With Chocobo GP, developer Square Enix blends elements from Mario Kart and its own fondly remembered Chocobo Racing to deliver a charming, but flawed, kart-racer. Although the $49.99 Nintendo Switch game features a creative attack system, impressive voice work, and excellent online modes, the uninspired track design and microtransactions (the likes of which you generally see in free-to-play games) severely dampen the experience. Final Fantasy superfans may enjoy Chocobo GP despite its issues, but Mario Kart 8: Deluxe speeds ahead as the kart-racer champ.
Chicken With the Zoomies
Chocobo, the titular protagonist of Chocobo GP, is one of Final Fantasy’s most iconic mascots. This giant, flightless, yellow bird serves as a mount that gets you where you need to go in Square Enix’s many RPGs. GP’s Chocobo is actually a chibi representation of the famed bird, a version that also takes the lead in several Final Fantasy-themed spin offs, including Chocobo’s Dungeon, Chocobo Racing, and Chocobo Tales.
Chocobo and the other in-game racers not only have character-specific stats that determine their acceleration and handling, but they also possess special abilities that are independent of the power-ups you obtain during a race. For example, Chocobo unleashes a dash that greatly improves his speed and handling for a few seconds. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, releases a rain of swords onto the track that acts as traps for the hapless competitors that drive over them. These abilities draw from a special gauge that fills as a race advances, but it can be hastened by collecting crystals scattered throughout the track. Collecting 10 crystals also gives you a speed boost, but you lose this boost if you are hit by a competitor or hazard.
Fast and Feathery: Chocobo Drift
You collect power ups by driving through Magic Eggs, spheroid relics that award you with iconic magicite spells from the Final Fantasy games. Fire magicite, for example, lobs a fireball directly in front of you. Quake triggers shockwaves around your kart, damaging any racer that gets too close. Doom targets the racer in front of you, forcing the character to shake off the attack to prevent being stunned.
You get just three magicite slots, but the spells stack and combine to produce new effects. For example, one fire magicite shoots a fireball straight ahead, but two fire magicite unlocks Fira, which homes in on the target in front of you. Three fire magicite summons Firaga, a massive fireball that crushes whoever is in first place. All magicite can be upgraded in the same way, with each level increasing the attack’s potency.
This system adds a fantastic, strategic layer to the game, since you can play risky by holding on to a magicite for a more disruptive bang, or fire them off as the situation demands. You randomly acquire magicite, but the game has specific rules to help you strategize. Copper eggs give you one random magicite. Silver eggs give you a copy of whatever magicite you already have in your possession. Gold eggs give you two of the same magicite at once. It can be a bit confusing at first, but the magic-stacking mechanics, paired with the unique character abilities, create fun and addicting races.
Unfortunately, the larger magicite effects sometime obscure the action, which proves frustrating with so much happening during a race. In addition, the recovery period after getting hit with an item feels about two seconds too long. Getting hit once isn’t too bad, but heaven forbid you get nailed with attacks in back-to-back fashion. Recovery takes far too long, which tanks your standing with soul-crushing speed.
Chocobo GP has floatier movement and steering compared to Mario Kart, and other games in the genre. The vehicles glide over the tracks, giving races a looser, lower-traction feel. There’s a learning curve to the racing, so it doesn’t take too long to acclimate yourself to the movement. All the familiar kart-racing staples are present in Chocobo GP, including drifting and drift boosts, speed tiles, ramps, shortcuts, and trick boosts. None of these systems are ultimately hindered by the floatier controls.
Race Track Woes
There are 21 tracks, but they’re based on eight themed locations, including Final Fantasy VII’s Gold Saucer and Final Fantasy VI’s Zozo. Each theme has between two and four variations. Some tracks feel genuinely distinct, such as Final Fantasy V’s Big Bridge, which has radical variations between its track offerings. Others are not quite as profound, however, and feel a bit samey. Unfortunately, Chocobo GP expects you to replay these maps throughout its story mode (which has excellent voice work), tournament mode, and various cups. It makes the limited track selection feel very repetitive.
Chocobo GP’s tracks are generally fine, but there are many tracks with back-to-back sharp turns, partially obscured paths, and blind spots that are virtually impossible to react to on a maiden race. As a result, tracks tend to feel a smidge too narrow. You acclimate yourself to these tracks with time, but this only makes the repetitive track design feel more unsatisfying.
