People like Star Wars, I guess. I don’t know. It seems like people like Star Wars. I’m really getting a strong feeling that people are really into Star Wars. And I’m sure we all know that when something gets popular it gets video games. Shrek gets video games, E.T. gets video games, even Mario is so popular that he gets a bunch of video games. And wouldn’t you know it, Star Wars has a lot of video games. A lot of video games. A lot. But which Star Wars video game is the best one? Why, of course, it’s got to be F-Zero GX.
I find that when people say they like Star Wars, they usually like it for one of two reasons. The first group likes it for all the things that come with the Jedi. The storylines of the movies. All the lore about the Jedi Order waiting to be explored. The awesome psychic Jedi powers. The cool laser swords that make cool noises. It’s even a fun noise to make. To those people I say… sorry. Oops, I don’t care about that stuff. If you want someone to talk about that go somewhere else. God knows there’s plenty of people doing it. And if you want to play a video game, go ahead and just play any of them that have Jedi in the title. They’re probably good, and will probably give you exactly what you’re looking for.
I’m talking to the other group of Star Wars fans. The fans who enjoy the world building of the franchise. The fans who enjoy seeing what cool creatures are going to pop in every group scene, so they can point out someone in the background and say, “Oh man, what’s his deal?”. The fans who really enjoyed The Mandalorian because it was just a season of seeing pretty average people just sort of doing their thing, but with bluer shrimp. Those fans need a game too. Where do they get to explore a rich, lived in space world? Definitely not Star Wars Battlefront.
Now, F-Zero. It’s a franchise that was pretty much based on Star Wars in the same way that everything sci-fi in the 80’s and 90’s was either based on Star Wars or Alien. (See Metroid for an example of things going that way). An intergalactic racing tournament, the titular F-Zero grand prix, that takes place on multiple planets, each in just the right position with it’s sun to only have one biome. F-Zero GX is the gamecube entry in the series, and it’s easily the high point. It looks beautiful, even today, which isn’t normally something I would really focus on, but it’s impressive considering how fast this game is. Everything is flying by in an instant, but somehow they make it intuitive to navigate the tracks and look good doing it. They really put the Super Monkey Ball engine to good use. But the racing is merely a method of conveying the real world of F-Zero. It is the activity that everyone in the world is hyper focused on to the point of culture entirely revolving around it. It is the Jedi of this world if you will. Like if from the very beginning Star Wars had been about pod racing. And the world it houses is deep.
Obviously the most well known character is Captain Falcon. You probably know him from Super Smash Bros. a series that makes so much money, it could buy a small country.Going back to his home series we find that he’s a bit of a Han Solo type because of course he is. He’s a bounty hunter which is just the sci-fi way of saying he owns a gun and lives on a spaceship. F-Zero GX, the most developed and substantial game in the series, has an entire story mode detailing a day in life, as he trains, hunts down some bounties, and eventually races god, and it’s… fine.
In the same way that some of the best parts of Star Wars are in the background, the real meat of F-Zero’s world is in the small details of the game. And, oh boy, what a fun fun world it is to explore. Each track of the game is set on one of the many planets. Sure you’re flying through these levels at literally thousands of kilometers an hour, but the amount of things to see really go above and beyond in making the world feel real. Aeropolis is a giant floating metropolis where you weave in and out of skyscrapers and tunnels. What could possibly allow such a dense maze of buildings to function properly? Well, it’s probably that giant glowing AI orb that you do a zero gravity corkscrew around towards the end of every lap. Yep, that’ll do it. Or Sand Ocean, the obligatory desert planet. You drive through a high tech pyramid at one point and that’s interesting, but I’m more interested in the fauna of the world. On the first lap we see some pretty normal looking birds flying around. That’s neat. On lap two the birds are being eaten in masses by giant fish jumping out of the sand. Oh… those are just swimming around underneath me. Like, right now? Oh. That’s fine. And what happens on lap 3? Well, that giant fish that dwarfs every other living thing we’ve seen so far is getting munched on by an even bigger worm. A much much bigger worm…. I don’t want to be here anymore.
