The latest Nintendo Direct had something that seems all too rare these days, a pleasant surprise. In the middle of Thursday's livestream, the first F-Zero game since 2004 came out of nowhere, and launched on the same day, for free.
F-Zero 99 for the Nintendo Switch is exactly what I needed. I'm turning 28 next week and starting to feel nostalgia creeping in. One of my core childhood gaming memories is playing F-Zero Maximum Velocity on Game Boy Advance, and this latest instalment not only looks like it, with familiar tracks, but adds a modern twist I never imagined. As the 99 in the tile suggests, this is a Battle-Royale game.
That's right, 99 drivers line up for the start of each race, but nowhere near 99 will finish. The last five drivers are eliminated each lap, but your on-track rivals are far more dangerous with each equipped with a spin attack that can send you into the wall easily. Of course in classic F-Zero fashion, you have to balance the same energy bar for health and boost, meaning you've got a decision to make. Go slow and steady, or go for gold in a blaze of glory but risk being completely eliminated. It's a genius premise that also appeared in Tetris 99 and Mario 35 which was a shortlived release to celebrate the plumber's 35th birthday.
Rounds in F-Zero 99 last no longer than five minutes and this is the kind of game that I can see deleting my lunch hour for some time, and keeping me busy until Super Mario Bros. Wonder arrives. Refreshingly, this is a free game without any microtransactions, but that's not to say there isn't any progression. You can unlock additional vehicle skins, boost colours and player banners and level up your account to earn tickets to the Grand Prix event, a multi-race championship or team battle events.
The races themselves are absolute carnage in the best possible way, my only wish is for more vehicles (there are 4 different ones currently) and the ability to invite friends to race together. Oh, and let's not wait nearly two decades for the next F-Zero game, please.