Revitalizing classic franchises often treads a fine line between nostalgia and innovation. This is especially challenging when a franchise has gone 19 years without a new game in the series, as is the case with F-Zero.
For nearly two decades, fans of the high-speed racing game F-Zero have been hoping for a series revival in some shape or form. They finally got that last week with F-Zero 99, though it’s not exactly what anyone was expecting. Instead of opting for a conventional remaster or a high-stakes new release, Nintendo revealed what is essentially a mass-multiplayer online version of the SNES version of the game.
Like its classic battle royale-style counterparts Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99, F-Zero 99 is free for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers to try out. Players can queue up with 98 other racers, compete in four fast-paced laps, and try to reach first place.
Many hardcore F-Zero fans were initially disappointed, especially after waiting so long for Nintendo to acknowledge the franchise. This wasn’t a brand new game, or remaster of an older title. However, I firmly believe that F-Zero 99 was a better choice for the Switch. It has the potential to draw in new fans thanks to its accessibility as a free, interactive online game.
One of the most compelling reasons for F-Zero 99 being an optimal choice for the Nintendo Switch is its accessibility. The gaming industry has evolved significantly since F-Zero’s last full-fledged installment in 2004. Players today have an overwhelming number of choices in the racing genre. They can be hesitant to invest in a new franchise or remastered edition without prior experience, especially when there have been decades between the series’ releases.
F-Zero 99 mitigates this risk by offering the game for free to subscribers of Nintendo Switch Online. This approach allows newcomers to dip their toes into the F-Zero universe without any extra financial commitment. In contrast, a traditional $60 new game or remaster might have deterred potential fans who are unfamiliar with the franchise. I know that this would certainly be true for myself.
F-Zero 99 also adopts a unique and contemporary gameplay format by transforming the classic F-Zero experience into a battle royale. This decision capitalizes on the popularity of the battle royale genre, which has gained immense traction in recent years. Other battle royale games on Nintendo Switch Online like Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35, and Pac-Man 99 have demonstrated the appeal of recontextualizing beloved classics within this competitive framework.
Nothing has been lost from the series due to this shift either. F-Zero 99 inherits the exhilarating speed and challenging tracks of its predecessor. It does this while injecting new life into the franchise by framing it as a large-scale multiplayer competition. It makes you want to get better and better at the game to surpass the skills of real people around the world and climb the leaderboards. Plus, this innovative approach is more likely to captivate a younger audience accustomed to fast-paced, multiplayer experiences.
To top all of this off, F-Zero 99 has the potential to foster a strong and enduring community of players by embracing the online multiplayer model. The battle royale format inherently encourages competition of dedicated player communities. Players have already been creating a dynamic and engaging experience by posting clips of their victories on social media, and streaming the game to Twitch and YouTube.
This sense of community can be instrumental in attracting and retaining new fans who may find enjoyment not only in the game itself, but also in the company of a thriving player base. In contrast, a standalone $60 game might have struggled to maintain an active player community over an extended period.
F-Zero 99’s release as a free online game through the Nintendo Switch Online service was a strategic choice for Nintendo. It opens the doors to a new generation who might otherwise have been hesitant to purchase a traditional release. The adoption of the battle royale format taps into contemporary gaming trends, ensuring that the game remains relevant and engaging.
While a remaster or new game would have carried inherent risks and uncertainties, F-Zero 99 represents a step forward. It breathes fresh life into an iconic franchise while attracting a broader and more diverse fanbase. I believe that Nintendo will see success with this model, and the next new F-Zero game will be much better because of it.