The Nintendo Switch is now five years old, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still sits as the king of the system. Not only as the best-selling racing game on the console, but the best-selling title on the Switch overall. But Square Enix has thrown its hat into the kart-racing ring with Chocobo GP, developed by AKIRA Co. Ltd., exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.
How does it hold up against the best-selling racing video game of all time, and is it a kart-racer only for those neck-deep in love with Final Fantasy lore? Here’s our review.
The first thing you’ll notice when booting up Chocobo GP, post-introductory video, is the fact the single-player story mode is pushed over to the right of the menu and not taking centre-stage as you expect. No, the ‘Chocobo GP’ mode is your first selectable option, thrusting you online and into a tournament mode with up to 63 other players – provided you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. That we’ll get to.
If you’re playing the full game, you’re better off heading to the Story mode, as it has a tutorial for you to play through first. Alongside the plethora of races you’ll find yourself doing, you’ll be granted some hefty, fully voice-acted diorama-esque cutscenes, establishing the story present in Chocobo GP.
They do overstay their welcome nine times out of ten, and much like narratives present in kart racing titles past, it’s not wholly relevant. Feel free to press ‘+’ to skip them. Though, I will commend the dedication to Gilgamesh being the butt of the ‘who are you?’ joke throughout the story mode.
There were also far more references to death and whether specific items would kill the player than I expected. That seemed rather out of place for a colourful, light-hearted kart racer.
Enough context regarding the story, how does Chocobo GP feel to play? The driving present is pretty responsive, the different characters (and subsequent karts) all feel unique to drive, drifting during a race isn’t a chore- something I find with many other kart racers that don’t star that Italian lad.
The items, or ‘Magicites’, on offer in Chocobo GP slightly differ from what kart racing veterans are used to, they don’t fully subscribe to the kart racing item meta, which does mean you’ll be a little lost as to what everything does from the offset.
Thankfully, characters introduce you to specific Magicites across the story mode, and they’ll become obtainable during races from that point onwards. You can also head to the ‘How to Play’ section of the Options menu to re-read the flavour text of each item. Nice!
Alongside Magicites however, each character has a special ability that’s ready to use after your ability bar fills up. The bar will fill gradually throughout a race, but you can give it a bump by picking up crystals on the track.
The titular Chocobo’s ability grants it a speed boost and improved handling for a short time, while others feature the likes of multiple boost abilities, going invisible and invulnerable for a short time, or firing cannonballs into the drivers ahead of you.
There are a total of 15 characters unlocked by the time you finish the story mode, with a good selection of them available by the end of only the first few races. However, a further 8 characters unlocked from story progression aren’t immediately available but unlocked in the shop for you to purchase.
The final point regarding on-track action, collectable crystals act very much like coins in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Collecting 10 will increase your character’s top speed, and you’ll lose them if you’re hit by someone else’s items.
But unlike our mustachio’d man’s currency, the number of crystals you pick up during a race add to the crystal gauge, which when full grants you a ticket, the free-to-acquire in-game currency of Chocobo GP. We’ll get to all of those lovely currencies shortly.
While the racing itself feels solid enough, the use of items and how certain track elements interact with the driver doesn’t feel as robust.
I found that certain surfaces that share the same texture as the track surface boost pads don’t in fact grant you a boost, sections of a select few tracks are over-laden with obstacles making them almost ridiculous to navigate, and something that infuriated me most while playing Chocobo GP is the inconsistency of when you can and can’t actually use your items.
If you’re mid-jump or off the track even slightly, pressing L (by default) simply triggers a cross through your Magicite pool, with no effect. The same occurs when you’ve enabled your character’s main ability. Say you’re playing as the Chocobo and using your ability to boost through a section of the track, you can’t use your items then either.
It makes those moments of dire need of ruining the guy ahead of you impossible, and it’s really annoying. Furthermore, on the receiving end of a Magicite effect, your character goes through the typical ‘hit’ animation, tumbling over or spinning, then sitting on the track for an excruciating second or two longer than feels necessary.
It makes the inevitable final barrage of items as you’re on the final lap, about to win the race, even more difficult to counter. The same length of control being clawed away from you persists when you fall off the track, but thankfully there are a minute number of tracks where that’s possible.
Speaking of tracks, there are nine locations to choose from, most of them having either two or even three different layouts, totalling 21 tracks. These circuits are relatively easy to read when driving them for the first time, predominantly because they are incredibly basic in their layout. Only when you get to the latter third of the tracks do they become as bombastic and ridiculous as you’d expect from a kart racer.
