The one exception I make to my ‘no racing games’ review is cartoon kart racing. Since Super Mario Kart and Street Racer on the SNES, I’ve played almost every kart racer that’s been released (even the awful Race with Ryan via Game Pass). There was a brief period during the PS1 and PS2 days when almost every franchise had a kart racing spinoff – Anybody remember Star Wars Super Bombad Racing? – and as part of this boom period, Square capitalised on the huge success of all things Final Fantasy with the first Chocobo Racing. Unfortunately Western players never got to enjoy it, at least until fan translations and ROM hacks liberated it from its Japan-only release. Now, decades later, we have a successor out of the blue, but how does Chocobo GP fare?
Anyone that isn’t called Nintendo releasing a kart racing game as a Switch exclusive is pretty ballsy. It’s inevitable that your game will be directly compared to the mighty Mario Kart 8, and while there’s room for solid racing games that don’t feature Nintendo’s IP, it might not surprise you to hear that Chocobo GP isn’t up to that standard.
The main reason for Chocobo GP to be on Switch is presumably due to the younger audience base that is squarely aimed at. This isn’t the mean and moody Final Fantasy of the FFVII remake, with characters and an aesthetic that’s tied to the Japan-centric Chocobo spinoff series. There’s some crossovers to the mainline Final Fantasy games, but only to FF IX and older.
Characters are bright and colourful, tracks have backgrounds and settings that evoke the locations from earlier games on which they’re based. Performance was solid both handheld and docked – although I wasn’t able to try out the online multiplayer before this review so that may well be subject to the usual Nintendo Switch Online limitations. That being said, the actual character designs will be divisive. Many of the series’ traditional summons appear here as playable characters but I’ve never envisioned Shiva as a radical skater, or Ifrit as an emo trainee fire fighter. There is at least a fairly impressive number of characters to unlock – all with their own strengths and abilities.
I was left very confused by the combination of references and aesthetics here, to be honest. The cartoony graphics, the music, and the overall tone are all right in kid’s territory, yet the characters, injokes, and storylines are bouncing off games from twenty years ago. The target audience seems to be kids that have been frozen in suspended animation for at least twenty years. They’re lucky that this pretty much sums up my gaming tastes.
Chocobo GP offers a decent range of modes with a Story Mode, time attack, custom race and multiplayer modes. As well as the full paid game that I was reviewing, there’s also a free-to-play Lite version that includes the Story Mode Prologue, the ability to play multiplayer with those that own the full game, and the online Chocobo GP mode. Whether it’s worth going for the full game may depend on your tolerance for mediocre racing mechanics and random weapons.
This is as standard a kart racing game as you’ll see. There is a massive emphasis on drifting to gain boosts, there are random magicite weapons to pick up (referencing FFVI) that are linked to standard FF magic spells, and every character has a specal ability that they can trigger after collecting enough crystals. These abilities range from invulnerability to aggressive attacks, but can be the key to finishing first in a tight race – sometimes, at least. The usual problems with excessive rubber banding and RNG on magic attacks absolutely apply. There were times when a good run is ruined through no fault of your own as several attacks hit you in quick succession and you end up effectively stun locked. This is, of course, a criticism you can make of Mario Kart, but it seemed to happen far too frequently here as the period between being affected by attacks is minimal.
Story Mode is the most attractive mode to players, as fans will no doubt look forward to seeing their favourite characters in new situations. Unfortunately, the tone here is all over the place, as the main characters are, to be frank, gaslighting dicks, while the likes of Vivi and Steiner from FFIX are under utilised and more like caricatures of their original selves. Chocobo themself (the main one at least as there are about 5 different chocobo characters) is voiceless, save for the occasional ‘Kweh’ and so quickly became my favourite character.
Perhaps I’m not the target audience, but then I have no idea who really is. I was sorely tempted to just skip the story parts altogether. You need to play this mode, however, to unlock most of the characters and extra karts etc. Once unlocked you then need to collect the crystals ingame or complete challenges to receive tokens to buy them from the shop. There are also other currencies – because of course there are in 2022 – but these weren’t accessible in the preview build so maybe they’ll be fairly priced and not exploitative…