F-Zero was released in North America in August 1991 as one of five launch titles for the brand-new Super Nintendo Entertainment System, alongside other titles – Pilotwings, Gradius III, SimCity, and Super Mario World. With the release of F-Zero, Nintendo reinvigorated the racing game genre and created a franchise whose presence(or absence) can still be felt, though not always recognized. This is also the first appearance of bounty hunter Captain Falcon who became the signature character of the series.

F-Zero is set in the year 2560 as a group of billionaires with an overabundance of both time and money(clearly) have become dissatisfied with their lavish lifestyles and create F-Zero, a very fast and very dangerous racing league patterned after what we currently know as Formula 1 racing. Each contestant pilots a craft that hovers above the track at speeds upwards of 400 kilometers per hour as the races take place over a number of different locations such as Mute City, Big Blue, Death Wind or Port Town.

The races are separated into three circuits – Knight, Queen, and King, with each circuit consisting of five tracks. You are required to finish in the top three in order to advance to the next race. F-Zero deviates slightly from the normal racing game formula in you have a power meter for your machine as you begin the race, for every collision with the guard rail or hazards scattered about the course your power is reduced and will result in your machine exploding when depleted. Each course has a Pit Zone, which will replenish your machine’s power when driven through. You also start out with a number of spare machines which act as extra lives. If you run out of spare machines while making your way through a given circuit, you will be required to restart from the first race.

The strengths of F-Zero lie in its style and setting, it possesses a sense of high-speed danger that has been felt in later arcade-style racing titles like Wipeout, Hydro Thunder, or even Star Wars: Episode I Racer. The track locations are unique and memorable, though Mute City and Big Blue being represented as levels in Super Smash Bros. clearly aided in this, and the graphics were nothing short of impressive when first released nearly thirty years ago. Despite the game not featuring much depth as it pertains to game modes(Grand Prix and Practice) and no multiplayer option, it still provides enough of a challenge for those with quick enough reflexes and willingness to learn the courses and their hazards(years before George Lucas gave us podracing). The in-game music is great and perfectly captures the feelings of speeding around the track, a mere foot off the ground. Despite being more successful and typically more revered among gamers, I would venture to say I enjoy playing F-Zero a bit more than the inaugural Mario Kart as I find it a bit difficult to return to after so many improvements in subsequent releases. Undoubtedly, an important aspect of what made Mario Kart vastly more popular than F-Zero is the former’s multiplayer options, of which the latter has exactly (F-)zero. Ironically, Mario Kart as well as Super Smash Bros. have served as a significant source of exposure for the now-dormant F-Zero series. Later Mario Kart entries have featured Mute City and Big Blue as playable courses and Captain Falcon has been a popular character since the first Super Smash Bros.

F-Zero still plays very well considering it was released thirty years ago, with my biggest complaints about the game boiling down to two areas: its difficulty(specifically A.I. competitors) and aspects of the game’s physics. F-Zero as a series is known for being anything but easy; opposing A.I. are assholes go out of their way to make your lap around the track as miserable as possible. To further add to the high-speed tension and frustration, the in-game physics upon any contact with an opponent or on-track obstacles and hazards will cause an exaggerated collision very much resembling the infamous knock-back damage of games such as Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man. It can get very frustrating, very quickly when an enemy driver will bump into your machine and cause you to bounce off the opponent’s machine straight into the guard rail and back again, all while causing damage to your vehicle. There were quite a few races that I was bounced between a couple of opponents and the guard rails in rapid succession before my racer’s energy was depleted and explodes. This often makes races seem more along the lines of a bumper cars ride than an exciting high-speed, high-stakes race of the distant future, the Mode 7 backgrounds in F-Zero also make for a greater feeling of everything spinning around you when dealing with obstacles and hazards.

Outside of my frustration at times with the game’s bumper car physics and the occasional motion sickness caused by the implementation of Mode 7 backgrounds, I do really enjoy F-Zero on the SNES. Would I recommend the game to those that have never played an F-Zero game? Yes, though perhaps in small doses as the pseudo-3D backgrounds of some of the older SNES games such as F-Zero or Mario Kart were nothing short of impressive at the time, they’ve also not aged particularly well as it’s very hard NOT to feel like you’re simply rotating the screen around your 16-bit sprite. Many have since dismissed games like F-Zero and Pilotwings as being nothing more than a tech demo for the Super Nintendo and to display what may be possible through the newest home gaming console. Though it may not have aged gracefully, one can still appreciate a game for its accomplishments at the time and significance in gaming history.

