F-Zero 99 Review (Switch, 2023)

F-Zero finally makes a return with F-Zero 99 on Nintendo's online service. Like Tetris 99 this game is based on a classic experience with a twist. Instead of racing against CPU players for first place, players are now trying to survive in a massive death race involving 99 individual machines.

The game appears to have split the F-Zero fanbase in half: one that has a great time participating in its online deathmatches, and one so disappointed with it they refuse to touch it. Personally speaking, I had been hoping for a new console entry in the franchise for many years or an online HD remaster of F-Zero GX at least (because that game always looked fantastic and would require little to no touching up even today). With those expectations I was certainly in the latter camp and was not having much faith in F-Zero 99. But I gave the game a chance anyways and found myself pleasantly surprised with what it has to offer.

Ninety-nine competitors on one track racing to the finish line while boosting, sliding and bumping into each other. The premise sounds too chaotic to be playable, one might assume. But F-Zero 99 plays surprisingly well. Players not in the lead, be it because they have a hard time to catch up or because they are stuck in the mob, are able to collect spark points to increase a new super meter. Filling this bar and activating the new mechanic sends them boosting across a skyway that allows them to get ahead without facing obstacles. Meanwhile players in the lead have to avoid bumper and bomber cars to stay ahead and alive. The game feels very balanced: top players are never ridiculously far ahead of every else.
For novices just staying alive yields enough rewards to be fun, and making it into the leading positions becomes very possible with some experience where a new challenge awaits. New players may find this difficult to believe, but leaving a race in first position is not as out of reach as it may appear at first. Overall the game reminds me a lot of F-Zero X's deathrace mode in its use of risk-and-reward mechanics.

While the game features a good amount of unlockable content, the track selection is currently heavily restricted. Getting curious about how similar F-Zero 99 plays to the '90s SNES classic (and getting a little bored always having to play the same couple courses) I went ahead and gave F-Zero on the SNES a go as well. I'm mentioning this because much to my surprise I found myself like the original more on a technical level. It feels a lot faster, tracks appear less wide and the physics seem to be more rigid. There's also something about the original's soundeffects that just clicks with me and I highly prefer the true low-res look of the original over F-Zero 99's flash game look. F-Zero 99 is a fun game, but when I go back to it now it is apparent that it lacks a good amount of the polish the franchise was known for.[1]


For what it is, F-Zero 99 is great fun. While the experience is similar to playing F-Zero X in death race mode, the game does not boast with the overall level of quality fans of the series are used to. In some ways F-Zero 99 feels as cheap as it is fun. Another downside is that a low number of playable courses makes it feel stale a bit too quickly, but that should change in the coming weeks (according to data miners) when new content gets released. Here's hoping that there will be a true and proper sequel announcement to the series within the year. And should Nintendo ever decide to remaster F-Zero GX with an online mode I hope that it will not butcher the physics and mechanics too much when attempting to sort out its insane glitches to make it playable online.

On to the next race.

[1] Comparison video 1, Comparison video 2