Chocobos are strapped into rocket skates for another attempt at a Final Fantasy kart racing spin-off, where originality is in short supply.
Mario Kart might be ubiquitous with kart racers, but the genre’s history isn’t written solely by Nintendo. Crash Team Racing is championed for its still-peerless single-player mode, while the vehicle switches in Diddy Kong Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed have manifested (albeit with slight differences) in Mario’s recent ventures around the track.
There’s space for other kart racers to thrive outside of Mario Kart’s grip, it’s just a difficult climb. Especially after Mario Kart 8, a borderline immaculate experience which even Nintendo seems hesitant to follow-up, as it continues to dominate sales charts almost eight years later.
For Chocobo GP, a Final Fantasy spin-off and sequel to 1999’s Chocobo Racing on the original PlayStation, the odds are stacked even higher considering new DLC for Mario Kart 8 is releasing just a week later. Unfortunately, Chocobo GP doesn’t feel primed for a successful underdog story, more the factory conveyor belt where karting cash-ins are marched to their slaughter.
If you haven’t played a kart racer since 1999, you might find Chocobo GP endearing. The racing is functional, if rigid, and borrows heavily from its slicker competitors. The drifting is identical to Mario Kart, with three tiers of boosts, and crystals (like coins) are collected from the track to increase your speed; even the turbo trick from the starting line is the same. A track based on the Gold Saucer amusement park from Final Fantasy 7 is practically Rainbow Road by any other name – with coloured surfaces and devious corners without guardrails.
There are a few tricks unique to Chocobo GP’s arsenal. The item system is inspired by magicites from Final Fantasy, with spells like Fire, Water, Aero, Blizzard, and Haste – which can be stacked if you hit certain item boxes. Unlike other kart racers, boxes are separated into classes between bronze, silver, and gold. Collect a bronze and you’ll earn a low-level magicite, which, if held onto, can be upgraded by hitting a silver or gold. These translate into homing blasts of fire, multiple blasts of ice, and teleportation gates which will catapult you further depending on the item’s level.
Couple this with character-specific abilities (24 in total) and the amount of weapons at your disposal is surprisingly big… to an unnecessary extent. Amid the chaos of a race, with so many items and specials firing back and forth, there’s little breathing room to engage with the magicite system in any deliberate, meaningful way. Tracks generally feel smaller in comparison to other karting games, so you’re often forced into a slapdash approach to succeed.
There’s a charm to the chaos but the haphazard imbalance, especially in the character abilities, turns most races into a scrappy crawl to the finish. The best kart racers balance the madness by rewarding skilful driving, but the stiff manoeuvrability here isn’t tactile or fluid enough to counter the frustrations. The biggest sin is the painfully long recovery times after being hit, which makes Chocobo GP feel like a relic next to modern standards.
This carries over to the surprisingly small pool of tracks. There’s technically only nine worlds in total, ranging from Chocobo Farm, Big Bridge from Final Fantasy 5, and the town of Zozo from Final Fantasy 6. To milk the nicely designed backdrops, Chocobo GP has multiple variations of each course with slightly different routes and obstacles. The problem is, these variations aren’t distinct enough to shake the feeling they’re cutting corners, with repetition quickly setting in when you’re seeing the same few environments repeated.
Even with a robust stack of modes and difficulty options, the small amount of tracks stretches them all too thinly. Along with the standard cup events over four tracks, there’s a story mode which stitches together races with fully voice-acted storybook style cut scenes. Fans might get a kick out of seeing comedic spins on summons like Ifrit and Shiva, and the dialogue is funny at times, but there’s way too much chatting for something so light and inconsequential – especially when each exchange culminates in another normal race on the same tracks.
It doesn’t help that the tracks are mostly simplistic in design. Most of them lack any memorable hook to leave a lasting impression, with the best ones, like Golden Saucer and Alexandria from Final Fantasy 11, clearly inspired by tracks from other, better games. It’s a shame, as seeing the franchise’s reimagined locations given new life is one of Chocobo GP’s biggest selling points.
The other plus might be the online suite. The headline mode, named Chocobo GP, is an online tournament of 64 players, where the top four players from each race advance until a champion is crowned. While it’s far from groundbreaking, the fairly swift matchmaking (in the review stage, at least) and chaotic chase to survive each round to make the final sprint, adds another layer of challenge beyond the bragging rights of winning a singular online race.
Like most aspects of Chocobo GP, the cracks start to show the longer you play. During our play sessions, the players we won alongside in the semi-final race didn’t advance into the same final round. It’s perhaps understandable to field players from elsewhere to combat player dropouts, but it makes the tournament bracket setup feel like an illusion – detracting from the perception that you’re climbing the ranks against, and alongside, the same players.
The existence of a free-to-play version, which includes the 64-player online mode and a restricted number of characters, indicates an obvious awareness of Chocobo GP’s shortcomings. While it might earn enthusiasm from Final Fantasy fans this functional, uninspired kart racer lacks the magic to get anywhere close to its rivals.
Chocobo GP review summary
In Short: A perfunctory kart racing spin-off that has a few unique charms but falls well short of its far superior competition.
Pros: Plenty of characters with unlockable customisation. Magicite item system has potential. Chocobo GP tournament mode is a nice addition, if flawed. There’s also a free-to-play version.
Cons: Track designs are bland and there’s very few courses. Vehicle handling is stiff and unsatisfying. Character abilities feel unbalanced and make races too chaotic at times. Story mode is underwhelming.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 10th March 2022
Age Rating: 3
By Adam Starkey
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