(Available for Nintendo Switch only)
Chocobo GP is the latest entry in a Final Fantasy themed cart racer that traces back to two entries on the PlayStation 1. It also is part of the Chocobo Mystery Dungeon series that Square Enix only seems to remember exists every five years, but that’s another conversation for another time.
Chocobo GP has entered a crowded market, especially considering it’s on the same platform as games like Team Sonic Racing, Crash Team Racing, and of course it shares being a Switch exclusive with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (which is still the best selling game on the system having sold over 43 million copies as of last year – and will likely gain even more sales thanks in no small part to the fact that a week after Chocobo GP’s release it will be getting it’s first in 6 DLCs that will add a total of 48 tracks by the end of 2023). In fact, this DLC will probably be out by the time you read this review.
Now, that being said, Chocobo GP had me excited when it was announced because this was coming at a time where I was kind of falling off Mario Kart. I like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but I’ve been playing those same tracks since it came out on the Wii U in 2014. It’s kind of losing its lustre, but now it has to compete even more for attention in a crowded field. While it’s going to do this by mainly focusing on its Final Fantasy pedigree, the original games mainly focuses on the Chocobo Mystery Dungeon cast with a few FF characters thrown in the mix. There’s a lot more characters, including some Final Fantasy characters including Terra from FF6, Vivi and Steiner from FF9. The game is also adding more characters through several season passes – more on that later.
- Gameplay and Controls
Now if there’s one thing you can say about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Crash Team Racing (which I stand by as the two best kart racers you can buy today) it’s that they have buttery smooth controls; you cannot blame the game if you are doing badly! Luckily, Chocobo GP also has very good controls.. They will take a bit of getting used to if you’re used to playing Mario Kart. Drifting is a slightly different beast to how it works in Mario Kart, as well as boosting, but as a whole, it works very well. I did find myself really enjoying just going in between various races and perfectly timing certain corners. You’re going to have to learn certain tracks very well in order to pull off certain combos, but I think it works very well!
As for the gameplay itself, it’s a typical kart racer and you know what you’re in for; race to the finish on wacky themed courses, use items to boost your speed or deal damage to your opponents. The big difference this time is a couple of features, first being that you can actually increase the power of your weapons, part of this is by collecting Magicite, a crystal that you’ll see on the track. From there, you’ll be going through more item boxes to make your weapon more powerful by up to three levels. If you think that sounds like a rip off of Diddy Kong Racing, I want to point out that this feature was in the original PS1 games.
It does add a bit of strategy into the game, mainly being ‘would you save an item for a certain time period or use it immediately?’. You might end up using it immediately for it not to be successful. The other factor as well that is really interesting is that each of the characters have character specific powers that they build up through a meter throughout the game, and each of them are actually decent references to the source game. For example, ViVi uses his Double Black Magic, Steiner uses Sword Arts, etc. They’re relatively cool features and they do add a bit extra, although I will say I had a bit of trouble figuring out when would be the best time to use them and sometimes they weren’t as effective as I would have liked.
- GP Mode
GP mode is the main feature of the game, and it’s one of the things that make this game stand out from other kart racers. Essentially, it’s a kart racing Battle Royale. You and 63 other players will take part in a tournament style race, each time entering with 8 players, going into the top 4, and so on and so on until there is a final eight players and one wins the final race. It’s actually one of the best ideas for the game, it’s a genius move since it’s incredibly addictive. I was hopping on to play this constantly! It was amazing how much fun it was. It certainly is also a good mode for training players who aren’t as good, since you don’t need to come in the top spot to advance, you just need to come in the top 4. It also helps you learn the tracks since each race has a random one selected – although I did notice they repeat a few times, particularly the Dimensional Bridge track, which is repeated almost constantly. If for no other reason, get this game for the Chocobo GP mode! It does feel weird however that the best mode in the game does need an online connection, but really most kart games are better as a multiplayer experience rather than single.
- Track Designs
The only negative I can say about the track designs is some of them often feel a bit narrow so you often go into the wall, and I think a couple of them could have done with spacing things out. That being said, holy moly, these tracks are all awesome.
There’s tons of Final Fantasy references in lots of subtle ways. You’ve mainly got things like the Golden Saucer from FF7 and Alexandria from FF9. It’s amazing how much cool attention to detail has been made, for example, one of the things I noticed in the longer version of Alexandria is that they take you through a dungeon in Alexandria castle with a swinging cage which is reference to a mini game you get during a portion of FF9, and there’s a lot of other subtle events like that which I won’t spoil.
They also had the great idea of extending the tracks out by having two versions of each track, one for quicker races and one for longer races. If you like Final Fantasy, these tracks are great. It also helps that graphically this game is really good and gives a nice colourful feel to the game.
