Many franchises have tried to draft off of Mario Kart’s success, but few can keep up with Nintendo’s sales monster. Throughout gaming history, we’ve seen kart racers featuring Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Garfield, and more. Now, Square Enix has brought its most popular series back to the starting gate.
Chocobo GP is a new Nintendo Switch kart racer based on the Final Fantasy series, and one that has a surprisingly long history. The game is a sequel to Chocobo Racing, a 1999 PlayStation game. While the game was supposed to get a sequel for the Nintendo 3DS, the project was quietly canceled. It’s finally been revived on the Switch, with Square Enix perhaps trying to capitalize on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s absurd sales.
“Absurd” is actually a pretty good word to describe Chocobo GP. While it’s not the most sophisticated deep racer out there, it makes up for that with a completely wacky sense of humor that will get some smiles out of Final Fantasy historians.
Chocobo GP is a fairly standard Mario Kart clone, with a few twists. Players pick from a cast of racers pulled from the Final Fantasy series. Each has their own simple stats, karts, and a special ability. Races are short, usually clocking in around three minutes or less. Like Mario Kart, players drift to get speed boosts, collect crystals (a stand-in for coins), and snag items that can be used to torture unsuspecting drivers.
The one standout aspect is how the item system works. When players hit a box, they pick up magicite spells. One lets players shoot a fireball ahead of them, while another sends a grim reaper to the driver in first place (it’s basically a blue shell, but players can avoid it by mashing the right bumper). The twist is that players can hold three spells at a time. If they get two or three of the same spell, they’ll combine for larger effects. Hold on to your boost magicite and you might get a much bigger burst of speed if you get another. That’s one feature I’d actually love to see in Mario Kart 9.
The racing isn’t the main attraction here, though. It’s ultimately a bit shallow, though it has its moments of hectic fun. What I actually enjoyed here is the game’s short story mode, which is an absolutely wild experience for franchise fans.
The story is essentially a Saturday morning cartoon featuring characters from Final Fantasy (think Wacky Races, for the classic cartoon fans out there). The story starts with a simple Moogle accidentally getting possessed and becoming a superhero-like driver named Racing Hero X, an apparent reference to Speed Racer. From there, another Moogle and its Chocobo companion stumble into a grand prix led by the mysterious Racing Hero X, which takes them to different locations from the series’ past.
No one is having as much fun with itself than Chocobo GP. For Final Fantasy fans, its filled with little references to the series’ most beloved games. Head to Alexandria and you’ll find Vivi and Steiner in a familiar quarrel over tickets. Final Fantasy VII‘s Gold Saucer becomes the game’s own version of Rainbow Road. Classic summons like Ifrit appear as hilariously adorable racers. And for Final Fantasy VI fans, there’s a ludicrous trip to Zozo in store for you.
This is a game designed for eagle-eyed fans who can catch all the references to the series history. Beloved music tracks get racing-friendly remixes, characters drop iconic lines in absurd contexts, and Sqaure Enix’s classic red pyramid logo from it’s Square Soft days makes a heartwarming little appearance.
What’s most surprising is that it’s a legitimately funny game at times. It’s full of meta jokes that poke fun at Final Fantasy’s convoluted stories and even giggle over RPG tropes. Within a few chapters, players amass a pack of racers to choose from, prompting one character to note that it usually takes way longer for an RPG party to fill up. While it’s clearly aimed at young kids, it consistently got a chuckle out of me.
The story doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is good, but mileage will vary on the rest of the package — especially if you spend $50 for the full version. There are time trials, local multiplayer, an online tournament mode, and a shop full of unlockables that require in-game and real currency. Since the racing isn’t terribly deep and there aren’t many tracks, there might not be enough meat on the bone for players. However, the game does feature a smaller free-to-play version for anyone who wants to get a taste of it.
If you love the Final Fantasy series, especially the PlayStation’s entries, you’ll at least get a kick out of all the wacky ways Chocobo GP plays with history. Playing a game of “I understood that reference!” during cutscenes might be more fun than the races themselves.
Chocobo GP comes to Nintendo Switch on March 10 as both a free-to-play game and a full $50 release.
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