F-Zero Art 2

Feature – The Third Dimension of F-Zero

The original F-Zero was one of my very first Super Nintendo games; I had never even heard of it, but one year it came as a Christmas gift alongside several other classic 16-bit titles. I really didn’t know what to expect, but shortly after I picked up the controller, I was hooked: F-Zero was thrilling and very fast-paced, challenging you to not only win each race, but also survive.

No mistakes.

You see, in addition to the horde of opposing racers bumping and grinding against the hull of your ship, your shields could be depleted by the pulsating barriers that lined the sides of each track. Some stages kicked it up another notch entirely, riddling the track with long gaps that would result in death if you weren’t properly lined up before taking flight.

There were “recovery zones” nested in most tracks; you could regenerate some of your shield power by driving through these highlighted areas, but it was really tough to avoid taking at least some damage each lap. If you were stuck in the middle of the pack, you had to be careful not to be smacked hard into the walls, at which point it was easy to lose control and ricochet like a pinball.

This wasn’t your little brother’s Super Mario Kart, no sir. F-Zero didn’t need power-ups, it was tough enough on its own.

F-Zero featured a pretty wild cast of characters; at the time there were only four different racers, but each piloted a very unique, futuristic hovercraft with different benefits and weaknesses. The roster expanded quite a bit when F-Zero’s next installment landed on the Nintendo 64 (F-Zero X), followed by an almost equally-impressive handheld iteration, Maximum Velocity. The last F-Zero title, F-Zero GX, debuted on the Gamecube: it was received very well by critics, and stands as one of the console’s best-rated games.

Unfortunately, that was the last anyone saw of F-Zero…and I think the franchise is long overdue for a reboot.

Hey guys, can we get F-Zero already?

That being said, I know F-Zero originated on consoles, but the series would fit very comfortably on the Nintendo 3DS. As the focus of my latest “Third Dimension” feature, I would like to explore some ideas for a 3DS-based F-Zero game, touching on nearly all of the unique gimmicks and features that the handheld has to offer:

1. 3D Visuals/Stereoscopic Effects

Just take a quick second to imagine the following picture displayed in high-definition, glasses-free 3D:

Yeah, the stereoscopic effects would be pretty awesome: F-Zero and basically any racing game fits perfectly with the illusion of depth, and could even be somewhat simpler to navigate. Just take a look at Mario Kart 7the game wasn’t fundamentally different at all, but played better just by adding the sense of depth. I couldn’t’ imagine driving a car with two-dimensional vision; after playing 3D-enhanced racing games, I also don’t see how I could enjoy them the same without the added depth. With all the wild corkscrews and gravity-defying track sections featured in F-Zero GX, it isn’t hard to imagine how ridiculous a particularly complicated course in F-Zero 3D could look.

2. Touch Screen Map/Gyroscope Controls

Again, no major changes to the gameplay are needed – the F-Zero cars should feel floaty and slippery, as they are high-powered, futuristic hovercraft. The only other series to nail this type of racing so well was WipEout on the PlayStation/PSP, and it owed a lot of inspiration to F-Zero. All those ideas in mind, I think it would be pretty slick to use the 3DS’s internal gyroscope as a turning assist/method of control, similar to Mario Kart 7′s “first-person” mode. It could be very chaotic, but that is what F-Zero is all about – even if it meant sacrificing the 3D effects to use the gyroscope, it would be an interesting alternative. I would at least hope the option was available.

Just imagine this at full-speed with gyroscope controls…intense.

3. Single-Player Career/Story Mode

Another one of F-Zero GX’s best features was its Story Mode, which featured dozens of characters and told more of the background stories behind the series’ various racers. I would love to see this single-player mode return for a second lap in a 3DS installment of F-Zero, even if it meant shortening the individual Story arcs/limiting the roster of characters.

I’m not saying I would be disappointed if F-Zero 3DS half-assed the single-player content and provided nothing more than Grand Prix/Time Trials – those were the only options in the original SNES game, after all – but I really hope to see something that adds some depth and connection to characters other than Captain Falcon. Not saying I don’t enjoy C-Falc, but it would be pretty cool to see another F-Zero character popular enough to make the next Super Smash Bros. roster.

In this proposed Story Mode, I would like to see a sense of character progression: perhaps your victories could be rewarded with a certain quantity of credits, which could be stockpiled and spent on custom car upgrades or other goodies. Perhaps you could even wager credits before each race, raising the stakes on your own performance. If there were multiple difficulty settings, players could earn more credits for winning on Hard or Expert. There are all kinds of ideas, these are just a few. It would be very unlikely that Nintendo would focus solely on single-player, however. That brings me to my next point…

4. Robust Multiplayer Options, Online & Local

Any first-party Nintendo 3DS game from this point forward should focus on some kind of online or multiplayer component, using the Nintendo Network/WiFi to support everything from quick matches against random players to the “Communities” that were introduced in Mario Kart 7. Nintendo has already promised that Mario Golf: World Tour will expand on the idea of online tournaments and competitions; why not explore these ideas for an F-Zero game as well?