But it’s not just the levels that are fleshed out with detail. Every character has an entire life of their own. And how do we know that? Well, F-Zero GX has an entire mode for lore. You get a list of all the characters you’ve unlocked, and can look at the character and their vehicle, read a fairly lengthy blurb about them, and get a unique song for every single character that only plays on this one screen. These aren’t even like normal video game background songs either. A lot of these are full on rock ballads with vocals and everything. It can make even some of the lamer characters feel like real contenders in this epic grand prix. And those backstories I was talking about? They’re good. Just about every character has a legit motivation to be racing. Usually games that try to justify characters entering tournaments have paper thin motivations for their characters. My personal favorite is actually two characters, Draq and Roger. They both work for the same delivery company, and someone just sort of drops two vehicles in the mail with no return address. Draq is such a big fan of F-Zero races that he suggests they just enter themselves and see if anyone watching the races reaches out and claims their lost mail, seeing it as his only chance to live out his dream of finally being a professional racer. Roger is so dedicated to his job of making sure no package gets left behind that he admits that on a technicality it probably actually is the best course of action. Now you have two characters who are racing not to win, but to get as much televised airtime as possible. It’s great. And most stories are kind of like that. Characters that would logically know each other have stories that intertwine and build off of each other. Ok, let me just drop one more on you. Super Arrow is a for real superhero. Think Batman but owl themed. He begins to notice that there’s an awful lot of very evil super villains entering these races, because, again, the entire world revolves around these races, so clearly any evil plots are going to be less Lex Luther and more Dick Dastardly. He decides to enter as a guardian and bodyguard to the more earnest racers. His wife, Mrs. Arrow (side note: I don’t know if Mrs. Arrow is a superhero name, or if Super Arrow is his actual name, and quite frankly I can’t tell which is weirder.) Anyway, his wife knows that he’s not actually a very good driver and that he’s just diving into this without thinking due to his sense of justice. So she enters the race with the sole purpose of protecting her husband, and she’s really good at it. There’s even story points central to the franchise that get told this way. Before the start of the game a massive accident happened. It involved the collision of dozens of racers. It shut down the entire circuit for years, and at the time many thought it would be closed permanently. Who could have guessed that zero gravity races faster than the speed of sound would be dangerous? They really had no way of knowing. It only opened back up with strict guidelines and retooling of how the machines worked. And you wouldn’t know any of that if it weren’t for the fact that one of the racers is a trained medical professional who stopped racing to go into full on doctor mode, and one of the racers got so badly injured that he became a brain in a robot body. They don’t talk about it anywhere other than these supplementary character bios, and remember that this is a game with an actual story mode.
And perhaps best of all, it does something that I wish Star Wars would do more often. It just makes a random large amount of these playable characters weird aliens. Yes, a majority of the characters are human, or whatever humans are called in this world, but it doesn’t do the thing that Star Wars does where it creates a bunch of super interesting character designs just to have them fill out the background of a bar scene. If they have a design, they are a fleshed out character. This goes for humans, the droids, the dinosaur people, the octopus people, the giant baby looking people, the weird wooden puppet looking Laurel and Hardy double act...people. I love it.
This level of detail absolutely did not need to exist. The game totally stands on its own. Oh yeah, I didn’t really even talk about the actual gameplay, but it’s literally my favorite game of all time. Please play it. The game could have easily come out, been the best arcade style racer ever, dropped in 40 cool looking characters and called it a day, but it knows that when you see a sci fi world with this much effort put into its design you want to be able to just take a quick peek under the hood and learn a little bit more. And it’s that ability to learn on my own time, about a diverse cast, all within the game itself that I really wish I could get with a more established franchise like Star Wars. Imagine if learning about One Arm the Wumpa could be a fun experience bundled into a great game and not a fever dream of a trip to wookiepedia at 3:00am. Oh well.