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F-Zero 99 offers some of the most intense racing

For the most part, the “99 series” of games released by Nintendo over the years have been a lot of fun. I remember being massively addicted to Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99 when those first launched. Super Mario 35, while not a 99 game, still managed to hook me for a bit. So, when Nintendo dropped F-Zero 99 just a few days ago, I was eager to jump and see how they’re handling a racing “battle royale”. So far, it’s been a blast to play and I can see this being one I come back to for a while.

Frantic action from F-Zero 99

Returning to F-Zero after so many years

Having never owned a Super Nintendo, my first experience with the F Zero franchise wasn’t on the Game Boy Advance, but on the Game Cube. So, my familiarity and memory are limited. But, that’s the great part about F-Zero 99, they assume no prior knowledge. The on-boarding gradually gets you comfortable with the fast speed, frantic turns, and combat.

The key to F-Zero is understanding the tracks, knowing when to utilize your boosts, and avoiding your opposition as much as possible. However, for a game with 98 other racers, you’re seldom going to be able to completely avoid the other racers. Speed is a huge factor as well. These vehicles can pick up a lot of speed. Couple with the amount of competitors and twisting turns, using too much turbo will only slam you against a foe or the barrier.

For me, it took me a few failures to fully grasp the game’s turbo system. While turbo can be incredibly beneficial at the right time, it is also connected to your vehicle’s health. The more you use it, the more likely a hit on the wall or a foe will knock you out of a race. There is a pit area to refill a portion of this bar, it doesn’t completely refill it, so using your turbo at the right time is key.

Entering the Pit area in an F-Zero 99 Race

Knowing when to turbo

Meaning, that timing your use of turbo is key to having a good race. In most situations, you’ll avoid using your turbo except during straights. Instead, you’ll focus on collecting power sparks so you can take advantage of each track’s shortcut route. As you race, every time two vehicles collide, they will drop these gold orbs on the track. Your vehicle will collect these over the course of the race. Once you’ve filled up your bar, you can trigger your boost, which sends you into the “clouds” to race on an easier track where your car is on a timed turbo and the ability to drive over boosts.

This shortcut can give you a massive advantage. While your time up there might be only about 5-10 seconds, the advantage you get from it is huge. You might be in 80th place, but you might be able to jump 10,15, or even 20 spots and completely avoid the traffic log jam on the main course.

In most races, you’ll probably only manage to take advantage of the shortcut once or twice. Knowing when best to use it is also important, so timing can help you immensely. That added element of strategy makes every race even more thrilling.

The five race tracks from the Knight Grand Prix

A ton of content early on

For a free-to-play game, there is a decent amount of content. At launch, there are seven available tracks and things in the game point that we’re bound to get at least another eight in the near future. In addition to plenty of tracks at launch, there are a few modes to participate in.

Other than the standard F-Zero 99 mode, which features a few tracks that participants can vote on which to race on, you have a rotation of different special events that cycle every 10-20 minutes. Of those, you participate in Pro Tracks, which feature three harder tracks to race on. Then there are Team Battles. In these races, the field is split between two teams and the respective colors are racing to earn the most points for their teams. You earn points for your place in the standings, the number of foes you manage to spin attack, and you also earn points for knocking out your opposition.

The last of the special events are the Grand Prix. At launch, there have been two variations: the Mini Grand Prix and the Knight Grand Prix. Two more Grand Prix are coming soon, the Queen and the King, which will also include a few more tracks to race on.

Proving yourself in the Grand Prix

Of the rotation of special events, the Grand Prix happens at different times of the day. At launch weekend, they were available once every 30 minutes. During the week, the larger Grand Prix happens less frequently, with a Mini Grand Prix taking place once or twice an hour.

Grand Prix events have a cost to enter. Your performance in the other events earns you points, and 500 points earns you a ticket. While the Mini Grand Prix entrance fee is only a single ticket, you’ll need three to enter the Knight Grand Prix. As the other Grand Prix are introduced, I suspect the price will only increase.

Grand Prix events are where the true Battle Royale experience takes place. In all other races, the field is only reduced by five per lap, meaning that 80 racers should finish the race. Getting knocked out by another racer, or random crashes can reduce that number more so. But in general, most people should finish a regular F-Zero race if you play it smart.

It takes time to master

It’s a bit different in the Grand Prix. Here, each subsequent race lowers the field of racers. It starts at 99, then drops to 80 for race #2, 60 for race #3, 40 for race #4, and then the top 20 face off in the final race. You don’t necessarily have to win every race to be the winner of the Grand Prix, but the competition is incredibly fierce.

It took me about five tries in the Knight Grand Prix to finally take part in that fifth race. It’s also the most difficult course in the game, so I did not have a great race. There are no eliminations in the final race, so it’s the top 20 fighting for the title. Although I finished at the back of the pact, I was still so happy with my Top 20 finish. Having unlocked that seventh track, I can now go into Practice Mode so I can learn the tracks’s intricate 90-degree turns and narrow corridors.

There are already so many people in the high levels and because most races only take about 3-5 minutes to complete, you can participate in a lot in a brief play session. Regular F-Zero 99 races earn you about 100-200 points per race. Meanwhile, Pro Tracks earn you about 150-300 points per race, so you can earn a ticket in about three races. This means you only need to complete nine races to earn the necessary tickets to enter a Grand Prix. Also, they are pretty generous with the free tickets. You get one every weekday, with them granting you three on Saturday and Sunday.

My new quick play love

It’s only been a few days since F-Zero 99’s surprise launch and I’ve played so much. I still have a lot to learn and I want to play more so I can unlock more of the bonus content. While there is still much for me to collect, I can also see where Nintendo will try to monetize. While I probably wouldn’t spend real money on tickets, I’d be willing to drop $10-20 on additional vehicles, customization, and tracks. Without question, F-Zero 99 is one of my favorite games of 2023.