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Nintendo’s Most Underrated Racing Game Finally Gets Its Fair Shot

Is the era of Mario Kart domination over?

F-Zero X Maximum Velocity box art
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When it comes to Nintendo racing games, Mario Kart reigns supreme. But while the company continues to pump out an endless parade of new games and expansions, many of us know deep down that a superior Nintendo racing experience exists.

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, which Nintendo recently added to its Switch Online collection, is what you've been missing. The Game Boy Advance racing sim is set in a purplish version of future Earth, but its pixel city vistas will excavate your oldest desires: to be free, to move fast, and with control. It's what I wanted when I was younger, when Maximum Velocity released in 2001, and it's what I want now, but don't have time to pursue — life so often gets in the way. But Maximum Velocity isn't worried about logistics. It makes pursuing desire feel instinctive.

The 2001 handheld game is now available through Nintendo Switch Online.


For a long time, the futuristic F-Zero racing series has been stuck in the past. The games — admired for their fast cars and colorful drivers, like macho mystery mascot Captain Falcon — haven't gotten a new installment since 2004. 2023's F-Zero 99 only kind of counts since it's a battle royale remake of the original. So Maximum Velocity arriving on Switch Online's Expansion Pack is a rare opportunity to harness it.

The game's options let you decide if you'd like to have five "spare machines," three, or just one cocky attempt at dominating the track. They also cutely outline the the deceptively simple controls using the original Game Boy Advance graphic: press A to accelerate, B to brake, and your left and right bumpers for a boost. Maximum Velocity has echolocation-friendly sound effects, so all of these actions are emphasized by the high-pitched hiss of your selected hovercraft blasting along the track, scraping its wings against the asphalt on sharp turns.

“This game is hardcore beyond belief.”


This produces an exciting, white-hot anxiety once you finally begin a solo Grand Prix race (though Switch's port shows options for the GBA's "multipak" and "single-pak" multiplayer options, they are inoperable). But first you need to select a vehicle, which are named like prophecies — "Wind Walker," "Hot Violet" — and offer variant stats with regards to car things like maximum speed and turn performance. Then you choose between the Pawn, Knight, or Bishop race series and determine your preferred difficulty class.

Don't underestimate the power of "beginner." Maximum Velocity moves like a rat into the garbage can — I mean, it's right there in the name. If you're not wary of all the rough terrain on a course, your green health bar will slowly turn yellow, and you'll end up dead under billowing, black smoke. And the flashing pink bumpers lining either side of the track aren't really there to help you. Crashing into them sends you ping-ponging across the road, slowly destroying the body of your vehicle and, again, making you dead. But, even if you get scared, please don't slow down. Once you reach the pitiful Rank 20, it's game over for you, no matter how shiny you kept your car.

Mario Kart 8 features an F-Zero level, but will we ever get a proper new game in the series?


This brutal difficulty is what makes Maximum Velocity exhilarating, even decades later. It's true that, in the dog-eats-dog petri dish that is the F-Zero series, Maximum Velocity falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. Over the years, its legacy as the series first handheld title has been overshadowed by the fan-favorite F-Zero GX for GameCube. But it was always obvious that Maximum Velocity's difficulty was what made it worthy of your time.

“This game is hardcore beyond belief,” shuddered Nintendo World Report in a 2001 review, "but a five-day rental is probably enough to get you to the Master races, which you’ll attempt and then give up on." (Remember Blockbuster game rentals?) And Maximum Velocity is an especially tantalizing Switch title. It's unlike any other racing game on the platform. Mario Kart 8 is too sweet to compare. Lego 2K Drive doesn't have the discipline. Wreckfest barely takes itself seriously. But you? Careening through Maximum Velocity? The city skyline twinkles far beyond your reach — but not impossibly. Just hit the gas, and keep going.

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity is playable now on Nintendo Switch Online.

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