If you’re a fan of Nobuo Uematsu music, who composed the soundtrack almost entirely for the first 9 games and has contributed to some of the others, you are going to love this one, since it mostly consists of new versions of his songs and remixes. Newer versions are mostly used for cutscenes, and remixes are used for the tracks, and I love them all. Uematsu is probably one of my favourite video game composers, and it shows how good his songs are that they work so well even remixed in this context. Some of my favourites include the new version of Battle on the Bridge and particularly the remix of Melodies of Life, which I adore and I will probably buy the soundtrack just for those songs alone.
- Character Selection
I actually think that the character selection is pretty good, a good balance between classic Final Fantasy and Chocobo Mystery Dungeon, and what’s better is that most of them are unlocked through the story mode. The downside is that not all of them are, but the character selection as a whole is excellent. Most of the focus goes to the Chocobo characters, so if you’re a fan of that series you will get the most out of them. Final Fantasy fans on the other hand might be waiting a while to see some of their fan favourites, although the game is chock full of so many awesome references that you won’t really care.
The game is also slowly adding more characters, the season pass that launched day one with the game did give you Cloud from FF7 and Squall from FF8. I have heard that Square Enix are planning to add more characters to the game though I suspect that depends on how well the season pass sells.
- Content at Launch
That brings me quite well to this point. While the game had decent content at launch, it feels like it’s lacking in the number of tracks, there’s not a lot here and they kind of make up for it by making two versions of the tracks. That being said, there’s less tracks than you’d expect for a racing game like this. I’d say bare minimum you need to have 20 tracks at launch; if you count each of the different versions of the tracks that we have here at launch it still falls under that. Hopefully the plan is to introduce more tracks but at this point the game feels like there’s too few of them and I felt like I was on loop constantly with them during Chocobo GP mode.
- Single Player Experience
The game offers you custom races for your multiplayer as well as a few grands prix, but the main focus is the story mode. It’s basically a tongue in cheek story with not much to it, think of it as being a Final Fantasy version of a kid’s cartoon. Most of the references will be appealing to you if you’re familiar with the Chocobo Mystery Dungeon games or are very familiar with Final Fantasy. It’s not as if it’s going to be familiar to you if you only play FF14, early FF gets most of the attention here, particularly the PS1 era. As a whole it works quite well and most of the challenges don’t even require you to come first, you just have to place ahead of a certain character. You’re going to have to do this mode, most characters are locked behind the story mode. You’ll even have to go through story mode to unlock the characters that you can buy with in game money (more on that later).
As a single player experience, it’s fine – I certainly preferred this to Mario Kart, which still to this day has very bare bones single player, something I hope is improved in future games.
- Online Multiplayer with Friends
It’s fine, it works pretty well, it’s certainly easier to play it online with random people, but that being said it doesn’t have as much freedom on how many friends you can play with as Mario Kart does. You can still play with quite a few friends, but I was joining an executive producer session with the Good Vibes gaming team and they had planned for Chocobo GP to be one of the games that we played but we couldn’t do it because the battle royale mode is not one of the custom modes you can do for online multiplayer, which is a real drag because Mario Kart lets you set up online tournaments that everyone can complete in. I don’t think making that not doable was a very good choice, hopefully this is changed in an update..
- Micro Transactions
Yep, this game is full of micro transactions that are so unhealthy. It doesn’t really justify the fact that this game is near full price. In order to get the season pass I had to spend quite a lot of money on day one to get the ability to buy Squall and Cloud. It also got me up several levels so that I would have a better chance of gaining tickets so that I could unlock more characters. While most characters do unlock through just beating certain characters in story mode, some require additional purchases, which you admittedly do get through levelling up in the game but you might have to go quite a while if you don’t have a season pass to get those characters. It also doesn’t help the fact the amount I spent was nearly half the price of the full game. That being said, this doesn’t feel as much of a gut punch as when they were added to Crash Team Racing after the release. It feels really predatory to lock certain characters behind a paywall, and it also really drags the game down overall. Honestly, it’s kind of depressing.
Chocobo GP is a really good kart racer. As a Final Fantasy fan, you should pick it up. In terms of gameplay, it really stands up there with Mario Kart and Crash Team racing, but the micro transactions are really a drag. I don’t think there was really enough content at launch, I think that this is a game that will really benefit from some free updates down the line. Because of that, I normally would say you may want to wait on purchasing this one, but if you have any curiosity you should get it now, because if they add any more characters you might end up spending a lot more to get all of them. I can certainly talk from experience from when I was playing Crash Team Racing.
That being said, I think Final Fantasy fans are the ones who will get the most fun out of this, I think CTR and Mario Kart have more universal appeal. But as a kart racer goes, it’s really good when you boil it down to the gameplay, and the Battle Royale feature that they’ve come up with is really great.
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