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F-1 Race Review Rewind

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On 10/25/2021 at 07:30 PM by Jamie Alston

Winning shouldn’t be this hard.

If you’re looking for a pleasant Formula One experience on retro gaming hardware, just play Rad Racer instead and select the F-1 machine.

As we age, we sometimes look back on a game we once enjoyed and discover that isn’t nearly as fun as we thought all those years ago. F-1 Race is one of those games for me. Originally released in 1984 on the Famicom, Nintendo reworked a few gameplay elements for its Western release on the Game Boy in 1990. Back then, I was enthralled with the idea of racing around in a Formula One machine while battling it out for first place. Maybe it was the thrill of screaming down the track at 360 km, or perhaps it was just the excitement of playing a new Game Boy game. Whatever the case was, I thought I had gold in the palm of my hands.

After reacquainting myself with this game years later, I soon noticed something I had long pushed into the recesses of my mind—I couldn’t get past the third stage. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t make it past the lead car. The game that once made me smile with delight soon became something like a false friend who gains your trust, steals your girlfriend, and hopes you never find out. After giving up on reaching the next course, I concluded that I was either terrible at this or the game was seriously flawed. Since having played the game again recently, I can confirm that it’s the latter.

The primary mode, Grand Prix, is a circuit of nine international courses. The other gameplay options are the Time Trial and Multi-Game modes- the latter allowing for up to 4-player to link up and race. You can choose from two types of vehicles - Type A or Type B. Both have a limited supply of turbo boosters, but they differ in acceleration and top speed.

I found that most races require the Type A machine if you want any chance of success in any course after the first one. The Type B car accelerates only marginally faster than the former one, but that does very little to help you win most races. It’s terrible at handling most corners and didn’t do me much good beyond the first course.

The road on each circuit feels too narrow to maneuver around other cars. It’s especially noticeable when attempting a pass on nearly any curve. Hitting a road sign and spinning to a halt is all but too easy. Thanks to the narrowness of the roads, negotiating hairpin turns are a nightmare. Unfortunately, it’s not just as simple as reducing your speed a little. You almost have to go at a snail’s pace when driving on such corners, and even then, you still risk clipping an object when coming out of the turn.

With the difficulties of staying on the road, winning first place can be quite a grueling task. It doesn’t help that the lead racer seems to glide effortlessly across every course while you’re forced to slow down to navigate steep turns. Success is contingent on you ignoring how you’d usually play a simple racing game and conforming to this game’s flawed logic.

Gaining a victory sometimes felt like a game of roulette. Maybe you’ll win, perhaps you won’t. The bummer is that the Grand Prix mode doesn’t use a points system to calculate final standings throughout the series of races. Instead, you must win first place in every race. The second or third place won’t cut it. This might not have been a heavy burden if the races were perhaps three laps in duration instead of just two.

What’s especially odd is that the multiplayer mode does follow a ranking system with three-lap courses. Since you only have two laps to work with in the Grand Prix mode, you can rest assured that you usually won’t stand a chance of winning unless you’re in second place by the time you hit the final lap. With this in mind, it’s all too tempting to try and turbo boost through a sharp turn (with other racers blocking you relentlessly), which usually ends up in disaster. The bottom line is that winning most of the races requires a nearly perfect run with practically no margin for error.

The graphics are standard fare. There’s just enough detail here to call it a racing game. The small signs on the roadside are all the same on each level. The background for each course is scrunched together, and therefore you see the same clump of skyline or mountain range as you turn corners. I don’t think it would have been too much to ask for the designers to have expanded the backdrop to give the illusion of panorama. There’s no real attention to detail to speak of with regards to the F-1 vehicles. The most thrilling visuals are probably seen after winning a race as you roll by a Nintendo character and wave to them. Hooray.

The game’s audio is the only good thing it has going for it, but that’s not saying much. For some reason, the music has an 18 to 20-second delay before it gets going. By this time, you’ve nearly halfway finished the first lap. But when tunes finally get rolling, they do sound pretty good. Unfortunately, there are only three music selections throughout the nine courses.

It would have been nice to have a few more tunes to keep things fresh. Personally, my favorite element of the audio quality is the sound of the turbo boost. I always floor it on the straightaways to see how high-pitched my motor can get. Admittedly, it evokes a decent sense of speed. It’s just too bad that the rest of the game isn’t much fun.

In the end, F-1 Race is just a portable racing game and not much else. Since there are no unlockable courses, additional vehicles, or special endings after winning the Grand Prix, there’s no real reason for this game to be so difficult and stringent with it's rules. Instead, it feels like an attempt at adding longevity to an otherwise short game. But there’s nothing substantial here to justify the grueling gameplay elements.

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In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




10/26/2021 at 03:23 AM

I had this game. I hated some of the unfair corners in some of the courses (there was almost no way to take them without slowing to a crawl.) I think this game's big purpose was as a showpiece for the 4-player adapter. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

10/27/2021 at 12:25 PM

Yeah, those hairpin turns are the worst. It wouldn't be so bad if the lead CPU car also had to slow down or otherwise made a mistake now and then. But the game gives no such consession.

Cary Woodham

10/26/2021 at 08:19 AM

Yeah I think they only releaed this game to promote the four player adapter.  How many games really used that?  As a kid, I was always like, 'what's the point?'  Needless to say, I've never played this one.  I was never truly impressed with the Game Boy until Link's Awakening came along.  That's when I first realized there's probably something to this handheld gaming thing.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

10/27/2021 at 12:27 PM

Like you and SanAndreas mentioned, I agree that F-1 Race was more about the 4 player adapter than anything else. My brother and never had other friends around to play it with of course. In fact, he was narrowing that game from a friend, so we didn't have the 4 player adapter anyway.

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