Mario Kart has a lot to answer for. Single-handedly creating the SUCCESSFUL Karting game genre (I say that because there were games before it but nothing in the vein of Mario Kart’s huge success), suddenly EVERYONE wanted to hop on the bandwagon and create their own version using pretty much the same formula of RACE, PICK UP POWER-UPS, WIN, REPEAT AD NAUSEUM.
Suffice to say some of them were just as successful and are still remembered fondly to this day.
And suffice to say that you won’t be too shocked to learn that this is NOT one of them. Don’t sound too surprised by that. But stick with me here because there are plenty of reasons as to why everything you’re about to witness is an example of how to create a Mario Kart clone and yet not do ANYTHING right in any way, shape or form and should therefore be burned in a bonfire of sads.
BONFIRES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPY. SORT OF.
I DON’T DO BONFIRES. WHERE WAS I GOING WITH THIS?
Fucking Choux Pastry Racing.
RIGHT THEN. Choo-Choo Racing is an example of how you can take every part of Mario Kart, split it into its major components, trace over it in almost every way and yet STILL create a shitfest entry into the kart racing genre. It is a pretty major skill to be able to do that but Squaresoft, before they married Enix, managed to right royally bumble it to the rafters and back.
How? Loaded question but… deep breath… WELL:
ChachaSlide Racing is pretty much one of the first racing games that Squaresoft ever produced but strangely enough, their previous attempts were the NES pair of Rad Racer games from 1987 – NINETEEN EIGHTY SEVEN – and 1990 respectively. Fast forward nine years, technology has hit the 3D-is-compulsory stage and any semblance that Square knew what they were doing with racing games was squarely (GAMING PUN AHOY!) thrown out of the window with the rest of the company’s logic behind this game.
OH GOOD. IT’S A GOOD GAME TO RIP APART. I LIKE THESE.
Time to enter the game’s story mode and see what we’re being…
OK. TYPO. Unless the developers are trying to be cool and replacing ‘you’ with ‘yo’ throughout this thing, I think I demand an apology straight off the bat.
You will not be shocked to learn that Chancey Chancey Racing does not continue to refer to the player as ‘yo’ so therefore I’m already worried that something’s going to go slightly awry.
So despite being a racing game, you must remember that this IS a Squaresoft game and they’re most known for their RPGs, particularly Final Fantasy and HOLY SHIT how could we possibly forget that this is based off of Final Fantasy. The eponymous Chocobo from the series is joined along the way by a series of characters that nobody could genuinely give a flying shit about. White Mage, Black Mage, Mog, Chubby Chocobo, Golem, Goblin and Behemoth are all present but most certainly not correct because WHO THE FUCK ARE THEY? Look… I get the mages and mog but… the rest of them just…
Right. Let’s go back to the start because I’m already getting myself in a state.
So Chaka Khan Racing starts off with a neat little intro that does the usual set-up-every-character beginning shot and from the off, it is monumentally disappointing to note that in a gaming series which by this one was into it’s EIGHTH game, we are treated to a hodgepodge of characters none of whom have any personality at all, save for Mog’s in Story Mode but we’ll get there.
Mario had enough characters to pluck out of their games that it was sorta acceptable to fill it with a couple of slightly less well-known ones. Instead, what we get is what Diddy Kong Racing does and shove in seven characters alongside Chocobo who don’t really have any business being there. If you’d given us the slightly more likeable characters from across the series’ history, fine. I mean, you can unlock Cloud and Squall after story mode is completed – as well as Bahamut and Cactuar… but really? – but those two aren’t fun characters. They’re not going to have a jolly in this game, are they? You want the Cait Siths and Gaus and Setzers to join in… The comedy relief characters who you can imagine getting involved in racing mute chocobos.
So in Story Mode, you’re quickly introduced to the game’s pop-up style of story-telling, which is quaint but actually quite disappointingly done, and you meet Cid and Mog pretty much right from the word go. Mog’s character is very much a “I WILL BE THE HERO OF THIS GAME!” level of annoying but at least he doesn’t speak in constant streams of ‘kupo’ like his usual brethren in-game. Having said this, Chocobo himself only speaks in occasional utterances of ‘Kweh’ so we’re not spared that much, unfortunately.
The story itself involves finding out more about some blue crystals and finding them all and to be honest, I wasn’t paying too much attention because Story Mode in a racing game is dull and ain’t nobody got time for that. Let’s head straight into the arcade mode where the real nitty gritty starts!
From the off, you get your standard eight characters, as previously mentioned, and they’re all presented in the form of 2D sprites, much in the same vein as Mario Kart 64. It’s cheating, let’s be honest, and it does tend to look very lazy and laboured. The animation of the characters is generally very lacklustre and the sprite tactic tends to make the track feel as though it’s racing around the character as opposed to the other way around. And if you’ve read my review of Street Racer – which is a prime example of how NOT to do it – then you’ll know that this can feel very disconcerting.
