Format reviewed: PlayStation
Submitted by: Michael Levy
Mario Kart is one of the most imitated games of all times. Nearly every franchise has had it’s own version of Nintendo’s million dollar seller, though all have been considered imitations, copies and rip offs. However, there is one game that was released in 1999 that made significant changes in the way the karts battled for the number one spot. Despite multiple reviews saying otherwise, Chocobo Racing for Playstation is that game.
In the late 90s, Square decided they wanted to push for their Chocobo character to become a mascot, making a few dungeon crawlers and the Kart racer that many know and few love. There’s a multitude of characters spanning across the entire Final Fantasy universe that include obvious cute picks like Mog and a little girl version of the White Mage, in addition to multiple others like Behemoth and Black Mage. The story is typical of the Final Fantasy games; Blue Crystals have become scattered throughout the land and it’s the player’s job to gather them together to keep the world of Fantasia open. The story isn’t great, and it seems to drag due to the presentation being pop-up book style. While this is a great choice to give the game a children’s storybook feel, it makes the story mode feel more like a chore than a game. Fortunately, once beating the game, you can skip the story and the credits as well, which are brutally long. It’s nice that this game decided to include a story into a genre of games that really didn’t need one, but overall, it seems like a poor choice.
Where the game seems to bore on a story level, it flourishes on a gameplay level. The basics of the game are simple: race to the finish line while stopping other players from reaching the goal. Chocobo Racing, unlike other clones, takes the Final Fantasy battle system mechanics and implements them into the racing to evolve the kart racing genre. Racing around the track, the player will see stones of various magical abilities. For example, fire, ice, speed, and lightning. All except for shield and death can be upgraded. Grab a fire stone, hold onto it, and then grab another. Getting up to three of the same kind can unleash a devastating attack. Leveling up your attack can give various different abilities that can be used to your advantage, and those actions will also lead to reactions that other players have to adjust their gameplay. Putting a layer of ice on the ground with a level 2 ice blast can make opponents spin out, unless the player uses a float stone or is a flying player. The problem with this leveling up is level three is so devastating it really cannot be reflected or stopped. This also will stop players from abusing the shield tactic, making this a fair tradeoff.
In addition to this battle system, there is another attack that can be chosen. This is an attack that relies on a bar that fills up over time. When the bar flashes, it is ready to be used. For example, Gunblade gives the player additional speed and will attack multiple characters with a sword swipe, causing them to spin out. These attacks, in addition to the magic system, evolve the game beyond kart racer.
This is also the first time a kart racer has customizable racers. Making customized racers makes the regular racers seem obsolete. After beating the game, the player achieves points that can be used to make a customizable racer, and depending on the performance, can make or break the character. For example, I created a green Chocobo named “Wark” and built him up to the point where he couldn’t be beaten by anybody except for the SS Invincible ship, which is the fastest kart in the game.
While there’s variation in the karts, some of it is for better, some for worse. The secret karts are the most fun to play with. Cloud, Squall, and Aya Brea’s cop car are all fairly even with the regular players. Mumba and SS Invincible are ridiculously fast. Cactaur is achingly slow to the point that anyone can lap him. Why bother putting a character like this in, other than novelty value is a question the developers didn’t ask themselves. Due to the fluctuation of the quality of kart racers, the game seems unbalanced at times.
Graphically, it hurts to look at this game. Even back then, the graphics weren’t up to Square’s usual gorgeous touch. The full motion video seems grainy and the volume control is a bit off when compared with the rest of the game. Musically, the game has some cute and cuddly remixes of classic Final Fantasy favorites. The last track is brand new, and seems to never end during the credits.
The game is tons of fun to play if you get people together who don’t play it like a kart racer, and instead put some strategy into their race. It’s truly an evolution in terms of gameplay, and it’s sad that there are so many other parts of the game that need work. While Mario Kart is a better package, Chocobo Racing delivers on a more in-depth level and brings a whole new feel to the kart racing world.