I did not expect to reach the Semi Finals of my very first Chocobo GP.
My heart was in my mouth as I was taking tight corners, using any shortcut I could find, and most importantly trying to stay in control of my kart as I vaulted into fourth place, securing my qualification.
It’s the most fun I’ve felt from a kart game since, well, Mario Kart itself. Square Enix have built up a really fun racer that is polished, has good systems, a nice range of drivers, and a good variety of courses.
The problem with Chocobo GP is that just as you can really feel yourself falling head over heels for it, you’re snapped to your senses by the game’s dodgy balancing, or the amount of time you’re stunned from a projectile. Or falling prey to its extravagant microtransaction system.
There’s a real charm about the game, evident from the menu screen where a charming little tune chirps away in the background. Not to mention you’ve got the immediate franchise identity with the familiar Final Fantasy victory theme and kart racers like Kupo and Chocobo.
It’s chock-loaded with modes and options, including a full campaign mode as well as fun multiplayer party games. It even has its own version of a battle pass system for replayability.
But that’s really where it starts to fall apart, with the game’s progression system very sluggish and slow, almost forcing you to invest in order to unlock some of the cooler racers playable in the game.
I understand the format is popular nowadays and it’s a way for people to keep playing and for Square to keep adding more Final Fantasy esque racers over time, but in this case, I think it really detracts from the experience and is too top-loaded.
True, there is a Chocobo GP Lite which is free and lets you play the standard 64 player mode as well as check out some of the early chapters of the story, but for those who’ve invested in the full edition with all the modes, there’s a menu right in your face promoting Cloud, asking to visit a store before they’ve even had a chance to play the game.
You’re not even given much XP to help you progress through the season if you purchase the full package. Fortunately, it does seem like Square Enix is already working on improving the experience, so we’ll keep two eyes on that.
Fortunately, there is value to be found elsewhere, with a sizeable story complete with cutscenes and unlockable characters. I wouldn’t say the story is particularly fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a nice distraction from the main event, the GP itself, if you need a bit of a breather from intense online action.
The win conditions are also mixed up nicely, sometimes requiring you to finish ahead of a certain character in a chapter and sometimes you just have to win a race in a certain time. It’s smart and keeps the formula fresh and dynamic throughout.
You can also dive in on standard multiplayer, local or otherwise, and even play individual cups ala Mario Kart with the course range actually being really good and the visuals truly popping on a Switch OLED.
There’s also a surprising amount of customization here between stickers you can put on the kart, and costume changes for chocobos. It lets you really define the kind of character you want to whip around the circuits with, though, of course you can stick with defaults if you can’t resist the cute yellow floof.
Chocobo GP is a well presented package with a level of quality you don’t find in your Garfield Kart racers and the like, but there is something a bit off about the balancing. On the Story Mode, even on the easiest difficulty, rivals are ruthless, constantly overtaking you and batting you out of the way, even if you’re running an almost perfect race.
And when they do hit you, the amount of time it takes for you to recover feels overly long. It feels like the entire field could you pass you if you’re out in front before you’ve had a chance to regain control. To the point where almost all projectiles feel like a blue shell. And catching up once you’re at the back of the pack, well, forget about it.
I do like Chocobo GP’s approach to items though. It’s all done in a very Final Fantasy way using Magicite which is used to cast spells, like fireballs, warp tunnels, and water geysers. All to disrupt your enemies on the track and maintain an advantage. They can also be stacked which improves their potency and in terms of boosting also means you can zip around much quicker.
Still, despite all the bells, whistles, and polish, there’s something about Chocobo GP that seems like its constantly in conflict with itself between its progression systems and mechanics.
Chocobo GP is a fun racer and one of the best outside of Mario Kart since the Sonic Racers. But unlike those games, it doesn’t quite get its handling and balance right and also serves up an offputting progression system that is more interested in taking than giving.
+ Well presented and polished
+ A classic selection of Final Fantasy characters
+ Some great tracks and the Chocobo GP circuit is a rush
– Mechanics feel a bit ropey
– Balancing feels off
– Progression system is way off base
Chocobo GP is now available on Nintendo Switch
Code Kindly Provided by Nintendo