Review: Chocobo GP is a surprise karting hit that’s second only to Mario
Square Enix has delivered a silky smooth and satisfying karting game that competes with the best
- Game director
- Akihiko Maeda
- Key Credits
- Hironori Okayama (Producer)
“Yes, really: four stars.” That’s how Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of Jackass Forever on RogerEbert.com begins, seemingly anticipating the seas of raised eyebrows that awaited him for daring to suggest that such a ‘lowbrow’ movie deserved a high rating.
He wrote: “It’s unsportsmanlike to penalise a meal for not being a sea bream fillet with citrus fruit, peppers, and caramelised ventrèche when it is plainly a hot dog with mustard.”
It’s a stance that feels particularly relevant for this review of Chocobo GP, coming as it does – through nothing other than sheer coincidence – a day after our three-star Gran Turismo 7 review.
Here we have another racing game receiving a higher score, but one that has totally different goals, for a totally different audience, on a totally different platform.
And on top of that, it’s in a sub-genre that is often looked down upon by purists. But on Nintendo Switch, the fact is that a kart racing game remains the console’s highest seller to date, and in the wider history of video games, it’s a kart racing series that for three decades has provided some of the greatest multiplayer moments ever.
And yet, it sometimes feels as if any karting game that doesn’t have Mario – or to a lesser extent, Sonic or Crash Bandicoot – on its cover is often dismissed as not worth the attention it may actually deserve.
Let us be the ones to tell you that Chocobo GP not only entirely deserves your attention, but it feels closer to a Mario Kart game than any other karting title we’ve played in years – not since Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has a non-Mario game come this close, and that was a decade ago.
Although the game is technically a spiritual successor to 1999 PlayStation title Chocobo Racing, to all intents and purposes Chocobo GP is its own game. It consists of a Story mode, a Series Races mode (which is similar to Mario Kart’s Grand Prix mode), local and online multiplayer and a flagship online mode called Chocobo GP.
The latter is the most exciting because it’s essentially a huge online tournament supporting up to 64 players. Players take part in a series of 8-player races, with the top four in each race moving through to the next round, until a winner is eventually crowned in the final race.
To facilitate this massive mode, Square Enix is releasing Chocobo GP in two versions: a full £40 / $50 game, and a free ‘Lite’ version which contains a couple of characters and access to the online tournament mode.
The idea here is presumably to ensure that the tournament mode remains heavily populated, even if a healthy percentage of players are Lite version owners. There are also Fortnite-style Season Passes planned for the game, the first of which will allow players to unlock Cloud and Squall from the Final Fantasy series.
Each driver has their own distinct personality and vehicle, and while hardly any of the initial roster are exactly household names (at least not until the Season Pass characters arrive), enough care and attention has gone into each that they really come into their own.
Completing the Story mode – which is basically a series of races interspersed with brilliantly bizarre cutscenes – also unlocks the ability to buy a couple of different forms for each vehicle, changing their stats and adding a degree of customization to the process. These make a real difference too – heavy characters have to be handled notably different to lighter ones.
“Each driver has their own distinct personality and vehicle, and while hardly any of the initial roster are exactly household names (at least not until the Season Pass characters arrive), enough care and attention has gone into each that they really come into their own.”
As well as the story mode, there’s also the Series Races mode, which provides a more traditional Mario Kart style range of Grand Prix cups. There are 12 of these in total, each consisting of four races, but they repeat themselves a number of times throughout.
In all, there are 21 tracks, based on nine different environments. It’s not an enormous offering compared to Mario Kart – especially with its huge DLC on the way – but the courses that are here are well designed, have their fair share of secret shortcuts and are supported by some really brilliant music.
Our one main criticism, however, is that some of these tracks are a little on the short side and are over a little quicker than they should be. Almost every track with a short variant also has a long variant in the same location, however.
It’s on the track where it really counts, though, and it’s in this respect where Chocobo GP absolutely shines. The game runs a solid 60 frames per second on both docked and handheld mode, giving it that slick Mario Kart style feeling of polish that so few karting games manage on the Switch. What’s more, it manages to do this while still ensuring its characters and tracks are full of welcome detail and immense charm.
Handling is solid, with the game outright lifting the hop and drift mechanic from recent Mario Kart titles. There’s even the potential to learn a bit of snaking, which should prove interesting once the community gets to spend a bit of time with it.
The item system also proves to be compelling and well balanced, with plenty of tactical nuance. Running over item jars will give you a type of Magicite (this is a Final Fantasy spin-off, after all). These generally correspond to typical karting game weapons – projectiles, droppables and so on – but the twist is that players have three separate item slots, and by collecting two or three of the same item they can be merged to make more powerful ones (a la Diddy Kong Racing).
To help you with this, the item jars come in three different styles. Copper ones just give you a random weapon, silver ones always give you the last weapon you collected (letting you upgrade), and gold ones give you two of the same weapon.
This means, with a bit of savvy driving, you can collect a gold jar and get two items, then collect a silver one to get the third, giving you a fully powered-up weapon. Of course, it rarely works out that easily, because of all the chaos ensuing around you.
This chaos is one of the reasons that Chocobo GP feels closer to a Mario Kart game than any other karting title we’ve played in years. There’s that same sense of anarchy when power-ups are flying around all over the place. There’s that same satisfying feeling when you charge up a triple-powered drift boost and unleash it on the straight right before the finish line.
“The game runs a solid 60 frames per second on both docked and handheld mode, giving it that slick Mario Kart style feeling of polish that so few karting games manage on the Switch. What’s more, it manages to do this while still ensuring its characters and tracks are full of welcome detail and immense charm.”
And there’s that same feeling that you have as good a chance as anyone else of winning, as long as your luck holds out and you can make it through the carnage unscathed, shortly before you’re hit with a series of weapons and drop from 1st to 7th, turning the air bluer than a mage’s cloak.
The online multiplayer and Season Pass system remain the game’s unknown, because at the time of writing they haven’t been available to us. The best case scenario is that they’ll result in a strong community, propped up by the free-to-play version, which will continue to be supported with new characters and features over time.
However, even if this doesn’t happen and the online is tumbleweeds after a week, what’s already here in terms of single-player and local multiplayer is generous and enjoyable enough to provide a fantastic alternative to arguably the Switch’s greatest game.
Chocobo GP is second only to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe when it comes to modern karting games. On the track it delivers brilliantly satisfying karting gameplay, and all at a beautifully smooth frame rate.
- Absolutely nails the Mario Kart feel
- A solid 60 frames per second in both docked and handheld
- A clever item upgrading system
- A large roster of colourful, entertaining characters
- Some races are too short