As well as this, Coocoocachoo Racing tends to fall down on presentation outside of the game’s sprites. Everything feels very lacklustre in general. The textures are bland for the most part and the 3D is tremendously generic looking. There appears to be very little in the way of graphical finesse. Sure, the clouds are 3D in the backgrounds but the sky’s a fairly limp gradient, trees are pixellated messes and the tracks tear as you climb up minor hills and down even less minor dips. You often see lines of blue appearing in the distance and you worry if that’s actually a graphical glitch or something that your opponents have dropped onto the track.
Basically, we found the school of ‘meh’. And even then, they almost failed the classes. It’s a sort of C+ level of ‘meh’ and given that it’s 1999 and we’ve had four years of the Playstation by now, that’s actually tantamount to a fail, let’s be honest.
Now, much in the same way that fighting games live or die by a few certain criteria, racing games suffer from a similar fate. I would say ‘sadly’ suffer from a similar fate but I fear the ‘sad’ part would be misinterpreted. I mean, the game is sad, let’s get that out there. It’s just not unhappy sad. It’s pathetic sad.
The bad kind of sad.
“They’re both bad.”
I KNOW. BUT GO WITH ME HERE.
So the characters are ALMOST secondary here because you could actually have a decent racing game without characters. You could just be YOU in a car and off you pop. You know. Like the old days.
Goddammit, I feel old now.
You can also get away with the graphics being a bit pap. You can actually see everything and you won’t get lost or anything… but one thing that won’t fly is the fact that the way this game plays is tantamount to kart-gaming treason.
It plays like arse.
OH GOD IT PLAYS LIKE ARSE.
Chocolate Bun Racing suffers from being a generic, dull, limp and lifeless attempt at trying to cash in. Yes, we had the pretty opening sequence and and we do at least have the nods to Final Fantasy that people will either be all like “I LOVE THE FACT THEY REFERENCED THE EARLY GAMES AND KEPT THE DESIGNS OF THE CHARACTERS!” or “WHO EVEN ARE THESE DICKHEADS? CAN’T I PLAY AS BARRET AND SHOOT EVERYONE WITH ME GUN HAND?”. The rest of the game just plays poorly. The karts don’t differ from character to character, they all slide around the track and skid around corners in a way that suggests it wanted to try drifting but couldn’t commit to it. You gather all sorts of power-ups but they either don’t do anything or they work almost too well.
And by that, essentially, if you get hit by a power-up, you might as well get ready to play catch-up because FUCK THIS SYSTEM OF POWER-UPS. FUCK IT TO FIELDS OUTSIDE MY WINDOW AND BACK. I DON’T EVEN HAVE FIELDS OUTSIDE. BUT I’M SURE THERE ARE FIELDS SOMEWHERE. FIND THE FIELDS AND FUCK THIS GAME TO THERE AND BACK PLEASE. THANK YOU.
You have your standard speed boosts and shields and flame power-ups that shoot a bullet of flame out. You get lightning power-ups that destroy a range of characters. You have an ice one that causes the kart to slide about… there isn’t anything WRONG with the power-ups as such. They do what they’re meant to.
BUT WHAT THEY DO IS STOP YOUR KART DEAD.
Like actually dead in its track. You get hit, fly off the top of the screen, flop about like a dead fish and then you’re back on your way. It’s not so much an inconvenience in so much as a downright dirty tactic. See, getting hit in other kart games sets you off track a bit. You don’t get stopped DEAD and then have to get back up to speed again… at least in the good ones that is. You will literally go from 80mph to 0mph in the space of a finger-click and then your opponents get further and further away from you.
AND IT DOESN’T WORK. IT’S FRUSTRATING. IT’S NOT FAIR. It lacks the balance necessary to be a good, actual, properly-working system.
One positive thing is that every character does inherently pick out a power-up that they can use when a gauge fills up. It fills up over time during the race and that is a genius idea. You can get speed boost, shields and even things like wings to fly over everyone to avoid ground attacks. THAT. IS. A. GOOD. IDEA.
However, Charmeleon Racing does suffer from another weakness: track design. It is either too simple or WAY too complex. In fact, sometimes, the power-up system feels like a waste of time because the track design gets in the way. Speed boosts only last if you don’t brake your vehicle and most of the time, the tracks don’t have the languid corners or straights you need to use those kinds of power-ups without them seeming pointless to use. And there are only seven tracks to begin with, none of which are very exciting. Even the Final Fantasy victory music can’t save them from being good.
And so, Chamois Bops Racing just doesn’t cut it in the karting genre at all. It’s lacking any presence because there really is nothing to sink your teeth into. It feels very underdone to the point of being almost raw. As I said, it feels like they carbon copied Mario Kart and then forgot what to do afterwards… and then made it worse somehow.
Chumbawumba Racing is a very sad excuse for the karting that isn’t even as fun as the Chocobo Racing in Final Fantasy VII AND THAT WAS THE LEAST AMOUNT OF FUN IN THAT GAME.
That and levelling up Aerith only to…
Oh no. I nearly spoiled a 19-year-old game. I should feel ashamed of myself.
I’m not even sorry.