When you talk about kart racers and which have stood the test of time, not many that would disagree – Mario Kart is king. But growing up – there were so many imitators that it was hard to keep track. South Park Rally, Konami Krazy Racers, and Diddy Kong Racing were all games I adored growing up too. But I never really got into Chocobo Racing, and I’ve no idea why. Regardless, in an era where Mario Kart is still undisputedly the king of the genre, can Chocobo GP do things different enough to warrant your attention? It’s a solid kart racer, but the short answer is no.
As you’d probably expect, Chocobo GP is a kart racing game that features a cast picked from recurring characters in the Final Fantasy series. A sequel to 1999’s Chocobo Racing of sorts, the game’s roster focuses more on the side characters like the Chocobo and Moogles that appear throughout the series’ illustrious thirty-five-year run. The game itself is what it sounds like – a Mario Kart clone – though it does a few things differently that differentiates it from it’s contemporaries, for better or for worse.
At its core, Chocobo GP is equal parts fun and straightforward. It’s got the same mechanics you’d expect to find in a kart racer. There are drifting mechanics for those who are a little more well-versed in these kinds of games. There are even power-ups to find on each track that are cleverly themed after spells from the Final Fantasy games. As an example, collecting more of the same even upgrades the spells – Fire turns into Fira and then Firaga. It’s a tried-and-true system that’s worked before in games like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing, so it’s encouraging to see Chocobo GP doesn’t mess with that aspect too much.
But what really lets Chocobo GP down is everything else surrounding it. If you’d told me that Chocobo GP began life or will eventually become a free-to-play mobile game, I’d believe you. So much of the game is geared towards unlocking currency which, in turn, allows you to unlock content that it feels like a bit of a grind. I could perhaps empathize with this design choice in any other game, but in a game like Chocobo GP, not being able to access all of the content after bringing it home to a party or group to play feels like a huge misstep.
The crux of the content can be unlocked through the game’s story mode, mind you, though even that is bound to disappoint. Channelling similar energy to the original game, the story mode sees characters from the world of Final Fantasy talking to one another in static dialogue screens before racing each other to solve their problems. It’s got better production values than I expected (though my expectations were relatively low), but it also feels like a four to six-hour grind that disguises the lack of content the game has.
In a game that could quickly be celebrating the rich history of Final Fantasy, it’s disappointing to discover that Chocobo GP falls short of most expectations. On the one hand, I found it rather impressive that the roster was over twenty or so characters, each with a unique ability to use mid-race. On the other hand, it was disappointing to discover that while the roster was diverse, series stalwarts like Cloud and Squall not making launch (and one being paid) feel questionable. Some of the characters who actually made it in have only appeared in a single Final Fantasy game, so to see them make it into the base roster over those two feels strange.
Particularly egregious is the selection of courses on offer and where they come from. Bizarrely small, especially when compared to similarly priced games in the same genre, Chocobo GP offers up just eight tracks to choose from. Even more bizarrely, these are pulled from Final Fantasy V, VI, VII, and IX and no other games. The first five or so are also quite simple in their design – with no interesting gimmicks or design choices to keep things interesting. It feels remarkably barebones for a package that admittedly has so much polish.
I thought at first that I was being a bit too hard on Chocobo GP for not celebrating Final Fantasy as well as it could. After all, it is a Chocobo game, not a Final Fantasy one. But the moment that we start bringing in characters and worlds from the Final Fantasy games and not the Chocobo ones, the expectation has been set. That’s perhaps the overriding issue I have with Chocobo GP; it can’t decide if it wants to be a sequel to Chocobo Racing or Final Fantasy’s answer to Mario Kart. Unfortunately, in its pursuit of both, it comes up as neither.
Even more disappointing is the progression. Rather than unlocking characters and their vehicles, you open the opportunity to purchase them from the shop. There are three currencies in Chocobo GP, and you’ll have to sift through them to buy most of the characters and vehicles you want – though, of course, one of them can be purchased with real money. Your main currency, the tickets, is earned by replaying races and finishing them in certain times. It can just be tedious to get everything you want when so little content is on offer to play around with.
Otherwise, the usual modes are here – both local and online multiplayer modes are supported. There’s a time attack mode and a custom mode that allows you to adjust aspects like the frequency of items. The most unique mode on offer is the Chocobo GP mode, which allows up to sixty-four players to compete online in an elimination tournament-style mode. Placing fourth or better on each race gets you through to the next. It’s a novel idea, though we were unable to properly test it during the pre-launch period.
I mentioned before that Chocobo GP has polish, and that’s certainly clear when it comes to the presentation. The game is incredibly colourful and runs at a smooth framerate for the most part. So much has been pulled from so many different games, yet the art direction feels strong and consistent. Similarly, the soundtrack is pretty fantastic too. I’ve always had a soft spot for Final Fantasy IX, so to be able to race through Alexandria while a happy hardcore remix of Melodies of Life plays is fanservice at its finest.
Perhaps that’s the thing that will save Chocobo GP for most people – fanservice. It’s clearly got something to offer for Final Fantasy fans – though whether it has enough is the question. For this avid Final Fantasy fan, it doesn’t.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Chocobo GP offers up some fantastic core racing mechanics that are otherwise held back by a lacklustre offering of content. Hampered by tedious progression systems and typical microtransaction practices, Chocobo GP barely makes it past the finish line to be the best kart racer it could be.