Chocobo GP (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Jenny Geist 08.04.2022 4

Review for Chocobo GP on Nintendo Switch

It's difficult to think of a genre that is more dominated by a single franchise than that of the kart racer. With fighting games, there are dozens of wildly varying options, from the lighthearted fun of Street Fighter 2 to the graphic intensity of Mortal Kombat 11. Likewise for other tentpole genres: Call of Duty and Halo are not alike, Pokémon and NieR are not alike, and so on. With kart racers, though, one would be hard-pressed to find any notable examples that don't follow in the tracks of Nintendo's wildly famous Mario Kart series. Chocobo GP, a recently revived racing spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise, is no exception. Not only is this Square Enix title a Nintendo Switch-exclusive, but it's taking on the monolithic task of competing against Mario Kart 8 Deluxe itself. Does it succeed? …well no, not even close, but there's definitely a bit of nuance to that answer.

To preface: even with 150 hours of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe under this writer's belt, it would be unfair to spend the majority of this review comparing these two titles. Nothing is going to dethrone Mario Kart in terms of general appeal, but that does not mean that improving on the formula is impossible, as shown by critically-acclaimed contemporaries like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed or Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Nintendo and Square Enix are wildly different developers, so their forays into the kart racer genre are going to have some inevitable differences. There's nothing inherently wrong with that! The thing is, Chocobo GP isn't bad because it's not Mario Kart. It's bad because it's a thin, poorly-balanced experience with agonizing mechanics and gratuitous monetization.

First, the content, or lack thereof. Chocobo GP features 21 unique track layouts, a not-too-shabby amount for a newly-revived IP… or at least it would be, if there wasn't a major catch. Sure, there are 21 unique track layouts, but there are only eight unique track themes. The only distinct locations in this entire game are Chocobo Farm, Cid's Test Track, Monster Village, Zozo, Alexandria, Big Bridge, Gold Saucer, and Interdimensional Rift, with the track count instead being padded out by Short, Long, Technical, and Superspeed variations of each location. (Why anyone would want to race on the 'Short' version of a track is admittedly still a mystery.)

Big Bridge, for instance, technically features four different layouts: Hyperspeed, Short 1, Short 2, and Technical. You might think, "hey, those sound pretty different, at least!" What you'll then realize is that these layouts are a circle, a figure-eight, a figure-eight, and a figure-eight respectively. Yes, technically one of those figure-eights has conveyor belts and the other has opening & closing gates, but beyond those gimmicks, they're almost entirely the same layout. Of course, this is the only track with that specific redundancy, but the rest aren't exactly remarkable either! The short and long versions of Cid's Test Track technically have different layouts, but the setpieces aren't unique and the theme is identical, so it's hard to even count these as different courses beyond the very literal fact that yes, the long version has a few more turns. (and again, who would want to race on the Short version of ANY course?!) The track variety is less of a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and more of a Super Mario Kart, which is a positively baffling choice in 2022.

It's not that there isn't any winners in this bunch—Gold Saucer has some annoyingly sharp turns but is generally beautiful to look at, and the Interdimensional Rift courses are some of the most lengthy, varied, and mechanically unique in the game—but as a whole, the courses land with a resounding, unmemorable thud. You're far more likely to be bored by the lack of variety or annoyed by a set of overly sharp turns than you are to be consistently engaged by the tracks, which already puts this game at a steep disadvantage to its contemporaries.

Screenshot for Chocobo GP on Nintendo Switch

That said, a few weak courses is still not enough to entirely ruin a racing game, as even the best of the best carry a few stinkers. The true mark of a bad racer is bad racing, and at the very least, this game does feel extremely nice to play. Everything one would expect from a kart racer is present, with a large variety of colorful characters to play as, dangerous items being thrown every which way, and an acceleration/drift system that is easy to learn, difficult to master. The player can perform tricks as they jump off of ramps, boost into hidden shortcuts and split paths, and the like. It doesn't break any new ground, but the feel of the game is certainly on point. If only the same could be said about the item balance.

