More than 20 years after its original debut, Nintendo’s F-Zero franchise is still regarded as a classic video game series. It all started with F-Zero on the Super NES in 1990, a high-speed, futuristic racer that would later inspire games like Super Mario Kart. Nintendo came close to releasing an F-Zero spinoff game a few years after its release, but the project was ultimately canceled. Instead, the true F-Zero sequel, F-Zero X, arrived. So, in honor of the F-Zero X re-release on Nintendo Switch Online this week, let’s look back at the spinoff that never happened.
An ‘F-Zero’ spinoff was ready for release in the mid-’90s
Years ago, rumors swirled that Nintendo had a spinoff, called G-Zero or Zero Racers, in the works. Some people even claimed to have seen footage of the game at E3 1996. In a recent interview with Did You Know Gaming, former Nintendo of America employee Jim Wornell denied Zero Racers’ appearance at the event; however, he confirmed that it did exist. At one point, the game was even completed.
“As an associate producer … I wrote screen text, manual and package text, took screenshots, oversaw the debug and approval process, liaised with NCL, worked with marketing and advertising, etc.,” Wornell explained. “Anything that had to do with the North American launch of a game was my responsibility. G-Zero, later known as Zero Racers, was on my list of projects.”
Wornell continued on to say that the developers had “a complete manual, package, and label done for the game,” and it went through final checks. It even received an ESRB rating. However, the game never reached the public, except for a few images in Nintendo Power magazine’s summer 1996 issues.
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy console became a commercial flop
So, what happened? Apparently, Zero Racers had been planned for release on Nintendo’s Virtual Boy console. If you’ve never heard of the console, that’s likely because it had a very short lifespan. Initially released in 1995, the Virtual Boy was meant to be Nintendo’s first attempt at virtual reality. However, it was widely regarded as a shoddy 3D experience.
As Business Insider notes, the Virtual Boy sold only 770,000 units. It failed to impress many gamers, especially with its high price and awkward mechanics. In order to play, users had to lean into a head-mounted display, which caused health concerns. The Virtual Boy was discontinued a year later, taking Zero Racers and many other planned games with it.
Why won’t Nintendo make a new ‘F-Zero’ game?
The F-Zero franchise continued with F-Zero X on Nintendo 64 in 1998 and six more games after that. However, it came to a crashing halt with the Game Boy Advance’s F-Zero Climax in 2004. Many fans have begged Nintendo to continue the series but to no avail.
Speaking to IGN in 2011, former Nintendo designer Takaya Imamura revealed why the gaming giant has hesitated to continue the franchise. It all comes down to having an exciting new idea.
“Of course, I’ve thought about it many times, but without a grand new idea, it’s hard to bring it back,” Imamura explained.
That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts at a new installment. In 2021, Giles Goddard, who worked for Star Fox developer Vitel, revealed that his team approached Nintendo with an “ultra-realistic” F-Zero idea for the Switch. However, Nintendo turned it down.
“Yeah, Nintendo are very wary about using old IP because it’s such a huge thing for them to do,” Giles told GameXplain. “It’s much easier to go with a new idea, a new IP, than to reuse an old one.”
For now, fans will have to get their F-Zero fixes with F-Zero X, which Nintendo added to Nintendo Switch Online on March 11. The game is available in the N64 library, available to those with a Switch Online + Expansion Pass subscription.