Stock up on Magicite, hop into your kart and belt up for Square Enix’s sequel to 1999’s Chocobo Racing in this bright and colourful Nintendo Switch exclusive, Chocobo GP, that’s racing its way onto the hybrid console. With plenty of features that span across on and offline play, a ton of racers to choose from, and a stripped-down free-to-play ‘Lite’ edition, can this Final Fantasy spinoff kart racer tempt fans away from Mario’s behemoth Deluxe offering?
The feelings I got when I heard the catchy theme tune perfectly encapsulates how I felt each time I booted up Chocobo GP. Initially, I happily hummed along to the goofy chorus and silly lyrics. The song came round again and I tapped my foot to the beat while mouthing the jolly words, but by the third or fourth time? Irritation settled in. It’s repetitive and oddly jarring, and as lovely as it was the first time around, I can’t help but reach for the volume button quick enough, and Chocobo GP’s gameplay is largely similar in that respect.
While this cute and cuddly kart-racer has an inventory of flaws, there are some pleasant and redeeming features. And hey, some will adore that theme tune. Story Mode is one of them, and it’s here you’ll watch an adventure unfold between characters from one of the most influential JRPG series of all time. Naturally, I was excited to see who cropped up. The likes of a reimagined Cid, from pretty much every Final Fantasy game, makes an appearance; a sassy Shiva jumps into some races; and even Ifrit (the best Summon in Final Fantasy, no contest) takes a chance at joining the ever-growing squad that’s entering races to have their wishes granted. It’s a classic case of good vs. evil here with a pleasant, light twist at its conclusion. Nevertheless, I never felt too invested in the light-hearted story. It’s very clearly aimed at a younger audience, which is fine, but die-hard Final Fantasy fans may not appreciate how these iconic characters are portrayed. Granted, the full cast of characters has full voice acting, but it wanders too far in cringe-worthy realms and by the end of Chapter 5, I personally had enough of it.
As well as providing tickets that can be spent to unlock characters, kart variations and stickers, Story Mode is essentially a beefed-up tutorial that teaches the basics of racing and how to use special power-ups that are unique to each playable racer. For instance, Irma’s ability allows you to activate a huge, temporary boost, while Cid’s special attack is to launch cannonballs forward that can wipe out an opponent if your aiming is up to scratch. Some of the abilities are fairly straightforward, such as boost, or offensive elemental techniques, for example, but then take Atla’s Pom-Pom Crystal ability, which is a little more spicy. Activating this allows the racer to snatch crystals, which are effectively the game’s currency to get more tickets to spend in the Shop, from other players while placing fake, harmful ones on the track. There’s also a character who summons a huge tidal wave that lashes out either side of your kart while pulling you from side to side, all while taking out anyone who gets caught in your path. Not all of the abilities are as impressive or as fun to use, but it’s admirable to see a familiar formula having some unique weapons at its disposal.
Another way to fight your way to the top spot is through the use of Magicite, which is found in Magic Eggs. Scattered around the courses, Magic Eggs can give you the upper hand by awarding the racer with attacks such as Fire that shoots a ball of flame at your opponents, Blizzard which (you guessed it) freezes your foe, or my personal favourite, Swap. Swap creates two portals that stay on the track and zips players forwards that are lucky enough to travel through the blue portal, while shooting racers back who are unfortunate enough to drift through the red portal. Of course, there is your standard boost Magicite, but bagging a powerful attack on that last lap can really turn the tide of the race. You also have the ability to stack your Magicite, which either strengthens or prolongs the effect. There’s fun to be had holding onto an attack hoping that one of the randomly generated Magic Eggs coughs up the goods and boosts your power so you can mow down your opponents with a well-timed Magicite attack. Steering, on the other hand, is hit-and-miss. The difference between each ride and character feels incredibly subtle, and I found myself drift-boosting round corners in the same way, with what felt like the same weight of vehicle, no matter who I chose.