Controlled chaos is an important part of any casual kart racer, so the occasional last-minute shell leading to an unfair loss is not automatically a bad thing. The "Magicite" system, Chocobo GP's take on traditional items, even seems like it could be neat; racing through a capsule will give the player one out of 12 spells, and racing through another capsule may give a duplicate spell that can then power up the previous one. The base Fire spell will throw out a tiny puft of magic, the upgraded Fira variation will hone in on enemies, and Firaga will wreck opponents with a massive explosion. The concept of dynamic, upgradeable items definitely adds variety and the potential for strategy. However, with 33 unique items to memorize and play against, things get complicated fast.

For one, discerning the function of each item quickly becomes difficult. The specifics of the Magicite system are not immediately apparent, and with 12 different spells coming out of 3 different tiers of capsules, it can be hard to distinguish the function of even the base items. The aforementioned Fire spell is self-explanatory, but Thunder, Aero, and Quake have less immediately obvious functions; thunder doesn't seem particularly different from Fire, but apparently it can hit multiple racers; Aero doesn't seem particularly different from Thunder, but it zigzags a bit more than its counterparts. It's very common to get hit by something and not really understand why, as the distinguishing elements of each spell are not clear and the large number of variations makes learning them fairly difficult.

That isn't even speaking of the spells that are downright annoying. Blizzara and Blizzaga will freeze a player in their tracks, halting all momentum for seconds at a time, which is a practical death sentence in a fast-paced racer. Even the less overpowered skills will grind one's top speed to a halt, often taking a full second to recover from the smallest of spells. That number may sound measly, but in the span of a two minute long race, one second is everything. To make another Mario Kart comparison, the only item to completely halt one's momentum is by far the most infamous, that being the Spiny Shell. Banana peels, green shells, and fireballs might cause the player to spin out, but only the most overpowered item will bring one to a complete and utter stop. This is to prevent any one item from killing a race, or worse, killing one's enjoyment, and it's why a single Firaga incapacitating a player can be so infuriating.

Screenshot for Chocobo GP on Nintendo Switch

Standing at the bottom of the "worst item" ranks is the Warp spell, which creates a pair of portals that instantly teleports the player a sizable amount ahead. (or, if entering from the other end, instantly teleports the player a sizable amount back) Ignoring the fact that a teleport item in a kart racer is a poorly-conceived idea from the outset, there is nothing in the world more frustrating than being sent from 1st place to 4th place because a portal instantly appeared in your path and decided to undo all of your progress. To finish harping on this one, seemingly minor point, the game is overall incredibly unbalanced. When one player just happens to luck out and reach the end without a scratch, when progression is so heavily tied to wins that can be stolen like nothing, when the first place racer lapping the last place racer is a common occurrence—wins don't feel earned, they feel incidental.

With every aspect of the core gameplay analyzed to maximum scrutiny, it's now time to touch upon this game's most controversial rabbit hole of all… the monetization. For reference, there are two different SKUs of this title: the free Lite version that acts as a glorified demo, and the £39.99 full version that contains all of the game's content. One of these versions contains season passes, additional currency that can be brought with real money, and content locked behind those two avenues. Unfortunately, it's not the Lite version.

Chocobo GP is essentially structured like a freemium mobile game, right down to the limited-time events and expirable currencies that one would expect in said genre. While there technically is a story mode, it's mostly just there to introduce the characters that you'll be grinding for alts of and the worlds that you'll be racing on ad nauseum. There's fully voice-acted cutscenes, sure, but they're mildly annoying at worst and passably boring at best, and even accounting for them, the story is only a few hours long. It quickly becomes clear that, if you're going to be playing this game at all, you're going to be grinding in the core online mode. Almost like, say, a mobile game.

