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F-Zero 99

F-Zero 99 deserves all the love it’s getting these days

When I think about having to stretch past the confines of my cozy local play and interact with anonymous players online, it makes me want to unplug the WiFi in my house. But that was before Nintendo’s 99 series. Classics like Tetris, Super Mario Bros 35 and Pac-Man 99 (currently discontinued) were retooled as battle royales, brimming with players waiting to bust each other up. It’s a genius concept to get guys like me to mingle and hobnob with randos from all corners of the globe. 

Then they took things a step further. In September 2023, Nintendo performed the same innovative surgery, turning the iconic racing game F-Zero into F-Zero 99. Not only was it free (providing you’ve got a Nintendo Switch Online membership, that is) but it also revealed that, under the hood, there was a need for speed that Mario Kart 8 or any of Switch’s current high-speed titles simply couldn’t scratch.

Wherever the Switch Online exclusive was mentioned, it seemed to strike a unanimously positive chord. Everyone agreed that F-Zero 99 was an addictive little experience that merged together the best parts of the series. Retro graphics and models were lovingly preserved from the 1990 original, as well as violent nudging culled from F-Zero X and GX. To top things off, the races were aggressive as hell, which was a painful reminder that you weren’t playing it solo in the easy-going 90’s anymore. 

And maybe that’s the kicker: break-neck speed and a plethora of opponents were just what the series needed from the beginning.

F-Zero 99 screenshot
Image: Nintendo

I fondly remember my brother and I racing our own hover-cars around (what we imagined to be) treacherous hairpin turns, boosting over dystopian debris and ultimately bursting into flames mid-race. It was good, clean fun with very little stakes. However, oddly enough, the original game retrospectively feels like an F-Zero lite, and 99 is the fully-realised version. 

But just how much joy and replay value could a futuristic racing game possibly hold? Plenty, that’s what. As I type these words, Nintendo has just released a slew of patch notes for F-Zero 99’s version 1.3.0, and will drop F-Zero Maximum Velocity on Switch Online’s canon, which was previously stuck in the purgatory of Game Boy Advance titles.

These facts alone are proof that the demand for the series is strong, and its future is currently out of Nintendo’s cancelling crosshairs. We haven’t had a proper F-Zero anything since Nintendo Gamecube’s F-Zero GX in 2004, so it’s entirely possible F-Zero 99’s popularity is the result of a collective desire for a new game.

F-Zero 99 screenshot
Image: Nintendo

The fervor could also be a result of Nintendo adroitly bridging the gap between 90s nostalgia and modern online multiplayer gameplay, thus casting a wide blanket in drawing in demographics that span almost three decades. 

For me though, it’s a bit easier to define. Despite being from a huge NASCAR state, I’ve never claimed to be a racing fan, and yet, now I am one. F-Zero 99’s breakneck matches can be consumed in such bite-sized bursts that I find myself promising “just one more” before I realise half the day has flown by. 

It’s genuinely heartwarming to witness such an outpouring of support for one of Nintendo’s longest-running racing series. Should it be allowed to linger a bit longer, I’d love to see it develop into a fully-fledged release: perhaps a party game where you can organize dystopian street gangs with your buddies and pit them against each other. But I’ll take any new iteration of F-Zero at this point.

You can download F-Zero from the Nintendo eShop, as long as you’re a Switch Online member.

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