Square Enix has thrown its racing cap into the ring with Chocobo GPa Mario Kart-style game with the opportunity to provide a fresh experience in this niche genre. While Chocobo GP does have the same basics as Mario Kart, with items and unique characters, it also has plenty of play modes, tons to unlock and even some customization options. It’s enough to stand out from the crowd, and its cast of Final Fantasy characters will definitely catch fans of the franchise’s attention. However, the game does have some oddities and feels like it’s meant to be an easier, more casual game.
Chocobo GP is an adorable racing game with bite sized tracks, making the game easy to hop in and out of. It includes popular and well-known characters, though in a far less serious way than the JRPGs they hail from. There is a lot to do in this game, giving hardcore players progression while being casual enough for anyone to pick up and enjoy.
One unique aspect of Chocobo GP is its Story Mode. It may seem like a strange choice for a racing game, but the title uses this as a tutorial to help players learn the details of racing, power-ups and more, with the actual arc being secondary. While moving forward in the story does involve racing, there are goals outside of placing first, second or third. Usually, there are specific characters the player needs to place ahead of, though there are occasionally other goals. Story Mode also offers Beginner and Master difficulty modes for players of different skill levels.
Outside of that, Chocobo GP offers the expected game modes: Time Trials, Race Series and multiplayer modes. Time Trials are standard, and the Race Series are the four racing cups like Mario Kart. However, cups unlock very differently. Instead of choosing to play any cup right away, players will only have one to start and will need to place in the top three to unlock the next one.
Story Mode and Race Series both have very linear progression, an old school approach despite being a casual game. The less linear modes include Custom Races and the multiplayer modes. Custom Race allows players to make up rules similar to Mario Kart 8‘s online racing but instead of only being online, it’s for one or two players. The two multiplayer modes are Online and GP. Online allows players to create or join lobbies for friends or other random players while GP is a larger set of races.
The races themselves are typical, with items, boosts, drifting, jumps and other ways to get ahead. However, there are a few extra layers to the gameplay, and characters even have their own abilities. For example, Camilla the Chocobo can throw out rings ahead of her to pass through for a boost, and Irma can get extra power out of boosts. Abilities are powered up over time and by collecting Crystals — the game’s version of coins.
The actual items mainly represent spells from Final Fantasy, which means players can toss out fireballs, freeze players with ice and even send out a Reaper using Doom. Items can be powered up to create level two and three spells for more powerful effects, and they can reach three different levels for more impact. Instead of fireballs, a big meteor explosion can be sent ahead, while Aero will generate three large tornadoes to wipe out players instead of one. This adds a level of strategy to the gameplay by giving players the option to wait before raining chaos on others or to use items for immediate results, making for some chaotic and competitive online play.
Racing, of course, leads to unlocking more characters and customization. However, most characters are unlocked via Story Mode, making it somewhat mandatory if players want all of the options. Even after making them accessible through progression, many will need to be purchased through the in-game shop. There are three currencies: Gil, Tickets and Mythril. Tickets can be gained by playing the game and winning races and used to purchase characters, vehicle colors, decals and even backgrounds for the menu screen. Mythril, on the other hand, is a paid currency and its shop won’t be open until the game’s official release. Gil wasn’t present at the time of this review and is likely linked to online play.
While the ingredients are there for great gameplay, Chocobo GP‘s controls and tracks are a bit off compared to similar racing games. The tracks have great design and take after areas across the Final Fantasy series, but they are very short, only taking a couple of minutes to complete in three laps. It makes the game easy to jump in and out of (which is especially good for online play), but it can mean blowing through the game quickly.
The game’s controls also feel a bit stiff, though not in a totally bad way. They don’t feel like typical racing controls, but more like third person movement controls were put into a racing game. It feels unnatural at first, but fortunately, they are easy to get the hang of, as they aren’t unintuitive. The only real rough spot in Chocobo GP are its wipe outs. They’re already meant to be detrimental, but spinouts seem to last longer than usual here, even without powered items. It feels like every hit is a major one, which means it’s really easy to fall behind on smaller tracks. It creates a somewhat artificial difficulty that will hopefully be tweaked in future patches.
Of course, as expected of a Square Enix game, Chocobo GP has some great tunes that range form light-hearted to action-oriented themes that make races feel more urgent. The music never feels overwhelming or distracting, complementing the gameplay without taking anything away from it. Story Mode features voice acting for almost every line, bringing with it a children’s storybook tone (if if the dialogue itself occasionally veers into a more mature territory). The game’s style fits everything else about it perfectly and is great to look at. There are also plenty of indicators as to what’s going on while racing to make it easier to pay attention to surroundings.
Overall, Chocobo GP is a fun, light racing game with some frustrating wipeouts that need to be fixed. While it mostly seems to be aimed at younger and more casual players, there are some completion and progression elements for more hardcore players to enjoy. While CBR didn’t get to test the multiplayer, it does seem like it will be a wild ride with its more strategic mechanics. It also shows Final Fantasy characters in a different light as a nice fan service, a part of the game that’s only set to grow when characters like Cloud and Squall join the game as DLC.
Developed and published by Square Enix, Chocobo GP releases on March 10 for the Nintendo Switch. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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