F-Zero X review – how does it play today?

by Martin Watts, 6 January 2019

Racing along a massive cylindrical pipe suspended high in the air in F-Zero X track Big Blue

F-Zero X wowed gamers and critics alike with its incredibly fast gameplay in 1998.

However, such impressive speed and gameplay performance came at the cost of the game’s visuals.

The Red Gazelle, piloted by the Mighty Gazelle in F-Zero X for N64.

It was an unusual move by Nintendo during a time when graphics meant everything. Nevertheless, it paid off – F-Zero X went on to become a million seller.

20 years later, F-Zero X understandably looks even more basic. But that really doesn’t matter when it’s one of the most exciting and playable experiences on N64 today.

F-Zero X N64 title screen

What’s F-Zero X about?

F-Zero X is a futuristic racing game set in the 26th century. You and 29 other pilots compete against one another in ultra-fast hover cars that can surpass the speed of sound.

Each of the 24 tracks is suspended high up in the sky and comes with its own features and hazards. You’ll zoom through half pipes, 360-degree tunnels, loops, and launch over massive jumps.

Racing along a half pipe in F-Zero X for Nintendo 64.

Your goal is to come first in each of the four Grand Prix cups across four difficulties.

Good driving skills are essential, but you’ll also need to adopt vicious and unsporting methods to dominate the leaderboard.

It’s insanely fast, brutally cutthroat and utterly thrilling.

Performance equals quality

F-Zero X is a blisteringly fast game. You really fly along the track, to the point where it can feel a little overwhelming at times.

Unusually for an N64 game, F-Zero X runs at a consistent 60 frames per second. It’s even more impressive when you consider there are 30 hover cars zipping around the course simultaneously.

Racing with the pack on the Sector Alpha course in F-Zero X for N64

However, such impressive speed comes with one major drawback: the graphics are very basic. Vehicles are low poly and sport barely any detail. The same goes for the tracks, which are visually bland – although they at least look futuristic.

At the same time, you could argue it looks stylish today. After all, an increasing number of modern games are employing deliberately limited graphical art styles.

Rainbow Road track from Joker Cup of F-Zero X for N64.

More importantly, F-Zero X’s visuals don’t negatively impact the gameplay. The draw distance is quite short, but not to the point where it’ll unfairly result in your untimely demise.

The simplicity also ensures it looks clean (enough) on most displays. A CRT TV is the best way to play, especially as you then won’t have to worry about input lag.

As per our usual recommendation, an UltraHDMI N64 is the way to go for LCD and LED TVs.

Pico laments the lack of competition after coming first place in F-Zero X for N64

The menus and HUD elements have an old-school comic book aesthetic that really helps to bring F-Zero X’s eccentric cast of characters to life.

Can you name all 30 F-Zero X pilots? Put your knowledge to the test with our quiz.

The rocking heavy metal soundtrack also does a fantastic job of enhancing the game’s attitude and personality even further.

The Deep Claw eyes up the competition coming from behind in F-Zero X for N64.

Gotta go fast!

Unsurprisingly, speed is a big deal in F-Zero X.

Courses are littered with boost pads and jumps, enabling you to achieve insane speeds. It’s an utterly thrilling spectacle.

Driving faster than the speed of sound in the F-Zero X track Silence.

After the first lap of each race, you unlock a boost ability. In exchange for a small amount of energy, you can temporarily go a little faster.

You can regain energy by driving through pit lanes each lap. But crashing into walls or getting barged by other opponents will also deplete your reserves.

Recharging the Mighty Gazelle's energy using a pit lane in F-Zero X for N64

It’s a neat mechanic that introduces a superb risk–reward aspect.

Even when your car is flashing red as a warning, it’s still very tempting to boost just one more time.

And doing so can pay off massively – provided you’re skilled enough.

Master your machine

Such high-speed racing demands extremely precise control.

F-Zero X is accessible enough for a novice to dive into at a lower difficulty. But to conquer the expert and master settings you’ll really need to understand how your vehicle handles.

The Red Canyon 2 track from F-Zero X for N64

For starters, turning is an art in its own right.

Unlike most other N64 racers, the joystick control is incredibly sensitive. However, it’s this responsiveness that makes F-Zero X’s demanding and tricky tracks surprisingly manageable at high speed.

The meandering Mute City 2 race track from F-Zero X for N64

There are plenty of hazards, sharp turns, and narrow or edge-less sections. And all of these can instantly halt your chances of winning.

Thankfully, the game’s gradual difficulty curve means you won’t encounter the worst of these right away. So long as you play the cups in order.

Crashing out and having to retire in F-Zero X for N64.

To help you, there are a number of customisation options to get your vehicle exactly how you want it.

Despite there being 30 playable hover cars, they all feel unique. Each F-Zero machine sports a bespoke design, and has its own stats and weight.

Select Machine screen in F-Zero X for N64.

