Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: September 11, 1999
Speaking as someone who has played far more Mario Kart 64 (MK64) than can possibly be healthy for any single human, I am one of the many who wishes that a good, solid kart racing game would show up for the PSX. When I heard that Square was trying their capable hands at one, my heart leapt at the possibility. Yes, finally, here was the PSX’s chance to make the grade, and finally give us a decent arena other than MK64 to wage our four-player cart battles in. Needless to say, I was psyched.
The opening animation is in every way worthy of the Square brand, in that it is cut, polished, and finished to perfection. It displays each of the usable characters, and shows them using their unique talents in a wonderfully well animated race through a NASCAR-esque stadium. The Black Mage tosses lightning bolts, the stone golem moves like a brick wall (It makes sense, trust me.) and watching Chubby Chocobo meander his way down the track, dreaming of lollipops and pizza while everyone struggles behind him is a sight that is sure to induce laughter in most people.
The cast of characters is quite an eclectic one, and contains a good number of familiar faces, while still including a few new ones. Of course, the lead character is “Chocobo,” an ambiguously named little yellow chicken who is named for his species, kind of like Tarzan’s son, “Boy.” Fans of the Final Fantasy series will remember Chocobos as the forest-dwelling fowl who were used as a form of transportation. The Chocobo in Chocobo Racing is immediately distinguished from his more rural brethren by his jet powered rollerskates. Another familiar face is Mog the Moogle, who made his first appearances in Final Fantasy 3. He is the Daffy Duck of the game, in that he is constantly in competition with Chocobo and has a massive inferiority complex as a result. The black and white mages will also look familiar to anyone who has ever played Final Fantasy 1 or Final Fantasy Tactics, as they look nearly identical. They whiz along on their cloud and magic carpet, respectively, thus avoiding all ground based attacks. A few of the newer characters include a thieving goblin, an overweight chocobo, and a giant stone golem.
Chocobo Racing can be played in several different modes that range from the traditional to the unorthodox. The first is a long and involved story mode that gradually introduces new players to all of the characters and powerups as it tells the story of Chocobo’s quest to find all of the materia stones he can. If you don’t have the patience for that, though, there is also Grand Prix mode, which lets you select four courses to be run in succession, with a prize going to the one who scores the most points. The play options are filled out slightly with a “Relay Race” in which you choose a number of different players, and complete a lap with each, and of course the true meat of any kart racing game: the multi-player mode.
The races themselves are pretty standard fare and take place in a number of increasingly difficult locales, each containing a number of fun and original weapons and powerups that can be used to outrun or outgun the competition. These can range from simple speed boosters to more destructive fireballs and lightning bolts. Some of the more unconventional powerups include shrinking spells, death curses, and supernovas. These take a few interesting steps away from what is typically expected, in that not only can you collect these weapons, but you can store them for later use and even upgrade them to heighten their effectiveness. For example, if you pick up one ice spell and cast it, it will toss a patch of ice behind you that will slip up tailgaters. If you find a second ice spell, though, it will toss out a flurry of ice patches that will fill up a good section of the track. Matters are further complicated by the fact that these powerups are dragged right behind your kart as you run around upgrading them, which makes it a simple matter for someone to sneakily drive up behind you and snap them up to use for their own devious purposes.