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.

Final Fantasy IV Will Always Have a Hold on my Heart

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Of all the video games I’ve played since my childhood, the one that I’ve enjoyed, relished, and relived most of all has been Square’s Final Fantasy IV (or, as it was known in the U.S. back then, Final Fantasy II).

I had adored the original Final Fantasy despite its sparse, non-linear gameplay, so when its successor arrived, I was stoked. The local mom-and-pop game store (a kinder, charming alternative to Blockbuster) let you rent games as long as you wanted for a super cheap weekly fee. I borrowed their copy of Final Fantasy IV at least two or three times before I bought my own, keeping it out for weeks at a stretch.

There were so many amazing and enthralling moments in this game that keep me loyal to its legacy to this very day. The triumphant horns of the Red Wings anthem in the opening act. The first time you talk to one of the dancers in Damcyan, and, rather than offering up a repeating bit of dialogue, starts to whirl and spin around you. Edward’s sacrifice. The sinking of the ship by Leviathan. Cecil’s encounter with his father’s spirit on Mount Ordeal. The tense moment when you’re led to believe the royal guard, Baigan, will join your party, only to be brutally betrayed at the cost of the young wizard prodigies Porom and Palom. The opening of the Underworld and all its wonders. The multiple intrigues, betrayals, and redemptions of Kain. The list goes on and on.

While the initial U.S. translation was sloppy at points (the conversation where Kain talks about the key to the Underworld is particularly clumsy), the rich tapestry of heroes, villains, and monsters was akin to experiencing a storybook first-hand, more so than any other game I had played at that time (and more so than most I’ve played since then). Unlike turn-based RPGs that succeeded it, you were fixed to the party members you had at any point in the story. The transitions in your roster, however, always felt natural and never forced. That said, it was a delight to graduate to the extra levels in the Game Boy Advance version where you could choose anyone you wanted to conquer the new quests before you (take Cecil, Yang, Palom, Rydia, and Kain along for a “come at me bro” style of offensive might).

Whittling away the idle hours of my youth (and there were plenty of those), I managed a lot of whimsical, made-up accomplishments in Final Fantasy IV, which included:

1) Grinding around the town of Mysidia before Cecil’s transformation to a paladin, just to see what spells Porom and Palom would learn if you hadn’t played the game straight (spoiler: Palom proves to be quite the adept by mastering Bio, Quake, and other powerful black magics much earlier than Rydia would later in the story).

2) Battling endless ranks of monsters to see how many of the random summon spells I could earn in combat (not many, it turns out … I could only reliably ever get Imp and Bomb).

3) Gathering up all the vehicles in one location, which included Falcon (the original airship), the hovercraft, the Red Wings airship, the Black Chocobo, and the Big Whale (hint: the Serpent Road helps with this arduous task).

4) Patiently leveling up the five final characters (Cecil, Kain, Edge, Rosa, and Rydia) to level 99 without a Game Shark or other cheat device. As you can imagine, this took a very, very long time. I can’t even comprehend how many Red Dragons and Evil Masks I destroyed in the lunar dungeons to get everyone to this level. Rosa was the hardest of all, as she dealt the weakest amount of damage; I paired her up with Rydia to get her to 99.

If you’re brave or foolish enough, many second-hand stores still carry the original Super Nintendo cartridge. Be forewarned: I once paid $75 for a used copy as a Christmas gift for a friend well over 10 years back, and it still commands a steep price in that format today.

An updated, three-dimensional version for the Nintendo DS was released a few years back, and, while the visual styling and voiceovers are true to the spirit of the original, I can’t help but feel intense nostalgia for the 16-bit sprites and Mode 7 effects of the Super Nintendo version. It has that much of a hold on my heart, and I think it always will.

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.