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Thursday, April 9, 2015

200cc — Death of F-Zero?

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Captain Falcon usurped by a punk plumber.

An unfortunate non-Kamek (he's really alive!) casualty from the April 1 Direct (see our live-reactions here) is the F-Zero series, which continues to be regularly mocked and denied a sequel by Mario Kart 8 and that plumber's producer, Shigeru Miyamoto.

First Miyamoto said that there was no direction to take a new F-Zero game, to the concern of fans. Then Miyamoto stated that the only way a new F-Zero would be made is if Nintendo would make a new controller for it, because a normal controller apparently isn't good enough for the series, despite what F-Zero GX players think. And, hey, Nintendo is probably never going to do that, so whatever. The only one of those in the near-future seems to be a smartphone, so "A-Hundred" for a mobile device not near you might still be in the works.

Otherwise, Nintendo hasn't totally forgotten about Captain Falcon and friends. Look!

Captain Falcon Mii amiibo Mario Kart 8 compatibility
To Miyamoto, Miis are a satisfactory replacement for characters.

This naturally segues into what was recently announced as coming to Mario Kart 8 in two weeks whether you want it or not, as tends to be the pattern for its DLC. Take that!

That's right. It's super-fast. And you know what else is a super-fast racer? F-Zero. You know what sells a lot more? Mario Kart. According to VGChartz (dubious source, but we're looking for relative values here) F-Zero GX sold .65 million copies, while Mario Kart: Double Dash!! sold 6.95 million copies. That's... more than 10 times the amount. Even if VGChartz was wrong, there is still going to be a substantial difference.

If the Mario Kart series can now offer the kind of gameplay niche that was the domain for the F-Zero series but sell ten times more, well, then that's what Nintendo is going to do. And you better be satisfied with that. They even gave you a Mute City DLC course! With awesome music!

Update 4/15/2015: So the second DLC pack also has Big Blue in it.

This just reinforces my point that Mario Kart 8 is going out of its way to usurp F-Zero territory, literally. /Update

For a graphical representation, here's a graph I made:

Nintendo racing series graph F-Zero GX Mario Kart Double-Dash!! Kirby Air Ride 8 segmentation market niche
Mario Kart performed an upward stretch.

Back in 2003, Nintendo released three racing games on the GameCube to satisfy all bases: Kirby Air Ride for the slow-goers and simpletons (Air Ride mode, anyway), Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the mainstream people, and F-Zero GX for the hardcore dudes on speed. Nintendo thought they satisfied everyone... and they did. However, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!'s success pretty much had to subsidise the other series.

In market analysis, we refer to this market segmentation by "high-end", "medium-end", and "low-end". Basically, Kirby Air Ride would be for poor people and emerging markets (we haven't seen any random person in our stays in Sierra Leone playing the game, though, which is a shame) and F-Zero GX would be played on luxury yachts. Mario Kart didn't want to be "squeezed" by ends from both competitors, so it pretty much stretched out and devoured them with things like 200cc mode. Kirby Air Ride didn't really get replaced, but no one played the game for Air Ride mode anyway so that doesn't matter. Of course, Shigeru Miyamoto was all too happy to allow F-Zero to just wither away, much to the disappointment of Kirby Air Ride designer Masahiro Sakurai.

Masahiro Sakurai Welcome back, Captain Falcon! When are you ever getting a new game of your own?
Sakurai feels for his high-end competitor back from 2003.

Either way, what Nintendo has done and is doing makes perfect sense from a business standpoint... but only if you consider the defining aspect of the F-Zero series to be its pace. What if one considered another metric that the likes of Shigeru "Does an RPG really need characters?" Miyamoto never would think of? That's right, big hint there.

As I've wrote about before, F-Zero has a wealth of untapped character potential. There are a ton of interesting characters with largely unexplored backstories that the series has set up up to this point. Having a new game make it its business to venture into character-driven narratives (similar to F-Zero GX's story mode but expanded and more than Captain Falcon) would give F-Zero a niche not just among Nintendo's portfolio, but among the general videogame industry as well. No new controller interface for that to happen, and that's not something that Mario Kart 8 can do with new DLC.

You're welcome to take that idea without credit, Nintendo. Then we can get an answer to Sakurai's question. 

Ludwig has pretty much kept true to his word never to play Mario Kart 8 ever again, besides participating in the filming of the "Zimmerman Kart" video that you can watch as part of this article. He has owned the code to F-Zero X for years but has never used it, so he would rather give it out in the KoopaTV Loyalty Rewards Program!

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