Nintendo allowed reviewers a short time to test out a mode that’s going to undoubtedly be the most popular feature: Chocobo GP. Going up against 64 global players in a knock-out tournament set-up, the mode worked well with short waiting times, quick matchmaking, and not a hitch in performance. This could be down to the empty servers, but it was promising. Much like the majority of the game, it was locked in at close to 60 FPS, or so I could tell without the tech to check, and before I knew it, I was winning large quantities of tickets to spend in the Shop on new stuff. I was left wanting more time to spend racing against players from across the globe, but the slice of action I did manage to witness was enjoyable, and it genuinely felt great knocking a rival out that I crossed paths with from the earlier rounds. If online isn’t your bag however, then you’ve got the option to play locally on one console with a friend in many of the other game modes.
Along with some familiar faces from the series, long-standing fans of Final Fantasy will appreciate some of the limited number of courses available. Racecourses are set in locations such as the Gold Saucer from Final Fantasy VII, and the town of Alexandria from Final Fantasy IX, I just wish more was done with these classic locales. Final Fantasy has some truly epic set pieces, and almost all of the ones here felt flat, quite literally. There aren’t many settings to choose from, and Chocobo GP relies on offering slight variations of each track to bump up the selection. Changing the type of race track in a location will present you with, in some cases, a different layout altogether. One chapter in Story Mode had me racing around the same setting multiple times but with various tweaks to the track such as tighter corners and harsher, harder to navigate hazards. The changes often felt so insignificant though, and I would quickly grow tired of the Moo Moo Meadows-knockoff. At times, I just couldn’t wait to go to the next chapter to change things up. That’s not to say that every track is boring – there’s a small handful of really fun ones – there’s just not enough here, and many of the tracks bear a similar resemblance to Mario Kart’s most recent collection but without the polish and finesse we’ve become accustomed to. And yes, the Final Fantasy equivalent to Rainbow Road is here, it’s just a shame it’s not half as fun.
As mentioned previously, the main motivation is to unlock every character, buy every kart and obtain every sticker to decorate your ride with by taking part in every aspect of the game – where you’re constantly rewarded with plenty of tickets. While completing the Story Mode on all difficulties won’t take too long for those already acquainted with kart games such as Team Sonic Racing or Crash Team Racing, grabbing enough tickets for some retail therapy by spending time on the Series Race and Time Attack modes does well to pass the time if you want a break from battling it out online. Time Attack pits you against pre-loaded AI ghost data, but you also have the option of uploading your own data to the online Ranking system, or even tackling real player data. On the flipside, Series Race asks you to finish in first place over four races – a staple mode in racing games that many will be familiar with. There’s a commendable selection of Series to compete in, but again, the lack of variety when it comes to the tracks hampers the excitement of going to your next lot of races, and the feeling of deja vu crept in quickly. Here’s hoping Square Enix is planning on releasing some more locations via DLC.
Players who decide to download the free, ‘Lite’ version of Chocobo GP will still have plenty to keep them busy. While the Lite edition only allows players to race through the Prologue section of the Story Mode and play locally or online (only the Chocobo GP mode) with a limited number of characters, Lite owners can link up with someone in local play who owns the full version to play the multiplayer with fewer limits. The full paid experience offers every mode, without restrictions, and the freedom to purchase almost every character using the in-game currency.
Chocobo GP has a lot of decent ideas with its Magicite attacks, and a large roster of recognisable characters that each have their own unique ability. You can play a good chunk of the game for free, and Square Enix promises Season Pass DLC, but racing as Cloud Strife won’t shift the bad taste from unimaginative race tracks Chocobo GP has to offer. The Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass may not be far away, and this won’t do the Final Fantasy kart racer spin-off any favours, but the free version of Chocobo GP offers a mediocre alternative to Nintendo’s crown jewel with plenty of modes to enjoy, even if the road is a little on the bumpy side.
A copy of Chocobo GP (paid version) was supplied to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for review purposes.
Uh-Oh, I’ve actually been hyped for this game since it was announced, now I’m worried.
I’m still gonna buy it, in fact I already have as I had it pre-ordered.
I checked Metacritic and reviews are very mixed on this one.
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