That core online mode, also titled Chocobo GP, is at the very least somewhat unique. Rather than endlessly racing on random courses with no structure, the player is instead matched into an elaborate 64-player tournament where only the top four players can move on to the next race. As it continues, the ranks thin from 64 players, to 32, to 16, and then to one final race featuring only the best of the best. It doesn't change the moment-to-moment gameplay, as the races themselves are still limited to eight players each, but it is a nice change of structure from other online racing experiences. One can play casually, without paying mind to the tournament aspect, or one can grind for that sweet, sweet victory royale. The core itself is once again, perfectly fine, but problems immediately arise when the aforementioned monetization comes into play.

Screenshot for Chocobo GP on Nintendo Switch

The game's first 'Prize Pass' unlocks the iconic protagonist of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife. You might have heard of him! He's pretty popular. In fact, he's even playable in the original Chocobo Racing! Well, if you want to play as him in Chocobo GP, you're going to need to reach Level 60 in the first Prize Pass, which can only be done by playing the Chocobo GP mode. Yet, in Cubed3's time with the game, it took about 30 races to reach Level 10. Assuming that the amount of EXP needed to level up doesn't rise too dramatically, this means that it would take approximately 180 races to unlock this singular character. The rest of the Season Pass rewards are basically pittance, ranging from coins that can be spent on costumes to stickers that can be applied to vehicles. That much work to play as a single popular character wouldn't be terribly offensive in a free-to-play mobile game, but again, this is a full-priced console exclusive. For that much money, it shouldn't feel like one has to work for hours upon hours to unlock their favorite character. That just isn't fun. Luckily for Square Enix, (and unluckily for us) there is one alternative way to unlock a Prize Pass's rewards… but it'll cost you.

To clarify, the base Prize Pass costs 800 mythril, which is an amount that the player is automatically gifted right as they start the game. But there is also a Premium Prize Pass, which unlocks the season's content right away, and it costs 2,400 mythril. For the 'low' cost of £22.09 (or $27.99 USD), one can purchase 3,100 additional mythril, giving access to the Premium Pass and instantly unlocking the season's reward. Yep, in this £39.99 game, unlocking one of the most popular characters in the entire series can cost up to £22.09 extra if you don't want to grind through nearly 200 races.

With this single fact in mind, almost every other aspect of Chocobo GP begins to fall apart. Why play Story Mode, time trials, or online with friends when that doesn't aid in your actual progression? Why play casually or for fun when doing so will result in less consistent wins, and thus less overall EXP? Why bother playing towards the end of a season when the prize will soon be replaced by some other popular Final Fantasy character? Why even purchase a game that expects you to continue spending money to get the complete package? Most of all, why play a racing game with boring tracks, poor balancing, and no respect for your time in the first place?

Well, the answer is simple. Don't! Play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, or Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, or the original Chocobo Racing, or even Mario Kart Tour (at least that one is free). The mascot racer genre may often be derivative, but it's been proven countless times that there's so much room for inspiration within that framework. The core racing had potential, the Magicite system had potential, the Chocobo GP tournaments had potential—so using them as a means to trick already-paying customers into spending even more is both a waste of the consumer's time and a waste of the developer's talents. What a shame.

Screenshot for Chocobo GP on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

Every now and then, the stars will align and Chocobo GP will provide a fun, frantic, and genuinely fantastic race. A rare moment where the track layout isn't too obnoxious, the item RNG isn't too oppressive, and the monetization isn't too distracting; a brief snippet of a solid racer with tight controls and a colorful world. If the game was like this all of the time, there would be no issue, but the ways in which it fumbles before the finish line cannot be overstated. What could have been a solid, long-lasting Mario Kart alternative has already been tossed aside by the masses and forgotten. Maybe Square Enix can fix it, maybe they won't bother, but at this point, not much of value has been lost.

Developer

Akira

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Driving

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Ah what a shame, this looked like it had such great potential!

Mario Kart beater in terms of its mechanics, Awful Money grabber. Cloud unlocked for free at last, back on the shelf for good.

Lukezeppo

Hmm, the original on ps1 was pretty fun, if imbalanced.  I hate, hate hate this trend of monetization in games.  So bad scores are deserved.

It was a 3DS game that was repurposed for mobile and then shelved until now, revived on Switch... and it really does tell! Such a crying shame.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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