Chocobo GP Review
Releasing a kart racer on a Nintendo system is always going to be an uphill climb due to the inevitable comparisons with the Mario Kart franchise. Apart from the obvious “home turf” advantage being the official face of the company, the Mario Kart titles have been very good games overall and have perfected a formula that many have tried to do over the years but have fallen short.
A franchise that is almost as popular is Final Fantasy and if we’re talking about star power alone, competing with the iconic plumber is certainly within reach, especially when you’ve got the lovable Chocobo fronting the game.
Enter Chocobo GP, the sequel to the PS1 Chocobo Racing release from 1997 for the PS1. The game is a lighthearted take on the genre, featuring memorable characters and some surprising mechanics that make it quite easy to pick up and play. How does it stack up?
Chocobo GP is, very simply put, a Final Fantasy kart racer that features a moderately healthy amount of modes, characters, and tracks to choose from. There’s so much source material to pull from here and Chocobo GP puts its own spin on the formula, employing an art style that’s clearly taken some liberties when it comes to character designs.
As with kart racers, there are a few things that the game has to get right – amount of modes, charming characters, varied tracks, and precise controls. Chocobo GP mostly ticks all of the boxes, I’m glad to say.
Players will be treated to a number of modes like multiplayer, custom race, series race, and time attack. Its main flagship mode, named Chocobo GP (a 64-player race) as well, is something we didn’t get to try out due to pre-launch circumstances, so we’re focusing mostly on the single-player experience.
Chocobo GP also has a story mode, which most racers do not have, but features a somewhat forgettable narrative that really sticks out like a sore thumb. You’ll have to buckle up, because it acts as sort of a tutorial and will allow players to unlock more tracks and characters.
Unlocking the characters will treat players to a number of Final Fantasy personalities like Ifrit, Vivi from FFIX, Terra from FFVI, and of course, the titular Chocobo. On rocket roller skates, no less. More than their popularity though, the characters shine thanks to their individual abilities, which is a good spin on the formula.
Chocobo GP’s characters have their usual ratings, which is divided into speed, grip, acceleration, and drift. What makes them unique though are their abilities – some are defensive (shield), some offensive, and some even offer interesting effects that can turn the tide of the race. On top of these abilities, when Paired with the various Magicite that you can get on the track, you can just imagine that things can get a bit hairy.
In fact, Chocobo GP races can get a bit TOO hairy, and the balance of these items feels like they need a bit of tweaking. The penalties when getting hit feels a bit too long, and there are several instances where I would make a run to make my way up the rankings only to be blasted consecutively back to last place, sometimes making luck a bigger factor than actual skill.
Chocobo GP also has items that affect both you and your competitors, which complicates things a bit. In particular, there’s a blue portal item which can boost you forward (to the other portal) but the other racers can hop in too. Hop into a red portal though, and you get transported back (to the other portal), which really messes things up. (I’ve lost a LOT of races because of this item and I absolutely hate it because it almost always seems to work against me.)
Admittedly, there’s an extra layer of strategy in Chocobo GP, especially since you can stack your Magicite up to 3 levels to power up your attacks. Because you’ll want to stack up more often than not, careful controls will be key to getting you that same item, making this racer a surprisingly tactical affair. Certainly more than I expected it to be.
Final Fan (Service)
Thankfully, Chocobo GP has a nice selection of tracks where all of this craziness takes place. From Zozo (FF VI) to Alexandria (FF IX), the tracks are varied and quite nicely designed, but personally, they feel a wee bit too short for my taste, ending just as the action is heating up. This gets partly frustrating when paired with the luck factor I was referring to earlier, and hardly gives you a chance to work your way up the rankings when you take a stumble.
Chocobo GP also gives fans a bit of fan service with some okay visuals and familiar tunes making its way to the game, albeit in an arranged version that basically turns Melodies of Life into some sort of upbeat pop tune. It’s not bad, and the original arrangement would have definitely been odd to directly place in the game, so I can see where the devs are coming from.
One thing that leaves a bad taste in the mouth though is that 2 very (VERY) iconic characters will be part of the upcoming season 1 battle pass. Sure, Square may have promised to practically give out the season 1 battle pass for free, but the fact that players can possibly miss out on them is something that doesn’t sit well with me, or any player who is looking forward to them but didn’t catch them in time. Considering this is almost priced as a full game, the thought of missing out on Cloud, of all characters, is quite baffling.
I’ll have to note that this assumption is based on how a battle pass normally works (get xp, unlock rewards, etc). With no access to it as of writing, it would be hard to FULLY judge what that’s going to look like.
One redeeming factor is Chocobo GP Lite, which is basically a “free” version of the game that will allow players a piece of the action across limited characters and modes. More importantly, it allows access to the Chocobo GP mode, which is quite generous when you think about it.
What We Liked:
- Magicite system adds a tactical layer
- Final Fantasy fan service
- Solid performance on the Switch
What We Didn’t Like:
- Races feel skewed towards luck rather than actual skill.
- Locking iconic characters behind the battlepass leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
- Story mode is a big snoozefest
Verdict: Wait for it.
Chocobo GP is a serviceable racer that will unfortunately be compared to Mario Kart until the end of time, as with any other kart racer. That’s not to say that the game is bad, and it isn’t, by a longshot. Despite several similar features, the game has enough spin to it to give it its own identity. In particular, the Magicite system is surprisingly good, offering a layer of strategy on top of the chaos that ensues during a race.
Others may not mind the existence of a battle pass, and while I also don’t mind for the most part, locking a couple of big-ticket characters in Cloud and Squall behind it just doesn’t feel right, and may be a sign of things to come for how much of a microtransaction push the game might turn out to be.
Despite that, the game offers a Lite version which is a fantastic idea, and a surprisingly generous one at that. Allowing players access to a healthy portion of the game for free, Chocobo GP only asks players to give it a chance, and hopefully, the charm of its IP can carry the interest through to the finish line. The game has a specific audience in mind and for them, Chocobo GP is something that will be worth the time and money.
*Chocobo GP was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with a review code provided by the publisher.