Monday, December 24, 2012

Building the Next F-Zero

F-Zero isn't Nintendo's most popular franchise, but that isn't to say that it's unpopular either. In fact, even though the series has been dormant since 2003 in the US, a survey by the French site, Game Kult, found that F-Zero was one of the series that people most wanted a sequel for. Now I wouldn't bring up a survey from a French site no one's ever heard of except for the quote from Shigeru Miyamoto that followed in regards to those results:
Game Kult: After a quick survey on Twitter, one of the games French gamers miss the most is F Zero. Nobody really understands why Nintendo hasn’t made a new one since 2004. Is there a chance we can see it back on Wii U?
Miyamoto: [eyes open wide] I am really pleased to hear Twitter’s opinion, because since the first episode on SNES many games have been made but the series has evolved very little. I thought people had grown weary of it. I’d like to say: Thank you very much and try to wait by playing Nintendo Land’s F-Zero mini-game. I am also very curious and I’d like to ask those people: Why F-Zero? What do you want that we haven’t done before?
(Source: NintendoLife) 
Well Miyamoto, I know how you feel, because after reading what you had to say, my eyes were open wide too. Barely adding anything new to Mario Kart or New Super Mario Bros. sure hasn't stopped Nintendo from pumping out new installments of those games. And Call of Duty and Madden don't seem to have any problem selling in spite of being very similar every year. But ok, I understand. Ideally the series should evolve. Many would complain if it didn't (though many more would complain if the changes were too extreme). So with that in mind, let me suggest what could be done in the next F-Zero.

Meeting the bar set by the previous games
Planning a sequel to F-Zero GX must feel like a daunting task since it was already so good. A sequel would have to live up to the standard set by the previous games in the series, which means it would hopefully include these things:
-26 tracks (and ideally the randomly generated X-Cup from F-Zero X, and tracks from previous games like Mario Kart has been doing lately)
-41 playable characters and vehicles
-Custom vehicles and collectible parts
-Awesome track music and character themes
-Unique endings for beating a Grand Prix with each character
-A record of what you've beaten on which difficulty for each character
-Story mode
-Challenges and Zero Test
-Death Race
-Track editor
The F-Zero X expansion had a track editor. Let's do it again.

Alright, so, that's quite a lot of stuff to include from the start. If Nintendo's other series are any indication, there's no guarantee that all the characters would return, but you can assume that there will be at least thirty characters. Actually, Mario Kart games often drop features introduced in the previous game, like Mission Mode, so we can't really count on a return of Story Mode or X-Cup. But just because we can't count on them, doesn't mean they shouldn't be there. We had these things before and it'd be a disappointment not to have them again. Already, Death Race and X-Cup from F-Zero X were dropped in the transition to F-Zero GX. Even more disappointing is that in F-Zero Climax for GBA and F-Zero X Expansion for the N64 DD, both of which never made it to the states, there were track editors. We know it's possible; ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet Karting are entirely focused around track editing, so why not make that one of the new F-Zero's selling points too? We've yet to get an online F-Zero game; being able to race online and share custom tracks with the world would alone be worth having a new game for.

Evolving F-Zero
As much as I don't want to admit it, it's true that F-Zero hasn't evolved a whole lot from game to game. But that's just because the core gameplay of risk-and-reward racing is so darn good. Apart from that, the series has evolved by making the jump to full 3D tracks and adding story mode, death race, vehicle customization, and other things. The core gameplay doesn't need to change, it just needs more ways to be shown off. Having a variety of modes beyond Grand Prix would do just that. The new F-Zero could bring back and spruce up Death Race, have a new story mode, revisit Challenge Mode and Zero Test from the GBA F-Zero games (in which you had to complete specific parts of tracks with specific vehicles within a certain time limit), and even add a new mode or two. I think that expanding on Challenge Mode to include things like "Get this much air on Big Blue" or "Reach a top speed of x on Sand Ocean" in addition to quickly completing preset scenarios would be a great addition. For a new mode, there could be something like WipEout HD's "Zone", in which your vehicle moves forward on its own and gradually speeds up until you screw up and crash.

Of course, with all these modes (though really, it could be fine with just a few of them), you'll want some incentive to play them all. For many, getting a gold trophy next to everything is incentive enough, but we can do better than that. Completing challenges would open up new challenges, time trials would have the staff ghosts and times to beat brought to the forefront (and online leaderboards of course), and vehicle parts, alternate vehicle colors, and track editor parts could be scattered about galore as unlockables. And I don't think anyone would complain if achievement grids (a la Kirby Air Ride and Kid Icarus: Uprising) were brought in to give you even more to work towards across all modes. There could even be collectible trophies like in Super Smash Bros. that would be view-able in a gallery. Just having something to work towards, even if it is just a virtual trophy or surpassing someone's record online, would make the game that much more fun to play.
F-Zero would be an ideal series with which to demonstrate the Wii U's power. On GameCube, F-Zero GX's graphics were mind blowing; an HD F-Zero would truly be a sight to behold (WipEout HD sure is). It would also be the perfect game with which to demonstrate that Nintendo knows what it's doing with online gaming. Online races (with lots of options, please), leaderboards, custom track sharing, and more would be a welcome step above what Nintendo usually does with its online games. And while the Wii U GamePad's screen and motion control wouldn't exactly be ideal mid-race (well, an option for motion-control might be ok), the screen would certainly be of use for the track editor and local multiplayer, which could support five players at once. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, DLC would be a good option for Nintendo with a new F-Zero. The series' fanbase might not be huge, but it is dedicated. If Nintendo were to sell new parts for the track editor, vehicle skins, and professionally made tracks, people would surely buy them and help to recoup the difference in sales that a more popular franchise might get.

The Bottom Line
Honestly, just having an online and HD F-Zero with new tracks would be worth it. But making a track editor and online track sharing a main feature of the game would really make it sell. With limitless tracks to play, people would be playing the new F-Zero for a long time. F-Zero fans don't want any major changes to the core gameplay, we just want more ways to enjoy that core gameplay. 

The technology is ready, the fans are ready; it's about time we had a new F-Zero.
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