Takeshi’s Castle, now that’s a show that I could watch until the end of time. There’s something deviously hilarious about watching contestants fails, over and over, as they try to maneuver around challenge-ridden courses to come out on top. You would be forgiven for believing that a video game that follows a similar concept would be as much fun to play as that concept is to watch. Unfortunately, Onion Soup Interactive’s Nippon Marathon serves as the direct opposite. The shame in all of this is that I really wanted to like this game, but only found myself hating it.
The game is penned as a physics-heavy racer, in which players compete against one another to chase supremacy – those all important bragging rights. The game offers up a story mode, a versus mode, and party games. Outside of this, players can work to unlock pages in a travel guide that will ultimately hand out some useful tips. There’s also an in-game store that players can spend in-game cash on to obtain extra characters and added options. Finally, there’s a tutorial to dive into, but in all honesty, the game’s structure of play is very easy to understand.
We’ll get to the game’s story shortly. Nippon Marathon’s versus mode and party games encompass some quick fun for multiple players to dive into. In versus, you can take part in the events that you find in the game’s story; with the option to swiftly dive into single races, half marathon part one, half marathon part two, and full marathon. It’s a relatively straightforward affair. The party games, on the other hand, are likely Nippon Marathon’s strongest assets. Here, multiple players can choose dive into one of two games; L.O.B.S.T.E.R, and/or Go-Go-Trolley.
Go-Go-Trolley tasks you and your nearest and dearest with a light game of bowling, only instead of using a bowling ball, you’ll be operating a shopping trolley. In L.O.B.S.T.E.R, players will compete, in-turn, across a varying range of random courses. The aim of the game here is to make it further through the course than your opponent, with the winner crowned after several rounds of outlandish Takeshi’s Castle-like racing. Funnily enough, I found these games to be a hell of a lot more fun than anything else that the game has to offer. Make of that what you will.
Moving to the game’s story, and its many, many problems. In the game’s story, you’re free to select from one of four bizarrely designed characters; each arriving with their own backstories and plot points. I’ll be quite frank, the story is about as interesting as watching paint dry. I ran through the story with a Narwhal wannabe, and didn’t at all feel remotely compelled to run through it again with the varying characters. Nippon Marathon is based in Japan, and sees you racing through various locations until you hit that fabled checkered flag at the end of each run.
The game’s cutscenes will frequently break-up the pace of play, taking as many opportunities as possible to rant about boring story events that do nothing but serve to annoy. What’s worse, you’re not able to skip these or expedite the process that much, meaning that you’re forced to endure the non-stop ranting until your next race pops up. Cutscenes are filled with high-pitched screaming, over-the-top voice acting, as well as hit and (mostly) miss humor. The story, or rather its core structure, is lackluster to say the least. Perhaps that’s the point? I have no idea.
What I do know is that the damn thing pissed me off more times than I cared to count. Whether it’s its poor writing, its shoddy presentation, its lame attempt at being unique, or anything in between, I highly doubt this will please those that invest. Sadly, I cant say that the actual gameplay events are that much better. Players will take their selected character through a handful of distinctly designed courses, racing and battling every step of the way. Each course is chock-full of environmental hazards and weapon pick ups, put in place to encourage competition.
Throughout the course of any given race, the objective remains the same. You’ll need to knock out your opposition until you’re the last character standing. Successfully achieving this will grant you with a star, in which the player with the most stars at the end of each course will win. Whenever you’ve knocked out your opponents, you’ll start the race again at your latest checkpoint, which is never too far from the spot that you knocked out the last opponent. That all sounds rather simple on paper, right? Unfortunately in practice, it’s anything but simple.
Now, the game itself is easy to get to grips with. Players can jump, duck, move and dive. You’ll utilize these functions to avoid dangerous objects and death-drops, whilst picking up useful items to give you a quick edge. These items range from bad mushrooms and giant watermelons, right up to gigantic pineapples; each item bringing with it a particular trait. Looking to put the player in front of you on their ass? Throwing a watermelon will often be the best approach. Coming up to a large gap that you need to clear? The pineapple offers a huge jumping boost.
The foundation alone is well set, it’s just a shame that it hasn’t been built upon well enough. I daresay that that’s my biggest gripe. The game has a heap of potential, but it’s potential that’s never tapped into, nor even realized, due to the thick blend of poor design choices and technical issues. Whilst I rather enjoyed the diversity that each location in the game offered up, as well as its core concept, much of my enjoyment was short-lived or frequently interrupted. There’s no denying whatsoever that Nippon Marathon was nowhere near ready for release.
I lost count at how many times the game would crash at the end of a race, forcing me to boot it back up and endure all the story ranting that came before it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the game is jam-packed with framerate issues and buggy visual effects that cover the screen in thick, ugly pink lines. Then there’s the poor AI behavior. Other participants would stop in the tracks and start running in the opposite direction; forcing them to die off-screen. If they weren’t doing that, they would be headbutting the nearest wall as they try to work out where to go. It’s poor.
Then, ladies and gentlemen, there’s the game’s camera issues. Nippon Marathon wants you to stay out in front in order to win, but fails to properly chart the course due to the game’s horrendous camera movement. This only leads to unnecessary deaths as you die whilst in first place, due to the camera either not catching up quickly enough or moving in another direction entirely. There’s just no consistency per-race, making for a frustrating affair from start to finish. That’s the game’s heavier issues. I haven’t even begun to start upon the game’s minor issues.
Given that Nippon Marathon is a physics-based game, daft movement and rag-doll moments need to be forgiven to some degree. What I refuse to forgive is being catapulted off the screen for merely touching something that my three opponents have just touched, yet they merely fall to the ground whereas I seem to be heading into outer space. I wouldn’t mention this if it was an isolated occurrence, but it wasn’t. I had to put up with this crap time and time again. It didn’t help matters that character movement seems to be imprecise at all the wrong times.
For a game that places a lot of emphasis on quick thinking and swift reflex, all of the above is utterly unforgivable. Surely the soundtrack and the visuals make up for the slack? No. No they do not. The game’s visuals are disgustingly bland. I’ve seen budget Dreamcast games with better presentation than what’s present here. There’s no refinement whatsoever, and even the character models look hauntingly lifeless despite voicing an abundance of energy. The soundtrack also does very little to excite, repeating a tedious loop that gets very old, very fast.
There’s the occasional interesting idea thrown into the mix, such as how each race is randomly halted to make way for a minigame, but even these appear to be daft. One such minigame is quickly racing through a small maze, only, the AI will get stuck for the majority of play, leaving first place open for cheap grabs. Had Nippon Marathon spent more time baking in the oven, I daresay we could have had a decent party title for Christmas, but as it stands, the bad far outweighs the good here. This is one marathon that will indeed tire you out at the first mile.
Bringing your friends along for the ride may well alleviate much of the frustration, especially that of the poor AI, but even so, I highly doubt that the game’s lifespan will be lengthy. Yes, it’s funny to watch a dog jump onto another player and knock them over. Yes, it’s pretty neat to clear a builder’s swinging log whilst your competitors all take a whack. Yes, it’s nice to clear a large drop as everyone else falls to their doom. Though, these few moments of fun just don’t last long enough, and more often than not, fall prey to all of the aforementioned issues.
Nippon Marathon is a waste of digital space. The game’s seemingly fun Takeshi’s Castle-like concept is completely undermined by its several technical issues and questionable design choices. Even with that cluster-mess to the side, the game at its core attempts to be both wacky and innovative through the character of its outlandish foundation, but only comes off as poorly developed, boring, and ultimately frustrating.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.