F-Zero 99 was one of many surprise announcements at the September 14 Nintendo Direct, but its reveal looks to have left many fans let down. Especially those waiting for a brand new title in the racing series that hasn’t had a new entry in close to two decades.
That’s because F-Zero 99 is a strange beast. Utilizing the Mode-7, pseudo-3D aesthetics of the SNES original and opting for a battle royale format similar to other Nintendo Switch Online exclusives like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99, it’s a far cry from the Gamecube’s blistering F-Zero GX, which many consider to be one of the best racing games of all time.
However, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off F-Zero 99. On its own merits, it’s an exhilarating online multiplayer experience that still delivers those high-octane thrills and challenging circuit layouts the franchise is known for. Perhaps more so than ever, considering you’ll be sharing the track with 98 other real players. Is it the F-Zero GX follow-up we wanted? No, but I think it’s the next best thing, especially when it doesn’t cost you a penny more than your subscription fee.
Show ya moves
On its surface, F-Zero 99 is that original SNES release, featuring all of its track layouts and the four different vehicles the franchise debuted with. Its remarkable speed and pin-sharp handling model remain intact, as well as various stage hazards like land mines, magnetic fields, and blustery winds that push your vehicle off-kilter as if you were playing a futuristic version of Desert Bus.
There have been some modernizations, though, and F-Zero 99 borrows some updated mechanics from the series’ N64 and Gamecube entries. Boosting is now tied to your vehicle’s health bar, instead of giving you a set amount of charges per race. The game also adds the spin attack which can be used to damage opponents and shield yourself from their attacks.
F-Zero 99’s most unique addition, though, is the Skyway. By picking up Super Spark pellets that litter the track after opponents receive damage, you’re able to charge a secondary bar that, when filled, will let you jump up to a higher elevation known as the Skyway. Up here, you’ll rocket ahead at lightning speeds and avoid track hazards and tricky turns below. Think of it like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s Bullet Bill power-up; useful for shooting your way up the pack in a risk-free manner.
And after spending a good chunk of time now playing F-Zero 99, there’s no way I can go back to that 1990 original. Racing against 98 real players is immensely exciting and stress-inducing in all the right ways. Blasting ahead of the pack is exhilarating, but the fact that it only takes one botched turn to see you tumbling back or crashing out entirely made me feel on edge the whole time. Thankfully, races typically last between two to three minutes. So if things don’t go your way, you’re mere seconds away from queuing into your next attempt.
But just like Tetris 99 before it, taking home a win in F-Zero 99 is far easier said than done. With 99 speedy, highly aggressive players on the board, it’s remarkably easy to lose your boost and health. Run out, and your vehicle will be destroyed and you’ll receive far less in terms of experience and rewards.
F-Zero 99 really heightens the series’ unique feeling of risk-versus-reward, then. For every track, you’ll need to learn when the best time is to activate boost, and when to hold off to conserve health. The Skyway isn’t necessarily a get-out-of-jail-free card, either, as you’ll get more out of it if activated during particularly precarious parts of a circuit.
Throw in the fact that you’ll need to know when’s best to go on the offensive with your spin attack (which is set to recharge on a short cooldown) and you’ve got a level of depth here that hasn’t really been seen in the series up to this point.
Going the distance
As it’s only just launched, it’s hard to get a feel of the longevity F-Zero 99 will enjoy. And I do have some very valid concerns here. While Tetris 99 still enjoys a high level of popularity, the less successful Pac-Man 99 is due to shut down for good in October 2023.
I’m personally hoping that F-Zero 99 stays on the Nintendo Switch Online service for good, and not just because I’m enjoying it. As it’s the first official game the series has had in close to 20 years (the last being the Japan-exclusive F-Zero Climax in 2004), I’m keen to see it take up more permanent residence in the Nintendo Switch’s online repertoire.
There’s every chance that Nintendo will be keeping a close eye on F-Zero 99’s performance. If it’s able to maintain a healthy player base going forward, it could tell Nintendo that there’s genuine interest from fans to see the series return with an all-original entry. If not for the Switch, then perhaps the Nintendo Switch 2, which is rumored to launch in late 2024.
In the meantime, if you have reservations about F-Zero 99, I’d highly recommend you at least give it a try. It’s not the franchise return you might have wanted to see, but it has plenty of fun ideas all its own that absolutely make it worth a download.
For more Nintendo Switch highlights, consider browsing our guide to the best Nintendo Switch games. And if it’s your go-to console, our best Nintendo Switch accessories guide recommends top peripherals to enhance your experience even further.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.