F-Zero

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F-Zero (1992)

We Formula One high rollers currently find ourselves at that awkward period between pre-season testing and the first race in Melbourne, when the 2018 F1 season kicks off and a load of lads chase after Lewis Hamilton until someone finally wakes up, waves a chequered flag and everyone gets to down tools and enjoy champagne – a bit like my evenings after I finish an article really.

Because of the extensive testing period, where all of the cars take to the same bit of track and get the gremlins out of their chassis, F1 isn’t really like football or rugby. You wouldn’t know exactly how a football season is going to pan out, even if Manchester City batter Blyth Spartans 8-0 in a pre-season friendly. And a 12-day-long friendly cricket match between Australia and the West Indies still wouldn’t tell you what way the 9 month internationals are gonna go that year.

But, as much as people will tell you not to take much notice of the laptimes or lap counts set by F1 teams in testing, the fact is that entire seasons could very well become formalities going by the top teams’ showing in testing, and that’s before Day 1 of the season.

And 2018 doesn’t bode so well for the non-Teutonic neutral, because it looks like Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport (to give them their full moniker) have recovered from the brief scares they had in 2017, where they almost weren’t 5 laps ahead of the competition, and have come back with yet another stonking car.

In addition to this their closest competitor last year, Ferrari (who even an oik like you will have heard of) continue their comparisons with Liverpool FC and appear to have gone backwards just when it looked like they had the chance to get back to the top again – this year most certainly isn’t their year.

The previously dominant Red Bull Racing do seem to have gotten closer to the front for this year, and they have very strong drivers, but the fizzy drink boys seem like they will still be let down by the relative lack of grunt from their Renault power units.

And just because Alfa Romeo have launched a technical relationship with Sauber, it probably doesn’t mean they’re about to soar up the table.

Therefore I would like to stick my neck out and make the prediction that come December 2018 Lewis Hamilton will be conferred his fifth World Drivers Championship and Mercedes F1 awarded their 119th World Constructors Championship, with a hearty congratulations to both.

And along the way, there will be big frustrations for Fernando Alonso and probably the Red Bull boys as the Renault power units continually fail, Toro Rosso’s new partnership with Honda will probably be sensational just to spite Alonso, and once again Max Verstappen will have the paddock seething and the fans squealing almost every weekend.

With all of that out of the way, and as it always is in F1, it’s best not to even bother with the racing on track and instead look at what’s making the fans angry this particular year. As such, we must look at the new modification to cars that may very well seal 2018’s place in infamy, unless the carbon fibre nonsense actually makes it to 2019 and beyond, and that’s the new Halo device.

This ‘device’ or doodad or contraption or fiddly bit is fitted over the driver’s head, blocking his view like a set of WW2 night-vision goggles and ruins not only the aesthetic of the car but the aesthetic of the carefully chosen helmet design as well. You are free to use Google Images in case my descriptive skills don’t cut it, but it makes the previously space-age looking cars resemble a rather clumsy looking sandal, making F1 fans ask that age-old question of the governing bodies, “Was this really the best option?!”

It’s just another step towards keeping the driver’s heads from getting caved in, and yes if it saves one life then it’s worth it yadda yadda yadda. Still, it comes alongside previously imposed safety measures such as Safety Cars, Virtual Safety Cars (disappointingly not featuring a hologram of a car on track), longer nose-cones, double yellow flags and red flags, pit speed limiters, fire-proof suits, fences to protect spectators from chewing on metal shards…

None of these safety measures lasted through to the 26th Century when F-Zero for the SNES takes place, oh no. It just wouldn’t be cricket. Remember that this is a racing sphere where the machines are free to bounce off each other as much as they like, and it’s actively encouraged to do so if it looks like you’re not going to make it through a particular corner.

Rather than re-profile dangerous corners as they do in F1, the F-Zero commission instead seeks to place massive jump-plates near corners to send you hundreds of feet in the air, and God knows where you’ll land after that.

To make crashes even more thrilling, landmines are placed right in the middle of the tracks and there’s even magnet strips that pull you into the barriers – imagine that around the streets of Monaco.

And forget DRS, just run over a massive zipper instead and boost yourself up to a neck-breaking 960 KP/H in less than 1 second, perfect for getting past those stubborn backmarkers. There are no blue flags in the future, put it that way.

F-Zero was a seminal launch title for the Super Nintendo in Japan and North America, and came out a couple of months after the SNES launched in Europe. This was at a time when gamers were still being wowed by Rad Racer, so you can imagine what this game must’ve looked like. Instead of racing into a parallax background, you can race around a Mode 7 Monopoly board instead!

You can batter opponents in 3 cups in Grand Prix mode over 4 difficulties, and save your times in Time Trial mode as well for other pigeons to be jealous of. The sensation of speed is still there as well, to this day, and it’s always a thrill to hit that top-end 478 KP/H speed in the Fire Stingray, or throw the slippery Golden Fox around hairpins before giving it a burst of MAXIMUM ACCELERATION.

One conspicuous disadvantage of F-Zero SNES is its lack of multiplayer function. Actually, if you wanted to be even more critical, you’d have to say that 15 tracks, many of them simple retreads or longer versions of previous tracks, isn’t actually giving you bundles to play with either. But F-Zero doesn’t need to complicate things, unlike a certain motorsport, and it’s always brilliant for a quick play, especially considering how abundant the game is. And that music!

So 2018 will bring us the rapidest Formula One racing machines ever. But they’ll shoot themselves in the foot with a ridiculous looking piece of plastic called the Halo, in addition to the other myriad of changes to the formula over the past number of years that brings the sport even further away from the thrilling, fiery deathraces that lit up the 1960s and 1970s.

But whatever about carbon neutral cars, vegan drivers or cars that run on tofu, the next innovation quite simply has to be getting rid of the wheels. Forget about Back to the Future 2 styled hoverboards – once we dispense with the silly rubber, we may finally be on our way to the crash-heavy, explosion-laden greatness that is F-Zero.

21 March 2018