Putting layout simplicity aside, the tracks on offer in Chocobo GP look incredible. For a third-party title on the Switch, it runs at a solid framerate, and on certain tracks (Zozo for example), the lighting on offer almost trades blows with that of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
While the racing itself is perfectly enjoyable, with a few caveats (full button mapping would be a godsend here, the three default layouts are terrible), Chocobo GP, unfortunately, feels like a game from the industry’s past.
The egregious monetisation is thrust into your face from the offset, and while it’s definitely not a pay-to-win affair if you’re hoping for a kart racer you can just pick up and race on with no fluff, it’s not going to be this one.
The aforementioned ‘tickets’ you get from collecting crystals is the only currency you will earn from standard offline play. This does allow you to buy the ‘unlocked’ characters from the story mode, superfluous stickers and colour schemes for your characters, and once completing the story mode, different variants on character’s vehicles specialising in either grip or speed.
However, there are two (yes, two) more currencies present. Gil, the main currency from the Final Fantasy universe can only be earned from playing the Chocobo GP mode, or from levelling up the battle pass. Yes, Chocobo GP has a ridiculous 200 tier battle pass.
Finally, there’s Mythril, the premium paid currency. You can gain Mythril by heading to the Switch eShop, or as a weekly login reward. That’s right, weekly.
I was gifted the 800 Mythril to buy the first season of the prize pass (I assume to hopefully get me addicted to the grind), but unlike the unlockable passes seen in the likes of F1 2021, The Crew 2, even Call of Duty, for example, Chocobo GP’s Prize Pass is dull and uninspired- and saying that, the non-Prize Pass free tier is barely worth talking about either.
While other titles might give you an immediate prize for purchasing the upper tier of this season’s rewards, Chocobo GP gives you nothing. According to the prompt after starting the game, you get Cloud simply for purchasing the pass. It’s an outright lie, as you have to grind to tier 60 to actually unlock him.
After taking part in my first Chocobo GP tournament (four online races in succession), I reached second place overall. Not bad for my first time, and I unlocked a whole one tier. Square Enix has tweaked the amount of XP needed to level up, but this experience was after this patch. I dread to think how long it was before. The grind is ever-so real.
Finally, further adding insult to injury, not every tier on the paid level gives you a reward. Most of the time it’s either those superfluous stickers, or peanuts-worth of Gil. When you look at the prices in the Gil shop, you’ll be grinding for a while.
One more time for comparison, if you work a good way through a Call of Duty battle pass season, you’ll gain enough COD points to unlock the next season’s battle pass without throwing more money at Activision, which is a pleasing reward for those partaking in the grind.
Chocobo GP however grants you a whole zero Mythril over 200 tiers of both the free and paid tiers. So either way, you’ll be chucking £8.09 at the eShop for more currency to join in on the next season of meagre rewards. If you’re hoping to keep coming back for those weekly Mythril rewards, you can’t sit on them either as they expire after a few months. Truly awful.
The monetisation thrust into the faces of Chocobo GP players simply tarnishes a perfectly acceptable kart racer. A cutesy, playable title getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. You could indeed pick the free ‘Lite’ version of the title up and play the Chocobo GP tournament mode, standard online multiplayer and simply ignore the microtransactions, or even do the same after forking out £39.99 for the offline story, time trial, split-screen and custom race modes, but that’s not the point.
The monetisation present here is borderline archaic, a trait that echoes back to a dark time this industry has now (hopefully) moved away from. It’s so omnipresent, it’s genuinely hard to ignore it. If you’ve got kids who enjoy playing racers on the Switch, make sure your password isn’t saved for purchases, as a lot of unwanted Mythril might end up on your bill.
It’s surprising to know that this is a Switch-exclusive title. It feels to be more of a Switch port of a mobile game given how hard it tries to pry your hard-earned money from you.
It’s a Jekyll and Hyde situation here. One side is a solid switch title, the other is a gross, microtransaction-riddled mobile game.
£39.99 is probably pushing it for the good part of the game, so waiting for a sale might not be a bad shout. At least you can try the racing element for free in the ‘Lite’ version. Otherwise, it’s a ‘Consider’ only.
|Developer||AKIRA Co. Ltd.|
|Release date||10th March 2022|
|Available platforms||Nintendo Switch|
|Version tested||Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Pro Wireless Controller|
Full disclosure: We purchased this game for review purposes. Here is our review policy.