robots before I was ten! I was always a “drawer” as a kid, and I think, if I dig through the right box in my father’s basement, I might be able to find an estimated 300 pages of proposed Mario powerups, “Castlevania in Time” storyboards, and one entire JRPG that I “designed” over the course of a summer. I’m pretty sure one of its hidden characters was Blob. He’d be perfect in a JRPG, and you know it!
All of this is just a roundabout way of explaining how, obviously, I like stories in videogames. And when I think about the best way to illustrate that thinking, I call to mind F-Zero X.
F-Zero X is a videogame for the N64 that… I probably enjoyed the instruction manual more.
F-Zero X isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s probably one of the best racing games on the N64, which is saying something, considering that system launched with about 20,000 racing games. Let’s see here… there’s Cruisin’ USA and its descendants, the perennial Mario Kart 64, and F-Zero X holding up the three pillars of rad, fun, and futuristic, respectively. You don’t need any more vehicle games than that, except perhaps if one could involve a whole lotta explosions. Regardless, F-Zero X is a great racing game, with interesting tracks, crazy-but-fair physics, and the occasional Falcon Brunch for pit stops.
But… on some level… I don’t really enjoy actually playing the game.
I’m guessing that a significant factor in that is simply the tension. Mario Kart, to me, is just about right: there are four rounds of tracks, (usually) three laps to a race, and eight or so racers. You’ve utterly failed if you cross the finish line in eighth place, but, by the same token, you would have had to have seen that outcome coming (likely due to taking too many lakitu-assisted baths during the race). There is the possibility that you could place first in three different races and then utterly bomb the final race, but it seems unlikely, as even a well (horribly) timed blue shell should only knock you down a peg or two. It might make claiming that solid gold car more of a pain, but, in the usual race-to-race, it’s not too bad.
F-Zero X has six races per cup, and thirty racers. This… makes a difference. There is a lot more wiggle room to win four continuous races, and then blow the whole trophy on one really lousy run around the track. For someone who plays to win (dammit!), and has little time to play the same courses over and over again, this is practically a threat. Goggle Bob, you will waste all day trying to conquer this cup, and you won’t be able to do anything else. I realize that, ultimately, this is kind of a false fear, as, even when I picked up this game for the FGC and used my dramatically atrophied F-Zero skills, I was still able to pull off a gold without much effort… but the anxiety is there! And I have limited “lives”! If I take too many random headers off the track, I’m forced into retirement, even if I aced every race previously. The stress of F-Zero racing is eating me alive!
And, again, F-Zero X is a good game… it just doesn’t sound that relaxing…
Meanwhile, we have the F-Zero X instruction manual. It’s gold.
Basically, after covering the controls for ten seconds (also available on a little quick reference sheet, because I suppose there were fears that the N64 controller was too much for mere human brains), the remainder of the booklet is given over to exploring the racers and their ridiculous motivations. Mr. EAD is an android Mario-alike testing its AI. The Skull is the result of science and necromancy. Captain Falcon has an evil clone named Blood Falcon. Even Pico, affectionately simply “the green guy” of the original F-Zero, is an alien ex-military hitman. Dr. Stewart… is still boring. They can’t all be winners. But there’s an octopus man! I love octopus men!
And F-Zero X, the game proper, does nothing with all of that. Each of these unique creatures gets a character portrait, a radical logo, and a unique race car… and that’s that. No additional story beats, no conversations with rivals, there isn’t even a Street Fighter-esque “unique ending” for each winner. At the finale, you get a firework that looks like your digital avatar, and that’s all, folks. Will Captain Falcon ever arrest the nefarious Zoda? Is Super Arrow mad at Mrs. Arrow for winning the cup? Did Silver Neelsen finally get the respect he deserves from these young whippersnappers? Who cares? You just unlocked another cup, and that’s all.
And, honestly, I don’t blame F-Zero X for this “failing”. F-Zero X is all about the zoom-zoom race, and it’s very good at that white-knuckle racing. Pausing to consider the feelings of Beastman would only slow everything down, so it has no place in this fast-paced future. Captain Falcon is a mystery, and, to a point, he works best like that.
But I’m always going to be the guy reading the manual, and dreaming about the character potential of Leon the wolfman… who apparently also coaches a kid’s soccer team. See? That? Right there? Wolf alien coaches soccer team? I could run with that! F-Zero X… that’s just a videogame.
FGC #164 F-Zero X
- System: N64 and… it was released for the Wii Virtual Console, right? Man, I need a list of those games.
- Number of players: Four, as the N64 has to tout its one advantage over the competition.
- You Look Familiar: Mr. EAD is obviously a clone of Mario (after a fashion), James McCloud is the human version of Star Fox’s pa, and Zoda may or may not have something to do with Startropics. However, for my money, I swear Jody Summer is based off the “original” brunette version of Samus Aran and her Metroid NES ending. There has to be some reason for those shoulder pads…
- Favorite Racer: Bio-Rex is a goddamned racing T-Rex. The future is a wondrous place.
- Did you know? As seems to be a thing anytime I mention a N64 title, there was an expansion for this game that worked with the Japanese-exclusive/failure 64DD. It added a few new tracks and racers, but there was also a track-editor/creator. Let me tell you, if that feature had made its way to these shores, this would be a very different article.
- Would I play again: I’ll be off writing F-Zero X fanfic in the corner while the game sits unused.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER! Forget what the robot wants, I’m siding with the bounty hunter on this one, and taking a look at Metroid 2. No, not that Metroid 2, the other one. The legally dubious one. Please look forward to it!
Did you see that!?