The themes are also something of a let down. With so many amazing Final Fantasy locales to draw inspiration from, why settle on the mundane Chocobo Farm? Why not Crystal Tower, the Lunar Ruins, Midgar, Ultimecia Castle, Memoria, Rabanastre, Altissia, or really any other eye-catching and interesting dungeon or region? Thankfully, Square Enix has stated that new tracks are in the works for the next season (which starts mid-May), and these tracks will be made available for all to enjoy, regardless of whether they’re free or paying players.
Look, Sound, and Performance
The cute, chibi visuals fit the kart racer like a glove, and it’s genuinely delightful to see these classic Final Fantasy characters and settings represented this way. As a long time Final Fantasy IX fan, it was a nostalgic trip to race through Alexandria’s streets as the black mage, Vivi. The character models and environments are all bright, colorful, and nicely detailed, albeit with some heavy aliasing.
On the Nintendo Switch, the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second, which is what I expected considering Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs at 60fps, as well. The online component, with its 64-player elimination tournament, worked well in testing, though there were the occasional desync issues. On one occasion, my race position was bumped back one place, from fourth to fifth, because of desync, and I was eliminated from a tournament. Likewise, my speed boost at the beginning of a few races was borked due to desyncing, but this was an infrequent occurrence. Square Enix stated that it’s working on alleviating the connectivity issues.
Overall, Chocobo GP’s audio is decent, but the music is sadly forgettable. There are plenty of recognizable tracks, such as “Melodies of Life” from FFIX, “Big Bridge” from FFV, and “Man with the Machine Gun” from FFVIII, but Chocobo GP’s renditions are forgettable compared to their original counterparts. Worse still, the title screen has a shockingly loud heavy metal-style Chocobo theme that doesn’t fit at all with the chibi bird and grinning characters on the splash screen. The main menu is no better, with a sugary vocal song that gets grating almost as soon as it begins.
Chocobo GP’s Microtransaction Issues
Chocobo GP has a fairly robust roster of characters and vehicles available in the base game. You can unlock 24 characters by playing the story mode, and each of them possess unique abilities and perks. In addition, the game has online and local play, as well as time attack, grand prix, and custom race modes. Sadly, Chocobo GP also incorporates ugly microtransaction practices that ape free-to-play games, despite it being a fully priced, premium title. Yes, $49.99 is a far cry from the pricey $70 price tag that premium PS5 and Xbox Series X/S titles command, but these games shouldn’t feature abusive microtransactions, either.
In its current form, Chocobo GP has a battle pass, called a Prize Pass, which grants you rewards for racing in the game’s 64-man online mode. Cloud Strife, the iconic protagonist of Final Fantasy VII, is locked behind this pass. The Prize Pass costs Mythril, the premium shop currency. You receive 1000 complementary Mythril upon purchasing Chocobo GP, which is enough to buy the 800 Mythril Prize Pass (you also receive 50 Mythril on a weekly basis). There is no need to dip into your wallet right away, unless you fritter away your Mythril with cosmetic purchases or music tracks. However, Square Enix really encourages you to buy Mythril with real-world money.
Chocobo GP creates a grind-heavy scenario, then tries to sell you the solution. Let’s use Cloud Strife as an example. The Prize Pass takes about two weeks of regular play to climb, because you must reach level 60 before purchasing the character. The season ends May 16th, and there has been no official word as to how Cloud can be earned after the season is over. So, if you want him, you better start racing—or buying.
GP’s Prize Pass scenario could easily sway you to spend money to avoid the hassle of grinding, or to avoid missing Cloud if you don’t think you can unlock him in time. Square Enix sells a 2600 Mythril ($26) Premium Pass that lets you immediately unlock Cloud and other rewards. If you’d rather race to level 60 at a faster pace, the company also sells level-up tickets (200 Mythril) that increase your experience gains.
Square Enix issued a statement to assure people that future Prize Passes will have Mythril in the prize pool. The company has also awarded players with bonus Mythril as compensation post-launch. In essence, you should have enough Mythril to go around for future Prize Passes. Still, this feels like a quick patch-up to mend a problem that the company’s monetization scheme created.
Hastily Hatched Racing
Chocobo GP has the makings of a great kart racer. The power-up stacking, unique abilities, and overall strategy are a breath of fresh air in the kart-racing genre. Unfortunately, the game could use more (and better designed) tracks, catchier music, and a shift away from microtransactions. Hopefully, Square Enix alleviates these issues in future updates, so this Final Fantasy-themed spin-off can live up to its potential.
Chocobo GP (for Nintendo Switch)
The Bottom Line
Chocobo GP has the makings of a great kart racer with its diverse cast of specialized racers, excellent power-up combos, and terrific visuals. However, uninspired track design and excessive microtransactions mar the experience.
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