I’ll raise my hands up right now and tell you, I’m not a big Final Fantasy guy. In fact, the only entry in the series I’ve taken the time to play has been Final Fantasy XV (a game which I actually had a lot of fun with I might add). That likely tells you everything you need to know about the little knowledge I have when it comes to the long-running series. So, while the names Cloud and Sephiroth are carved in the mind of many a gamer, to me, they’re two fighters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and little more. Anyways, the reason I bring all this up, is that while the characters and settings featured in kart racer Chocobo GP will obviously strike a better chord with fans of Final Fantasy, my lack of exposure to the RPG series isn’t my problem with this game. At the end of the day, a good kart racer is a good kart racer regardless of whether it’s a red plumber’s name on the box or a blue hedgehog. No, my problems lie much deeper.
On first visiting the game’s main menu, I must admit I was initially pleased to see a good mix of kart racing staples when it comes to modes. There’s a story mode, plenty of unlockables, Series Races (events grouping four tracks) and most intriguing of all the option to participate in a 64-player online tournament (Chocobo GP) among others. Unfortunately, while some of these options certainly check the right boxes, that’s about all they really do.
The game’s story mode for example, while sporting full voice acting and conversations that set up each chapter, is a rather bland affair overall. The chatter is certainly light and bubbly but never held my interest beyond the first couple of chapters. As for the mode’s general structure, it rarely feels like things amount to more than a series of standard races with the goal being to beat one particular racer. As a result, the further you progress into the story mode, the more of a slog it feels. Annoyingly, you’ll have to play through in order to unlock the game’s many characters and unlockables.
Speaking of unlockables, there is a healthy mix of characters, colour swaps, rides and decals to collect, a majority purchased using one of three in-game currencies (though what some do I’m still not 100% on). Microtransactions rear their ugly head, a rather jarring appearance in a cartoony racer but at least tickets can be earned by playing the game and used to buy a good number of in-store items.
Local multiplayer while present only supports up to two players on a single console, a problem for those looking to host a four-player couch session. The online portion meanwhile presents easily Chocobo GP’s mode with the most potential. With 64 players split into eight different groups and the top four advancing on and so on until one person is crowned winner, the worry of trying to survive through to the next round adds an exciting layer to the racing. Here’s hoping come launch the player base is there.
One could make an argument that the tracks are the true star of any kart racer and unfortunately Chocobo GP fumbles the ball here too opting for the approach of variations on the same track multiple times rather than a completely wide-reaching and unique line-up. This becomes particularly noticeable during the game’s aforementioned story mode where you’ll find yourself growing weary of speeding through the same farm or beach circuits over and over. The actual design of some of them also lack any real satisfying hook or gimmick. Take any of the eight Mario Karts are you’ll likely be able to recite a number of classic tracks from each that sport clever ideas (this writer recalls DK Mountain and Mount Wario as two quick examples) whereas here I couldn’t tell you any that truly ‘stood out’. While not outright bad, the tracks in Chocobo GP just lack that inventive punch.
So-so modes and tracks aside, the racing itself fairs slightly better managing to deliver a fine enough time albeit a rather unspectacular one. Expect the usual assortment of outlandish locales, drifting mechanics and item tomfoolery the genre is so well known for with Chocobo GP throwing in a few of its own ideas. Driving feels… somewhat off, stiff even and on the easier setting lacks any real sense of speed. It does the job but when compared with the likes of Mario, Sonic or Crash Bandicoot’s efforts, pales in comparison feeling less polished and satisfying to play.
The item system offers something a little different – going by the name magicites here – and focusing around different spell elements like fire and water which can, in turn, be upgraded by racing through bronze, silver and gold eggs littering the track. The effects are nothing out of the ordinary – everything from boosts to homing attacks – but help keep the action chaotic. Arguably too chaotic to some degree, especially when you account for the fact every character also has their own unique ability. With so many items flying about the place, it has led to a number of cases where I’d get nailed repeatedly losing my pole position at the final stretch. In fact, the painfully long recovery time whenever your character gets hit is particularly frustrating, sapping any momentum right out of the race.
The game’s two difficulty options act as your 50cc and 150cc equivalents where even the former option poses a rather hefty challenge and not in a fun way I might add. Rubber banding makes an appearance and with the AI not afraid to make use of their items, shorter tracks, in particular, can feel like a roll of the dice as to whether you’ll keep hold of your 1st place or simply get smacked with an assortment of spells.
As kart racers go, Chocobo GP is bright and colourful but decidedly forgettable all around. The racing feels serviceable but isn’t short of frustrations, tracks busy with visual flare but uninspired in their actual design and the mode selection a mish-mash of forgettable and okay options. Chocobo GP not only fails to bring anything exciting and fresh to the table but even struggles with some of the fundamentals and when compared with the best Switch has to offer in the kart racing department it falls short in just about every way.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo