"Who in cholesterol's name are you?" --Mog after meeting Chubby Chocobo
Developer: Square/EA Publisher: Square/EA Genre: Racing Players: 1-2 Memory: 1 block for each thing you have to save (game, created character, etc.) Discs: 1 Analog: Yes Dual Shock: No ESRB: Everyone Difficulty: Easy
For some reason these days, it's become popular to incorperate mascots and/or cute animal characters into racing games. First, there was Mario Kart 64, Diddy ::shudders:: Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing, and now, Chocobo Racing! Is it a lame game trying to make money off of the Squaresoft audience just by advertising Square characters, an ultra-cute kiddy racing game, or an actual game with some fast action, secrets, and some cool features? It's a little of each.
Gameplay--Chocobo Racing plays like any other mascot related racing game. There are several modes that you can race in, including Time Trial, Grand Prix, Story (more on this later), and the innovative Relay--why didn't somebody else think of this earlier?--which is as cool as it sounds. You then select from a host of popular characters from the Final Fantasy series, including a Chocobo (off course), Mog himself, the White Mage from FF Tactics and FF5, a Behemoth, and even that ultra-cool, pointy hatted Black Mage!
Next, when you actually start the race, you'll immediately notice that this game is sort of a cross between Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart 64. During gameplay, you can pull off a sort of powerslide (which slows you down, but is useful in small slides), collect items from small orbs around the track, or use your character's chosen special ability. The orbs that you collect feature spells from the Final Fantasy games that fit right into a racing game, including Haste (short burst of speed), Rflect (spelled Reflect in this game--strange ^_^), Lightning, Ice (like mines), Fire, and so on. Square takes the Diddy Kong approach on these items--when you collect two of the same item, it becomes more powerful: Haste lasts longer, Fire becomes a homing missle, Lightning is harder to dodge, etc. Giving you even more power is your special ability, which becomes available to you after a bar fills up. You can power up this bar by hitting your opponent, executing moves, and--d'oh, wrong game. Um, anyway, when the bar fills up, you can use one of the abilities chosen from a list before the race--a speed boost, increased handling, a protective barrier, and so on.
Graphics--Despite some pixelation in the Story mode, and a bit of draw-in, the graphics in this game are pretty good. The FMV is top notch, which is no surprise from Square. Unfortunately, I would have liked a little more of it throughout the game (maybe one for the ending instead of that awful credits sequence)--it wouldn't have hurt the game too much, since this is a RACING game, and not an RPG. Anyway, away from the concept of FMV, and back to the game.
The graphics you'll see in story mode are different, but they almost wark, er, work. The first thing you'll notice is that the chocobos don't say "Wark!" in this game--they say "Kweh!" (the Japanese chocobo sound), which, in my opinion, sounds like someone coughing. Well, after you notice that, you'll see that the story is presented in a weird 2-D sugary PaRappa pop-up book format. While I like the book idea, the rest didn't exactly impress me.
Colorful tracks add a bit of eye candy to the races--Gingerbread Land literally does this--and several have some nice touches, such as Mithril Mines's lighting, or the reflective surfaces in Floating Gardens. The racers themselves are good-looking, even if they don't have too many animations in gameplay--I like the puffs that come out of the Black Mage's cloud! The "Items being used are Items used in battle" all look fine, such as the nicely animated Fire spell that's been powered up, or the blast that comes from the dreaded Ultima 3. Overall, the graphics aren't as good as those seen in an N64 game, but they still look pretty good in my opinion.
Music--Chocobo Racing's music is a mixed bag. There's some slightly annoying music (the volcano level), some heroic fanfares that go along well with the racing action (i.e. Floating Gardens), and then there's a few remixes of the Chocobo Theme, which counts as both annoying and complementary to the action. The music isn't exactly as memorable as some of the tracks in Mario Kart 64, but they're not bad, either. I only have two complaints about the music in this game. One, the music is a bit too repetitive for me--it would have helped to make the it longer. Two, I can't stand the cheesy Disney meets "My Heart Will Go On" ending theme, which wrecks the entire ending sequence. Well, almost. (Around the middle of the ending, it shows a picture of the Black Mage--in the weird sketching format that it shows the other racers in during the credits--change forms. He becomes a weird blob thingy that's right out of Tecmo Stackers (puzzle game featuring blobs), and then morphs into the coolest thing I've EVER seen in a Squaresoft game: An egg with boots and a bandana in a heroic pose! It kicks spoony! I even took a screenshot of it at the bottom!)
But back to the sound.
The sound effects also need some wark. While the standard engine noises and squeals of the wheels/tires/carpets/clouds/etc aren't as annoying as that certain OTHER game (coughhackRUSHcough), and the items have some interesting sounds to offer--the "bonk" of the Minimize item will soon be recognized as one of the worst things a racing gamer will hear--the sound is below adequate. The worst offender would have to be the fact that there aren't any character voices--just character grunts. I really would have liked to hear Mog's voice...
Control--Being a game geared toward a younger audience, the control setup isn't too challenging or frusterating. You have your standard gas, reverse, and brakes/sharp turn found in most racing games, along with the trigger buttons setting off either your character's chosen ability or your selected item. These are all fine, but my one favorite part of all racing games, powersliding, is toned down a little. Normally, you'd hit your perfect powerslide, release the handbrake, then zip off in a burst of speed. In Chocobo Racing, however, if you "powerslide" for too long (which would be a normal amount of time in any other racing game), you're going to get passed for the slide slowing you down too much! You don't even have a choice of doing that cool Speed Burst found in Mario Kart 64! Spoony. This limits the "powersliding" to having you quickly tap the brake button, trying not to lose speed, and this makes for some really jerky lookin' slides.
That's NOT funny, Stussy!
Fun Factor--Chocobo Racing is a fun game, but the thrill of racing just isn't as high as other mascot racing games. The power-ups add some action into the gameplay, but when it's just a flat out race, nothing is all that exciting. I think the problem is that the tracks don't have enough features, and the fact that there's only one shortcut in the entire game--Gingerbread Land!-- lessens the fun. Still, there's always the Relay mode, which is a fun an innovative idea. My verdict on the fun factor: It would have been plenty higher if the tracks had more variety.
Overall Satisfaction--Chocobo Racing isn't a bad game. It's more fun than the abysmal SF Rush, has much more color and life than 3D Dudes, and ranks just under Pocket Fighter in terms of cuteness. It has more depth than I expected it to have, with ten hidden characters--including Cloud, Squall, and even the Cactaur!--and hidden modes similar to the 100cc, 150cc, and Extra modes in Mario Kart. The Time Trial mode is always there for you to beat your best times, and you'll have fun experimenting with all the abilities and racers. Finally, the Story mode lets you sort of create your own character and edit his racing abilities--a great idea, even if your racers usually devastate everybody on the track ^_^. If there had been a little more fun and variety in the racing section of the game, I would have scored this game higher (Kefka sez: Huh huh huh...). If you're curious about whether or not Squaresoft can make a racing game, well, they can. They just need to fine tune it a little.
Chocobo sez: Kweh! Kweh!
Note: The screenshots were all taken by me, but they're kinda time consuming, so I probably won't take screens for every review...