For example, a heavier machine will typically be sturdier and have a good top speed. But at the same time, it’ll also be slower to turn and have worst grip (an odd term for a hover car, we know).

You can further tweak your machine by choosing to enhance its acceleration or max speed (or just opt for balance if you really want). You change this before each track, and with good reason.

Kate Alen, pilot of the Super Piranha in F-Zero X for n64.

For example, say you’re not good at tracks with tricky corners or sudden hazards. By picking a tougher machine and focusing on acceleration, you won’t lose as much time and energy if you hit a wall.

F-Zero X’s customisation options are far from advanced. But they do allow you to really tweak things to suit your play style.

Work the system

F-Zero X’s intense focus on winning at all costs gives it a real brutal edge.

It’s not so much about going for gold, but rather making sure your opponents can’t.

You can focus purely on racing, but that alone may not be enough once you reach the game’s higher difficulties.

The Red Gazelle crashes out in F-Zero X for N64.

As you play through a cup, the game will point out your nearest leaderboard rival during each race.

Wipe them out and they won’t score any points for that race. It’s far too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

Dr. Stewart sits comfortably at the top of the leaderboard in F-Zero X for N64.

This is one of the best things about F-Zero X. It’s not just about racing – it’s also a cold, calculating game of manipulating the scoreboard whatever way you can.

What’s more, it’s very befitting of F-Zero X’s harsh, futuristic setting.

The game gives you two offensive options. You can shunt sideways into opponents, smashing them against walls or sending them off into the abyss below.

The Hyper Speeder barges an opponent in Nintendo 64 game F-Zero X.

Alternatively, there’s the spin attack – a great way to throw yourself into a group of racers and cause absolute carnage.

The way in which you can instantly end an opponent’s prospects of winning is immensely satisfying. It’s not graphic or bloody, but it feels surprisingly violent.

Things get hot as F-Zero machines zip through a tunnel at high speed in F-Zero X for N64.

The power of X

In addition to the standard 24 tracks, there’s also X Cup – a Grand Prix comprising randomly generated tracks.

The game generates these courses on the fly, meaning there are an infinite number of possibilities.

Starting a race in the Night Thunder in F-Zero X for N64

It all sounds too good to be true – and to some extent it is.

While it works as described, X Cup’s tracks rarely prove as entertaining as those in the core line-up. They’re often quite basic and lacking in terms of features.

Zooming into a tunnel as the Mighty Hurricane in F-Zero X for N64.

However, you do sometimes get a track with an absurd design, resulting in hilarious calamities.

For example, it’s possible to get a half-pipe track with a 90-degree turn. The best thing is that not even the CPU can handle something like this, meaning you’ll see 20 cars all fly off the track at the same point.

The Blue Falcon, Captain Falcon's F-Zero machine, as seen in N64 game F-Zero X (1998)

It’s a fun extra that was no doubt inspired by the grander F-Zero X Expansion Kit (which released exclusively in Japan for the 64DD).

That said, it’s really too limited to be anything more than an occasional side mode.

Racing on a random X Cup track in F-Zero X for N64.

F-Zero X’s multiplayer mode

Up to four players can race against one another across all 24 tracks and X Cup.

Even with this number of players, the game still maintains its impressive 60-frame-per-second frame rate.

A split-screen multiplayer race in F-Zero X for Nintendo 64.

The visuals don’t suffer either, although you could argue that they couldn’t get any more basic.

F-Zero X’s multiplayer mode introduces a fun little revenge system to keep races exciting right until the end.

Two-player race on Silence track in F-Zero X for N64

If you crash out before the end of a three- or four-player race, a slot-machine mini-game will pop up on your part of the screen.

Line up three symbols in a row, and you’ll deplete one or more of the remaining racers’ energy.

It’s a great way to give one last “screw you” from the grave, while potentially changing the race’s outcome.

A four-player race in 1998 futuristic racing game, F-Zero X (N64)

Conclusion

F-Zero X blew gamers away with its insanely fast gameplay in 1998. And it’s still just as thrilling over 20 years later.

The controls are precise and buttery smooth. It runs at a consistent 60 frames per second – even in multiplayer. And it’s a surprisingly deep experience.

Sure, the visuals are very simple. But then time hasn’t been kind to most games from the same era.

And at least F-Zero X has the benefit of being considerably more playable than virtually every other N64 game.

Our verdict

great

  • 60 frames per second
  • Astonishingly fast speed of play
  • Highly responsive controls and decent customisation options
  • Rival system adds excitement and strategy
  • Fun multiplayer mode with no noticeable compromises
  • Superb soundtrack
  • Very basic graphics
  • Randomly generated X Cup tracks are pretty limited

To learn more about how review N64 games see our review scoring system page. Because we focus on whether a game is still enjoyable to play today, we try to avoid discussing a game’s development history, impact or legacy in our reviews.