F-Zero: When will Captain Falcon return?
F-Zero is one of my favourite videogame series. Like both Mario and Zelda, this Nintendo masterpiece started as a 2D classic and successfully reinvented itself in 3D, transitioning well with the evolving videogame climate. But whilst the other two series include modern titles that live up to their heritage, it’s now been eleven years since the last F-Zero. Will Captain Falcon be returning any time soon? I’m hopeful, here’s why.
There are many great series we haven’t seen in a while, and it’s questionable if they will ever return. Will there be another Burnout, Zone of the Enders or Timesplitters? Shenmue 3 anyone? Maybe never, although these were all series that, when active, saw games were released in a fairly rapid succession. Nintendo has always had a different attitude towards development, and often commits to a ‘one game per series per console’ rule to help ensure quality. New games are released on a slow cycle. Specifically in the case of F-Zero there was eight years between the Super Nintendo original and F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64, then another five before F-Zero GX on GameCube.
The wait for Nintendo games has often been made more bearable by alternating releases between the handheld and home console. Right now this is a particularly common practice, especially since the technology allows for comparable gameplay and graphics on both systems. Since the launch of the Wii U we’ve had sequels to many of the games released a couple of years earlier on the 3DS. It went something like this; ‘Zelda remake’, ‘3D Mario land’, ‘2D New Super Mario Bros.’, ‘Mario Kart’, ‘Animal Crossing’, ‘New Zelda game’, a pattern that is roughly in the process of being repeated on the Wii U. There’s also a Star Fox game in there somewhere. Also look out for the new Animal Crossing I’ve just predicted.
Nintendo is predictable, and it’s worth emphasising that just because we haven’t seen a Nintendo series for a really long time doesn’t mean it’s been forgotten about. Nintendo has frequently skipped a generation (which can essentially mean only one game if they’re applying their ‘one game per series per console’ rule). There was no Donkey Kong Country on the GameCube, no Metroid on the Nintendo 64. The Nintendo Wii is already the generation Star Fox missed, can we add F-Zero to that list?
Nintendo has an amazing history, and by including its characters in a variety of different games they have become mascots capable of representing the company as a whole. Back in the 1980s and 1990s this meant Mario’s nemesis Donkey Kong starring in his own game, or Mario, Luigi and Donkey Kong appearing in the Punch Out!!! audience. Since then came Smash Bros., and further integration between the different franchises. In the case of F-Zero we had James McCloud from Star Fox as a playable character in F-Zero GX. Whilst no future title has yet been announced, more recently we’ve had Nintendoland and the Mario Kart 8 DLC, and these are both reminders that Nintendo hasn’t forgotten about F-Zero.
Okay, I know an attraction in Nintendoland doesn’t mean the series is definitely coming back. But out of the twelve minigames eight of the franchises have since seen a new series entry either released or announced. The four left include The Mysterious Murasame Castle, which probably won’t receive a sequel any time soon, but was subsequently released on the eshop – the first time the game had been made available at all outside of Japan. That leaves Balloon Fight, Game & Watch Octopus and F-Zero; two classics from the 1980s and one newer series Nintendo is still promoting.
Then there’s that F-Zero track in the Mario Kart 8 DLC. It’s the Zelda crossover that stands out as the main pull of this expansion, leaving us to work out for ourselves exactly what the additional inclusion of Mute City and the Blue Falcon means. Is this Nintendo testing the water with F-Zero content? Or telling us not to forget about the series just yet?
Back in 2006 a sequel to EarthBound called Mother 3 came out in Japan for the GameBoy Advance. Nintendo has never announced plans to localise the game for the West, although in 2008 an exceptionally well made fan translation patch was released. The developers of this patch since offered Nintendo all their text translation files to use for free, but Nintendo wasn’t interested. Protagonist Lucas was then removed from the subsequent Smash Bros. games. Reading between the lines and here’s what Nintendo is telling us; don’t expect a new EarthBound game any time soon.
In contrast came an English version of Sin & Punishment, a Nintendo 64 game exclusive to Japan until its Virtual Console release in 2007. Why did Nintendo chose to translate and release this game? Aside from the fact that its great? Well two and a half years later a full on sequel was released. Nintendo lets us know when there’s more on the way.
Let’s look at the Ambassador GBA games; ten titles given away to early adopters of the 3DS back in 2011. They were as follows: Metroid Fusion, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Wario Land 4, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror. At the time this was a seemingly strange selection of games; they were some great ones, but obscure choices. Like why chose Fire Emblem over the more popular Advance Wars? Or Super Mario Advance 3 over the more accessible Super Mario Advance 2? Why Kirby & the Amazing Mirror? Have you worked it out yet?
Seven out of ten of these games have since received new entries in their respective series. Many of these feel like direct sequels, share common gameplay elements, and have also been released on the 3DS. We’ve had new Kirby, Fire Emblem, 2D Zelda and Yoshi’s Island 2.
There are three anomalies; Wario Land 4, Metroid Fusion and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity. Of these both Wario Land and Metroid have previously seen incredibly long gaps between releases. There was five years between Metroid and Metroid II, and eight between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. There was seven years between Wario Land 4 and Wario Land: Shake It. Both series were also last seen on the Wii, so not too long ago. In light of this it’s certainly not unlikely that new entries are still on the way. That leaves F-Zero.
When will Captain Falcon return?
Nintendo hasn’t forgotten about F-Zero. Quite the opposite; they’ve done a fair bit to keep the series familiar in the minds of gamers. This feels like more than simply a tribute to one of their longest standing series, and Minamoto’s first racing game. But the Wii U already has a busy release schedule ahead, and I’m betting on the announcement of a new Animal Crossing game next (you heard it here first) to accompany upcoming Yoshi, Zelda, Kirby, Star Fox and Mario Party games. Maybe not just yet, but hopefully soon. We’ll probably know for certain when F-Zero: Climax is localised for the eShop (which will take all of ten minutes as most of the text is in English anyway).
In anticipation for a new F-Zero I have come up with the following potential names for Nintendo to use: F-Zero XX, F-Zero Z, F-Zero Terminal Velocity, F-Zero U X, F-Zero Ultimate Climax.