In an increasingly unwelcome trend, mascot-based racing games seem to be popping up almost as frequently as snowboarding games, and with about as much success. Sure, the original Mario Kart was a enough of a blast that Nintendo decided to make a graphically superior, gameplay-inferior version in MK64. Then came Diddy Kong Racing (boring), Sonic R (OK, but at least it was in full 3D), Rockman Battle & Chase (yawn), Bomberman Fantasy Race (ick), and now, Chocobo Racing for the PlayStation. Apparently, there is no stone that Square is willing to leave unturned, because this game is nothing more than a tired rehash of almost everything that's come before it.
Perhaps encouraged by the Chocobo mini-racing game found in Final Fantasy VII, Square decided to go the full monty by developing a full-on racing game featuring the eponymous Chocobo and his Final Fantasy cohorts (Mog and a slew of monsters and wizards anyone familiar with Final Fantasy will recognize). Nothing like the oft-rumored Chocobo de Battle, Chocobo Racing features a strong lineup of gameplay features that will certainly give gamers fair value. GP mode, story mode, relay mode, time attack, etc. flesh out the available options. You start the game (any mode will do) by picking your character. Then, from a preset list, you must pick a skill (speed burst, angel wings, fireballs, etc.), which you can use in the race when the appropriate meter fills up. During the course of the race, power-ups lie in rows across the track, much like the power-ups found in Mario Kart 64. If you choose not to use them immediately, you can scoop up more than one and carry them in a chain behind you as you race. Other track elements like ice patches will impede your progress should you run across one.
While all of this sounds like good clean fun, it should be noted that Chocobo Racing is as boring as it gets. At no point during this game do you really feel compelled to keep racing. You've done all this before, and usually you've done it better than this. The graphics are a second-generation blend of 3D backgrounds and 2D sprites, and the characters are not nearly as well-animated or good-looking as those in Mario Kart 64. The track suffers from some pretty serious draw-in problems, although the game does maintain a consistent frame rate. Special effects and sprites pixelate badly when viewed close up, and the whole game reeks of a "me too" effort. For those interested in the two-player functions, you should be warned that while the game manages to look decent during split-screen racing, it isn't much fun simply because of a lack of urgency that permeates the whole game. Track design is unnecessarily complicated at times, presumably to offer challenge, but it's really just bad track design. This is exacerbated by the fact that the controls are iffy and don't offer the right feedback for a game with such poor track design. In its defense, there is a vehicle-edit option that lets you customize your "car" to your liking. Secret characters like Cloud Strife, Squall Leonhart, and other Final Fantasy stalwarts await your discovery.
Overall, this game is really a wasted effort on Square's part because it could have been so much more. In fact, the more one plays this game, the more its flaws become apparent. This is a lame abuse of the license when it could have been kick-ass, with a virtual horse-breeder and jockeys riding polygonal Chocobos. Instead, this is just a really poor game. Please, rent first before committing to a purchase.