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‘Chocobo GP’ offers fantastic fun for a price

Chocobo Racing launched on the PlayStation One (PS1) all the way back in March of 1999. It was easily one of my favorite games to play growing up. Since then, I’ve always hoped Square Enix would green light a sequel to it. I lost hope for a while when I learned they announced and canceled a sequel on the Nintendo 3DS. Thus, when Chocobo GP showed up in the September 2021 Nintendo Direct— I was ecstatic. Come launch day; however, my excitement quickly turned.

The Fantastic Fun 

The core gameplay is rather great with only a few minor slips. The controls are very tight and responsive, although there isn’t a control scheme that I found entirely comfortable. There are three preset control layouts you can choose from, but I stuck with the default preset most of the time. It works just as you’d expect it to if you’ve played a game like Mario Kart — except character abilities are tied to the Y button, and acceleration is tied to the A button. I was able to get used to it, but having to stop accelerating to use an ability feels counterintuitive; especially when they have the feature of looking backward — something I never used — tied to two different buttons.

Character abilities are one of the main gimmicks this game has going for it. Each character has their own unique ability to aid them in races. I found this system to be rather compelling, as it gives players a reason to use different characters beyond finding their favorite design and sticking with it. Additionally, there are magic eggs containing magicite, magical items for players to use, scattered across the racetrack. You can hold up to three magicite at once with duplicates combining into larger, stronger versions of the magicite. Unfortunately, you get magicite at random which I found to be at odds with the strategic elements magicite combining offered.

These are all minor issues at the end of the day. It’s a kart racer, so if I can’t be super strategic or have to learn an awkward control scheme I’m not super bothered. The game is fun to play and that matters more. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do with this fun gameplay as there is an insulting lack of content for a $50 game.

Surely There’s More to These Modes

There are 4 different game modes: story, series races, time attack, and the titular Chocobo GP, each offering a little bit of variety from the others. Story mode did little for me, but I could see it being good for younger players as it serves as a tutorial to the rest of the game. The story itself is pretty bland. I found the voices to be downright insufferable, although some of the lines are admittedly witty. There are a few cute moments with how the game names characters, or rather how the game doesn’t name characters. Cutscenes also overstay their welcome — if you don’t skip them you could easily spend more time watching them than doing the story races themselves. All the additional characters that can be unlocked are obtained through story mode, so it isn’t a mode you can skip.

Series races are groupings of four courses that you race through consecutively to try and be the overall winner. This mode is rather repetitive as there are 12 series to beat — so 36 races — with only 21 courses in the game. One good note is that both story mode and series races offer two difficulty modes. I found the harder of the two to offer a respectable challenge where I wasn’t coming in first every race but also wasn’t banging my head into a wall. 

Time attack is what you might expect: go through a track without magicite to see how fast you can clear it. It’s important to note that courses for time attack are unlocked by completing them in story mode, so that’s an entire mode locked behind completing the story. Chocobo GP is pretty much the same as the series races except online with 64 other players. There’s four races in total and the trick is that you need to place 4th or higher to advance to the following race, and players will slowly get knocked out from the running with each round. I had no issues connecting online for this mode, which is always a welcome sight on the Switch.

Each of these modes offer little variety from each other. This would be fine and expected in a racing game, if not for the game’s courses. I mentioned earlier that there are 21 courses in the game, but that’s 21 courses with a massive asterisk attached to it. There are nine different locations with each having multiple track variants. For example, you’ll race on Chocobo Farm Short and Chocobo Farm Hyperspeed and these are completely different tracks in terms of their layout but they feel the exact same. By the time I had finished the series races mode, I felt like I had seen each track a thousand times and didn’t care to move on to the other modes.

But There’s a Price

This is the content you get for the $50 price tag. This game operates on three different currencies, which comes as an immediate red flag. The second red flag is that the first thing you see when you boot up this game is an advertisement for a “premium prize pass” so you can unlock the fan-favorite character, Cloud. This pass is purchased using the premium currency that can either be slowly earned through gameplay or bought outright for real money.  The pass is also limited time, which further pressures players into that decision to just spend more to ensure they get the content. This is how a free-to-play game would be set up, and is insulting to see here. It goes beyond the prize pass though — there is also an entire character shop. The character shop uses a separate currency from the prize pass that cannot be bought for money but can be earned faster if you buy into the prize pass. ​​I tried to unlock the character Squall but was unable to earn enough coins before my deadline. I did race against him online, so clearly if I would’ve just dropped some money I could’ve had him.

While these monetization practices left me soured, there are still positive elements to the game worth highlighting. It won’t win any awards for its visuals, but the game looks great. It features a nice cartoonish art style that serves the material well. Environments like the Gold Saucer and characters like Clair are bright and detailed. There were several moments when I was at a standstill from an enemy attack, and I was surprised at how the textures around me weren’t the normal muddy mess I’m used to on Switch. More importantly, the game holds these visuals while having no performance issues at all. The game looked sharp and ran smoothly for the entirety of my time with it.

Chocobo GP is an incredibly mixed bag that leaves me feeling disappointed. I want to love this game so much— it just existing is a dream. The core of the game is extremely fun with unique twists on the kart racing formula and well-crafted controls. But there’s nothing to support the gameplay with a lack of content and large portions of the existing content being behind a paywall. The game could easily have been a slam dunk love letter to the original that could’ve attracted people tired of Mario Kart 8. Instead, it feels like a soulless cash grab that I cannot recommend until the monetization is reworked or the price is dropped.

Images: Square Enix Games, My Nintendo News

Sources: IGN, Square Enix Games, Polygon, Mario Kart 8

Contact Ryan Minter with comments at rnminter@bsu.edu.