The award for the craziest game I’ve played in 2018 goes to… Nippon Marathon! I can’t think of any other game I’ve played where you get the chance to ride shopping trollies, race against lobsters and narwhals, become an old man dressed in a Sailor Moon costume, or dodge a barrage of ‘Doge’ dogs! As soon as I saw the game was being published by PQube, I knew it would be something special, they don’t publish your average by-the-numbers games!
If I had to compare the frantic action of Nippon Marathon to any other game which is out there, I would say “imagine Goat Simulator crossed with Micro Machines and a hint of your favourite Japanese visual novel”. Onion Soup Interactive has developed a rather unique game which will leave you with a lot of questions as you watch the many WTF moments act out in front of you. If you’re still looking for that special game to play this Christmas, either solo or with a bunch of mates, read on as I believe I’ve found your answer…
Nippon Marathon can be played solo or in multiplayer, the main portion of this review will be in relation to the single player aspect of the game, I’ll touch on the multiplayer and the bonus games later on.
Our story begins with one of four rather unusual and unique characters. We have a girl who dresses as a pink unic..narwhal, a guy dressed as a lobster, an anamorphic dog, and a senior citizen dressed in a teenage girls sailor outfit – there is literally something for everyone, providing that ‘everyone’ consists of very strange people. I chose to be the old guy in a dress as he is clearly the most Kawaii of the bunch!
I don’t want to give away the story, as all four stories intertwine with each other the further you get with each character having their own sub-stories here and there. Let’s just say that no matter who you choose, you’re in for a pretty crazy ride – in more ways than one! The general gist of all the stories is that there is a new ‘ultimate team’ being put together by a mysterious person, your character has been chosen to replace one of the ones who are currently in the ‘A group’. Along the way, the other team members of the elite group try and stop you from becoming as good as them by participating in the same races as you in an attempt to distract you from winning.
These stories are all batshit crazy and I highly recommend you play through them all, even if you’ve only picked up the game for its multiplayer fun!
Nippon Marathon was an early access title, and it shows. The downside is, it still kind of looks like an Early Access title even though it’s now out on all consoles as a finished product. However, after playing through the story I can safely say that the janky controls, crazy animations, disregard for physics, and pure mental gameplay, is all a design choice and it was intentionally created like this – think Goat simulator. The game can be broken down into four aspects – The race, The story, The bonus games, and The Multiplayer. So let’s begin…
Nippon Marathon is a brilliant, yet bonkers, race from point A to B which sees our characters take on everything from sweeping monks to waves of Geishas. Controls are nice and simple, the Left stick is used to move your characters in any direction, you can jump, dive, and duck with the face buttons, and use or eat the item you pick up in both hands with L1 for the left hand and R1 for the right hand. I didn’t miss-type there, you can actually eat the items you pick up for a speed boost if you want that instead of the items ability. Otherwise, you can use a pineapple balloon to float as you jump, the poisonous mushroom damages your opponent’s health, the banana leaves a peel behind, and the watermelon is a guided missile-like projectile.
The controls do take a bit of getting used to as it is a fast-paced game where loads of things will be happening on screen at the same time. However, there are two distinct similarities that come to mind when racing, Micro Machines and Runner…
In Micro Machines, your goal is to outpace the others so that you’ve pushed them off the screen by being a certain distance in front of them. Nippon Marathon has the same aspect towards ‘how to win’. Simply overcome the obstacles and ensure you stay ahead of the others and you’re bound to win – as long as you don’t get hit by a car and ping off into unknown territory! But how do you overcome the obstacles? You either jump over them or duck under them – just like you do in the Runner series. Oh, this is all whilst avoiding the many exploding crates, items thrown at you from your opponents, and random events such as a swam of dogs, all whilst keeping an eye on what’s about to happen next as there’s a surprise around every corner in Nippon Marathon.
As you play the races, you’ll randomly get sent to mini-game segments where you must string together the name of a TV show or event you would like to see or try and escape out of a rat-maze. These serve to increase your popularity (and overall score at the end) as well as a nice distraction from the race.
Okay, I was expecting a few lines here or there in regards to the story. What I got was a full-on visual novel as the core element and the racing taking second place! This is where you begin to see just how crazy the developers are as the story is probably one of the wackiest things I’ve read this year and the movie cutscenes are just pure slapstick. Thinking back to Goat simulator, the ‘movie scenes’ follow the same law of physics – a very broken one. You’ll see people walking about and bumping into people causing them to roll into others and knock them down like dominoes, people bend into inhuman positions as they move around obstacles, and everyone walk like they didn’t make it to the toilet in time!
However, the low-quality live-action cutscenes are clearly designed like that and really adds to the charm and humour of the game. I found myself laughing at the crazy things happening due to the physics more than the actual dialogue in some cases – not all though as the dialogue is quite unique. I’ve played through the entire story of Zenbei, as I couldn’t pull myself away from the PS4 upon starting the game – literally, my dinner got cold because I refused to stop playing and take it out of the oven! This single campaign took me about 4 hours, including the races and story elements, and I believe most of that was due to the inability to skip any story segments. Now, I didn’t want to skip but there were times when I wished I could hit Cross and speed things up as I read quite fast, but you have to wait a few seconds for a symbol to appear before you can press and move on. That’s my one criticism for the story.
