Nippon Marathon Review
This is, unfortunately, not a race worth running.
At first glance, Nippon Marathon sounds great. It’s a game that immediately brings to mind the wacky antics of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, the comedically-dubbed satire of the old “Takeshi’s Castle” game show from Japan. Actually, it’s as if Nippon Marathon is trying to invoke just about all the craziness traditionally associated with Japanese media. Its racing courses are filled with all manner of silly obstacles ranging from packs of Shiba Inu to exploding sake vats or even just oncoming traffic. Its main characters are each outlandish in their own way. One dude’s obsessed with lobsters, Nishibori is crazy about Narwhals, Zenbei is an old man who thinks he’s a teenage girl (with a voice to match), and Snuguru is literally a dog-man (and yes, no one ever acknowledges it). The developers definitely had a vision for Nippon Marathon, and it does manage to shine through in these elements; it’s just not enough to make up for the game’s weaknesses.
The elements of a fun game are present in Nippon Marathon, but there’s unfortunately not a whole lot of fun to be had. The meat of the game is experienced through running its race courses. Up to four players can race at a time, and they’re all competing to be the most popular contestant by the end of the course. Coming in first on each leg of the course or pulling-off impressive moves increases popularity, and placing poorly or succumbing to a course hazard will decrease it.
Every course available to compete on is that wacky kind of dangerous one would expect from a stereotypically over-the-top Japanese game show, and legs of each course are often interrupted with random quiz shows or slot machine spins. Racers will even be grabbed out of the race and made to do a quick mini-game for no discernible reason. This all sounds like fun at first, and it is for the first couple of times. After that though, the random games and quizzes become more annoying than charming. It probably wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the races didn’t have a tendency to feel overlong.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with races being really long…in racing games. Nippon Marathon is set up to be a party game though, and party games are at their best when the action is short and intense. To its credit, Nippon Marathon tries to keep the races feeling short by breaking them up into multiple legs, but it doesn’t really succeed in distracting players from the fact that the actual race is taking a very long time to finish. It also doesn’t help that the controls never quite feel like they’re working properly.
Racers can jump or duck under obstacles, dive to make it across large gaps, and use random items to either give themselves a boost or hinder their opponents. It’s a fairly simple and mostly functional set-up, but there’s a subtle lack of consistency to it that often leaves one wondering why they didn’t clear a jump, make it under an obstacle, or manage a turn like they thought they would. Meanwhile, the camera is pulled out too far to keep proper track of one’s racer amidst the chaos. Finally, it’s difficult to tell what exactly each item does. Melons and pineapples function like the shells from Mario Kart, but everything else is kind of mysterious in its function. These problems all extend into the game’s other two party modes and the single player campaign.
Nippon Marathon has two additional party game modes on offer besides the normal race courses. Players can compete in “L.O.B.S.T.E.R. Runs,” which are randomly generated obstacle courses in which the goal is to run the farthest. It’s set up kind of like a racing version of horse. On player sets a goal and the other has to exceed it. If they do, then the first player gets another chance. If they can’t beat the new distance, then they get a letter. Once one gets a letter, then the course is altered in some way. Either more time extenders will be added, or the course will be remixed with new obstacles. This goes until one player has a two letter disadvantage, and that often takes a lot longer than one would like. Alternatively, players can take in a round of “Go-Go Trolley” (aka shopping cart bowling). Just aim the cart, get a running start, dive on in, and hope you make it past the obstacles. Whoever scores the most points after five frames wins. This alright for the most part, but the physics and pin counter are off just enough to spoil any investment one might have in it.
As for the story, it’s not bad. It’s actually kind impressive that Onion Soup Interactive went ahead and included a full single player campaign with different stories for each of its main characters. They didn’t have to do that, and the effort is appreciated. Each story plays out in a similar manner: your character has something odd to prove about themselves and they’ve decided that the best way to do it is to win the Nippon Marathon. They’ll have to beat the race’s “evil” ten-time champion, Handsome Hazuki, in order to do so though. One must win each race in order to advance, and the reward for doing so is another look into how these characters think, and ultimately seeing what they do once they win. It’s not quite enough to keep one invested in the game, but it is mildly entertaining. Onion Soup put some effort into these characters and it shows.
Overall, Nippon Marathon is an interesting game hampered by frustrating design decisions and a generally unappealing visual aesthetic. Its races and mini-games could absolutely be fun with a few adjustments, but they just aren’t in their current state. Every race and game mode takes way too long to complete, the controls are inconsistent, and it’s far too easy to lose track of ones racer amidst all the chaos on screen. The story mode is a nice and much appreciated touch featuring delightfully wacky characters, but it suffers from the same problems as the rest of the game. Check this one out if you enjoy gaming oddities, but you’re otherwise better off leaving it be.
- Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
- Published By: PQube
- Developed By: Onion Soup Interactive
- Genre: Party Game
- US Release Date: December 17, 2018
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Nippon Marathon has the potential to be a fun party game, but its technical and design shortcomings prevent it from being a race worth running."