F-Zero Made Me a Better Driver in Real Life

Box art for the Super Nintendo F-Zero game.

Super Nintendo was the Golden Age of my video game-playing days. As a student in high school with few, if any, extracurricular commitments, I had maximum free time, and, being limited on my own funds, I had maximum opportunity to endlessly grind through the games I already had in my collection. Alongside Final Fantasy IV (in which I gained the notoriety of leveling all my characters to 99 without the aid of a Game Shark), the title on which I devoted the most time honing my skills was the futuristic racing game, F-Zero. As a curious side effect of my devotion, I found that I became a better driver, not just in Mute City or White Land, but on the mundane asphalt lanes of New Jersey.

While more recent versions of F-Zero feature well over two dozen different racers and car configurations, the Super Nintendo title had four: the “Golden Fox,” a swift but rather delicate racer; the “Wild Goose,” a tough-armored, all-business bruiser; the “Fire Stingray,” a flame-wreathed, cherry red heavy hauler; and the “Blue Falcon,” an all-around, even-stat cruiser. I came to race most often with the Fire Stingray. It had the slowest acceleration of the roster, but, once it hit its paces, it far exceeded the top speed of its competitors. It was also the second-toughest racer and lost the least amount of speed when it struck an obstacle. And, most importantly, it was the steadiest car and needed little, if any, course corrections in the straightaways; it took curves like a champ.

The "heavy hauler" Fire Stingray leaping over the expansive cityscape of Port Town.

The “heavy hauler” Fire Stingray leaping over the expansive cityscape of Port Town.

With the most sluggish pickup in F-Zero’s lineup, the trick with the Fire Stingray was to hit the brakes as little as possible. The key tactic I discovered was deceleration: easing off the gas to slow down and using the Stingray’s steadiness to keep on track through curves and around hazards. With practice, and liberal use of the shoulder buttons to cut tight into turns, I was able to rapidly burn past the competition on more complex tracks, such as Red Canyon and Fire Field. This trick helps in real-world traffic by putting less stress on my brake pads and on my engine. Also, it prevents the drivers behind me from getting faked out by “tap breaking” in instances where you really don’t need to slow down that urgently. I’ve read several articles over the years that liken traffic patterns to fluid dynamics, and how “tap breaking” (where a driver sees red brake lights in front, taps his or her brakes, and the process repeats down the lane), even for a brief instant, can cause a ripple effect that cascades into significant slowdown. I feel that deceleration vs. full-on braking, when safely done, is my little way of “paying it forward” to keep things flowing for the drivers around me.

Another trick I learned with the Fire Stingray was taking the curves. The Stingray’s steadiness and heavy bulk made it a challenge to turn at full speed, so cutting the engine was a necessary evil. Rather than spending the entire span of the curve slowing down and hitting the gas only once you straightened out, I learned to start accelerating towards the end of the curve, putting me at a faster pace by the time I hit the straightaways. It’s a gradual process; you don’t want to push it too hard, but an easy upswing can make a difference, especially when keeping pace in merge lanes and improving time getting onto a main road. This puts a bit more G-force on your passengers, so use this method with caution unless your riders know what they’re in for!

It’s been nearly 25 years since F-Zero’s release, and at least a score of years since I’ve last played this title, but I still hear the beats of Mute City whenever I take a curve or ease up on the gas pedal.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

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