Oh, there is also no English vocals within the story mode, we do get some small soundbites and the occasional scream from Sarah and her sister, but that’s about it.
The Bonus Games:
As Nippon Marathon was an Early Access title for a while over on PC, the game started off kind of bare bones and then had features and modes added over time. On consoles, we get everything all included in this final release of the game – this includes the bonus games and the in-game shop. There are two bonus games you can pick from the menu, both of which are made for more than one player only – but you all use the same controller so you could technically play with yourself if you wish. First up we have Shopping Trolly Bowling! Line up your cart, dive into it and in pure Jackass style, knock over as many bowling pins as you can! The second game is L.O.B.S.T.E.R – a randomly generated course where you see who can get the furthest without falling off. This mode reminded me of Wipeout (the TV show).
The in-game shop allows you to use the money you earn whilst playing the single player to unlock new characters in the multiplayer modes and a few new settings such as disabling mid-story mini-games.
I imagine you can guess what this aspect of the game is! You can play all of the various courses with up to four players in total. The actual races get pretty crazy and a lot more fun when it’s made up of four humans all sat on the couch trying to beat each other in this magnificent manic marathon. The two minigames, bowling and L.O.B.S.T.E.R, can be played with up to eight players in each mode as you play one after another and share the same pad, rather than all playing together and using your own input device.
I’ve played a few races in multiplayer and I can see how this would cause people to get rather competitive – Maybe this could be your go-to game when you need a break from Overcooked 2 or Melbits World?
I’m on the fence with Nippon Marathon – I know just by looking at it that the developers have opted for a rather simplistic look and feel for their game as well as adding broken/messed up physics as an intentional mechanic. However, looking in from the outside, I would forgive anyone who takes one look and passes this off as a cheap indie title with no care put into it or design choice at all. Now, I’m not saying that’s true, but visually it does look rather simplistic. However, once you actually start playing it, you get drawn into its crazy nature and the whole thing just feels perfect for the visual style they have gone for. Also, with the amount of crap happening on screen, I imagine certain consoles would probably buckle under the amount of ‘real physics’ which would have to be in play.
I have one complaint with the audio within the races, the volume sliders aren’t good enough. We have a slider for the overall sounds and one for the music – but none for the vocals. Why is this important to me? The commentary within the race is bloody brilliant! It’s a Japanese guy speaking in English as he comments on what’s happening but it’s full of WTF moments and obvious observations that actually had me cracking up more than once as I was mid-race. The issue was, the sound effects and music tend to drown it out quite often and I missed a lot of what was being said.
Regarding voices, you can swap between Japanese or English soundbites for the story segments – this doesn’t change a lot but it does mean certain phrases which are said when playing the story are verbally spoken in either language. One thing I do love about the audio though is the music. There is a song by Diana Garnet, who sang the ending theme song to Naruto: Shippuden, as well as a bunch of other stereotypical music tracks which you would expect in a game like this. Don’t take that the wrong way though, the music is great and really gets you in the mood for all the crazy events.
Also, sticking with the low-budget style, when in story mode the music swaps tracks a lot without any kind of subtle change. It’ll be one track for someone talking, another for the next, then back to the original for the other guy. It is a bit jarring, but again, I believe it’s part of the design choice and it adds to the charm of the game.
Nippon Marathon is one of the craziest games you’ll play in 2018 either solo or in multiplayer. The game is intentionally created to look like a very low-budget title with poor animations, physics, and visuals, but that’s all part of the charm and the game shouldn’t be overlooked because of this. Once you get into the race, the whole event becomes really competitive if your playing with friends and exciting if you’re playing solo. If you decide to brave the solo story mode (which you should), you’ll be greeted with four intertwining stories to play through, each with their own protagonist and hilarious story to uncover. Seriously, this is one game where you shouldn’t ‘judge a book by its cover’ as inside it’s an explosion of Japanese wackiness!
So, if you’re looking for a game to play with friends or family, or if you’re just looking for a game which will make you literally laugh out loud constantly, Nippon Marathon is awaiting your purchase!
- - Absolutely mental racing game where you're attacked by more things than Paperboy was!
- - Very funny story with a surprising amount of content
- - Four characters, all with their own story as they head for the same goal
- - Tonnes of fun with other people, just as fun on your own
- - You can play as a retired Salaryman in a girls sailor outfit
- - The visuals lave a lot to be desired (design choice)
- - Physics and animations are of Goat Simulator standard (design choice)
- - The amazing commentary is drowned out by the sound effects and music
- - No quicker way to progress through the story until the symbol appears
- - Sometimes you lose due to the physics, which feels unfair