Published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The first racing game released for the SNES, which made extensive use of the on-board graphics hardware. You race one of four cars around a series of tracks. Five laps make up a race. Each lap has a "LIMIT"; if your car finishes the lap ranked worse than the maximum limit, the race ends. If you have a spare machine left, you can retry the race. The same goes if you crash (run out of power) or give up.

An unofficial (?) sequel, F-Zero 2, is circulating in ROM circles. However, it does not add any significant gameplay features, such as multiplayer. It merely replaces the cars with cooler-looking sprites and adds some wacky new tracks. (This is based on the ROM that I have, which may or may not be related to BS F-Zero 2. BS F-Zero 2 was released for the Satellaview system in Japan only.)

Followed officially by F-Zero X for Nintendo 64, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity for Game Boy Advance, and F-Zero GX for GameCube.

I remember the time I first tried F-Zero. It was around 1994, I think, in a toy store. It didn't take more than a few minutes to come to the conclusion that it had to be the best car racing game ever. I never bought a SNES, but for many years, F-Zero was to me the very symbol of all the things a good racing game should be. The graphics were crisp and colourful, and the feeling of speed was unlike anything I'd seen, neither before nor later.

Last week, I felt for some hard and fast video game action, so I downloaded ZSNES (a SNES emulator) and a bootleg ROM dump of the F-Zero cartridge. It wasn't as if I didn't expect the graphics to be blocky early 90s standard. After all, hardware and software had evolved a lot since way back then, as it should have. But I was hoping to find some of that 23rd century interplanetary grand prix mood. And it was still there. Kinda.

What was gone was the sheer speed. No longer was I sitting in jet-powered monster cars hovering over the asphalt at several hundred km/h. The vehicles had been transformed to RC cars, and the speedometer readings seemed to be off by a factor of ten or maybe twenty. Whereas before I had been in awe over the tremendous power of these machines as I hit the sides of the road and bounced back, I now had a distinct feeling of playing pinball.

Now, I wonder what F-Zero X is like....

F-Zero (also written F0) is an abbreviation for "fundamental frequency." The fundamental frequency of a wave is what we perceive aurally as its pitch. For any given complex wave, it is possible to use Fourier analysis to describe the wave as the sum of a number of simple (sine or cosine) waves, each of which has a frequency that is a whole-number multiple of the fundamental. Each of these component waves is a harmonic.

F-Zero is also the name of the house band of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. They play mostly folk music from a variety of cultures (Celtic, English, klezmer, Québécois, Ukrainian, Bengali (specifically Rabindranath Tagore), Maori, etc.). Since the members of the band include both phonologists and syntacticians, we may speculate that the name F-Zero is deliberately ambiguous between F0 (fundamental frequency) and F0 (minimal Focus projection).

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