F-Zero 99 Runs Laps on Everything Else
Here’s why it’s the best racing game of 2023.
It’s important to have a little hope. Sure, it’s easy to wish for the big things like climate change projects, medical breakthroughs, or more episodes of Succession but the little hopes matter too. You imagine your DoorDash order hitting just right, or that your latest swipe right might be your last. Hope abounds in gaming too. We all want to win, hoping to be the best. How often do we get to prove it? If you have a Nintendo Switch, the answer is right now.
F-Zero 99 traffics in hope. The 99-person battle royale premise invites a certain level of optimism. While zooming around the futuristic yet retro track, you have to wonder am I good enough? Usually, no, you are not. Older gamers who used to dominate the local neighborhood back in the SNES era now have to reckon with the current immeasurable online talent pool. The skill gap doesn’t matter, because this classic homage still manages to deliver one of the best racing experiences of this, or any other, year.
The Switch Online exclusive also provides a sliver of hope for longtime fans who have been praying that Nintendo will do something, anything, with the vaunted franchise. This shadow release is certainly a step in the right direction for Captain Falcon, bringing back that hope with this fantastic multiplayer experience.
The premise is simple: you and 98 other racers compete in a knock-down drag-out race to the finish. There’s a cutoff each lap that eliminates the bottom five racers, not that it's noticeable with all the chaos happening onscreen. The tracks are all from the original game, albeit scaled up a bit to accommodate 99 racers, and the visuals are stunning. It’s a nice reminder for old and new players alike that F-Zero deserves its place in gaming history. The soundtrack alone is worth checking out for a race or two.
As you rip through each lap you have to keep a careful eye on your energy meter. It’s both your life bar and your boost meter. Spend too much to get ahead, you risk being destroyed. Spend too little and you’ll never win anything. Like the original, you can recharge by driving through a pit stop area at the start of each lap, which encourages you to “spend” your energy since you know you’ll get some of it back.
A handful of new features help facilitate competitive racing on a 99-person scale. You can unlock a super boost by collecting energy orbs as you race around the track (look for the golden cars that drop them) that send you to a road in the sky. Elevated above the chaos you gain tons of speed and take massive shortcuts; it’s a game changer on the level of the infamous blue shell in Mario Kart.
There’s also a spin attack you can use to damage other racers or deploy defensively whenever someone is about to crash into you. Like the boost meter, there’s a risk/reward component here that requires some careful consideration if you’re trying to win. If you’re just trying to make other people lose, it’s a lot of fun to use.
F-Zero 99 has some other features you’d expect from a competitive racing game. You earn tickets as you play that can be spent on some cosmetic upgrades, or you can use them to enter Grand Prix events designed to attract the best of the best. You’ll also level up as you play, earning points by placing ahead of your so-called “rivals,” which are players the game identifies as being at your skill level.
It’s honestly hard to overstate how much fun F-Zero 99 is, especially for a free title (technically you need to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online). If you’re at all intrigued then now is the time to play while the hype is peaking and lobbies fill up fast. The big drawback to previous battle royale-type games like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99 was the dropoff in the player base after a few months. All the more reason for you to play F-Zero 99 ASAP.
F-Zero 99 is available now on Nintendo Switch Online.