Thanks for reading!

Knights of the Round

Today’s post isn’t meant to be as much of a review, but rather a simple post sharing a game that I loved growing up – Knights of the Round. Originally released in arcades by Capcom as but one of the sea of beat ’em up/hack ‘n slash games of the early 90’s, it was ported to the Super Nintendo in 1994 where I first played it as a kid. Most recently it was released as part of the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle in 2018; I spent last night playing through the game again on my Switch grabbing a few screenshots. If you’re at all familiar with the general gameplay of old-school beat ’em up games, you know what to expect – pummeling waves of enemies as you scroll from one stage to the next. The straightforward nature of such games made it very easy to pick up and play as a kid.

Knights of the Round is set in medieval England and follows the legend of King Arthur and his fabled Knights of the Round Table. Under the guidance of the wizard Merlin, Arthur and two of his knights – Lancelot and Percival embark forth on a quest for the mythical Holy Grail to overthrow evil King Garibaldi and unite all of Britain.

Players can choose any of the three characters, each one having slightly different attributes similar to other beat ’em ups of the day. As a kid I would always choose Arthur, having a balanced skill set but no specific strength or weakness. I would quite often play with my younger brother who would pick the slow, but powerful Percival with his giant battle axe, and a neighbor friend who would usually pick Lancelot. One difference from other similar games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage is each character will level up once passing a certain score. Arthur for example will begin the game equipped with standard-looking chain mail , but will gain more extravagant armor as you progress. By the higher experience levels, Arthur will be combating the forces of evil in a golden suit of armor that looks pretty awesome.

The game features seven different levels with a boss battle taking place at the end of each level, there are also several mid-bosses that will later appear as common enemies to strike down. There is a pretty diverse range of enemies you will have to fight as you progress, though in a trademark of the genre, many enemies will simply be a different color than a previous one indicating its higher difficulty or health level. Along the way you encounter different pickups that come from breaking various objects like barrels or wooden ramparts located outside villages and castles. As in other beat ’em ups developed by Capcom in the 90’s, health is acquired by picking up the random assortment of food scattered about the levels, such as turkeys, or salad platters. Video Game Logic: the mental connection to one’s own health and that of their virtual character is indicated by finding milk and turkeys lying on the ground along a dirt path.

There isn’t too much else to say in description of Knights of the Round, it’s a early 90’s arcade beat ’em up game in which you simply mash the attack button(with the occassional jump-attack mixed in) to clear a path through enemies hindering your progress from the left side of the screen to the right. I am mildly embarrassed to admit that prior to playing this a couple days ago and looking through the manual for the SNES version, I truly had no idea there was a block move granting you brief invincibility as you counterattack….you learn something new every day I guess. The difficulty level of the Knights of the Round is pretty balanced, as far as arcade games designed to keep you popping quarters into the cabinet if you wished to see the end credits. Some of the later bosses can do some serious damage and can quickly send you to the continue screen, though perhaps now knowing of a block mechanic it may be ever so slightly easier…you know, pressing the X Button on the controller. It is also a game that benefits in having a co-op partner, not just in difficulty but also the overall enjoyment of the game. I fondly remember many hours spent trying to button mash our way to the final boss of the game, usually right before seeing the Game Over screen. One added bonus to playing Knights of the Round as part of the Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is the added option of playing online, as couch co-op isn’t as prevalent as it once was.

Couldn’t mention the words ‘Arthur’ and ‘Grail’ and NOT think of this…

I still enjoy going back and playing through some of my old favorites like Knights of the Round on lazy Saturdays such as yesterday. It’s also a bit coincidental that in merely five days, the long-awaited Streets of Rage 4 is to be released. Streets of Rage was another of my absolute favorite games to play on my Sega Genesis as a kid and I’m pretty excited to finally play the 4th installment in the franchise. What are some of your favorite games as a kid that you still enjoy playing from time to time? Did you ever play many old beat ’em up games in the arcade or at home? Thanks for reading!