As far as local multiplayer, F-Zero should take advantage of the 3DS Download Play feature, allowing at least one other player to play without a copy of the game. I feel this way about every 3DS game, but for racing titles and other multiplayer-oriented games, it just makes sense that anyone with a 3DS should be able to pick it up and play with a friend. Even if it was a limited version of the multiplayer, I would be happy about it. For those with multiple copies, obviously the experience should be just as robust and deep as the online component.

5. Custom Tracks & Cars, Shared via QR Codes/StreetPass

The idea of custom tracks was explored in an expanded version of F-Zero X, but I would really like to see the track editor come out in full force on the Nintendo 3DS.

Even if the editing interface was incredibly simplistic (even more than the image above), being able to make your own twisted and complex stages would be a lot of fun. I feel like the StreetPass function could be the perfect way for players to effortlessly exchange their created courses; perhaps there could also be an option to create a QR code for each track, which could be uploaded to the ‘net and then scanned/played by others.

Moving on, I really like the idea of custom cars or at least customizable characters – just something along the lines of “character progression” or “upgrades”. If the proposed Story Mode rewarded you with credits, you could spend the credits on your car for upgrades, or buy special perks that could be equipped by your racer. Perhaps you could purchase a shield-strengthening power-up, or extra lives for the tough tracks with the most dangerous sections.

6. Downloadable Content via Nintendo eShop

Carrying on with the idea of additional content, I really like what Nintendo has been doing with Fire Emblem: Awakening, adding weekly DLC to the Nintendo eShop. I feel like F-Zero is at least as popular as Fire Emblem - perhaps more – and it could therefore support the idea of DLC packs with additional tracks, cars, or characters. I would love to see crazy cameos by Nintendo icons driving custom F-Zero cars; maybe Fox McCloud could show up in an Arwing-themed vehicle, or Bowser could pilot something that looks like his clown-faced flying machine in Super Mario World. Depending on the reception of the game, I think DLC would be a no-brainer…maybe not as heavily-updated as Fire Emblem, but at least supported by more content than what comes in the final version.

7. Other Misc. Features (AR/Camera/Microphone/Play Coins)

With all the miscellaneous features of the Nintendo 3DS, it would be almost impossible for any game to incorporate all of them in some way…but I still think F-Zero 3DS could knock out most of them. I’ve already covered 3D effects, WiFi/local/download play, transferring custom content via QR codes or StreetPass, and purchasing DLC on the Nintendo eShop; that leaves the Augmented Reality feature, the internal cameras, the internal microphone, some of the basic applications such as the Friend List, and Play Coins. In more detail:

  • Augmented Reality/Internal Camera: I really liked having the option of snapping AR photos of my Dream Eater Spirits in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop DistanceI know that is a completely different game in almost every regard, but the idea of taking real-life photos with AR versions of in-game characters was something I enjoyed beyond my own understanding. Being able to take a photo of your customized cars/characters within the real world would be pretty slick – totally unnecessary, but amusing nonetheless.
Not quite “augmented reality”, but you get the point.
  • Internal Microphone: I don’t see how video chat could work in a competitive race, so the idea of showing any players’ faces on the 3DS makes little sense to me (sorry, Star Fox 64 3D)…however, being able to hear your opponents after each race (or even during a race) would be pretty cool, and would open up the communication between players a bit more. Along the same idea, I would really like to see some of the basic apps (Friend List) streamlined into the WiFi interface (more recent 3DS games have been doing this) so that takes little effort to invite friends, set up a race or Grand Prix, add other players to your Friend List, and even form “Communities” (similar to the ones in Mario Kart 7).
  • Play Coins: Possibly the most overlooked bonus feature of the 3DS has to be Play Coins; in case you forgot, you earn one Play Coin for every 100 steps registered by the 3DS pedometer. It was helpful for unlocking puzzle pieces and playing Find Mii in the Mii Plaza application, but it has also come in handy in a few retail titles – Resident Evil: Revelations, Shinobi, and Kid Icarus: Uprisingjust to name a few. For F-Zero 3DS, going back to the idea of custom cars/characters and earning credits, I think that Play Coins could work as a substitute – but to a limit. I think there should be reward for skill and practice, not simply walking around with your 3DS…but using some of the Play Coin stockpile to benefit your in-game performance wouldn’t hurt, and I think it would be yet another nice idea for F-Zero. 
What do you think? Do you like any of these ideas for a 3DS-based F-Zero game? Do you think the chances of another handheld game in the series is likely? Please feel free to comment or leave feedback using the comment box below, and stay tuned for more of “The Third Dimension” on 3DStination.com in the future.