Kotobuki Grand Prix – Retro Review

A rather disappointing kart racing game

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Racing through a city. Image Credit – GameFAQs

Kart racing games are incredibly fun games that are not to be taken seriously. Realism is thrown out the window in favour of colourful characters, wacky weapons and creative tracks. Examples of good and hugely fun kart racing games are Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing and Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing. With all that said is Kotobuki Grand Prix a fun racing game? Does it belong with greatest of its genre? Unfortunately, no. Kotobuki Grand Prix isn’t a great kart racing game and sadly isn’t all that fun.

 

Gameplay

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It doesn’t matter which character you select, every vehicle handles poorly. Image Credit – GameFAQs

No matter what kind of racing game it is whether it be a racing simulator, arcade racer or a kart racer, gameplay is king. If the gameplay for a racing game is bad then the package just falls apart and unfortunately this is the case for Kotobuki Grand Prix. Each of the characters vehicles have different stats, some have brilliant acceleration and poor handling and some have all-round stats. However, stats for vehicles don’t matter in Kotobuki Grand Prix as they all handle poorly like a shopping trolley with butter on the wheels. Stats really don’t matter, sure you can detect slight changes between the vehicles but they all handle like a bobsleigh with soap bars for wheels.

Weapons in kart racers are supposed to be wacky, weird and wonderful. Things such as bananas, chemical bottles and missile rockets have been used in these types of games and every weapon has a use. Kotobuki Grand Prix fails here too. All the weapons except for one are dull, bland and boring. There is a hammer which when used can hit other characters by the side of you. There is a pot or pan and when used it magically appears from the sky and hits the racer in front of you on the head. Another weapon is a fireball that you don’t fire but sort of consume. Your character glows red and if you bump into opponents you’ll set them on fire and they will stop moving. There isn’t anything flashy or interesting that makes these weapons feel special. The only weapon I like is a little ghost, use him and he will send the other racers off course. The only reason why I like the ghost weapon is because the ghost looks absolutely adorable and has his tongue sticking out.

Courses are important for a kart racing game. The game needs enough tracks to go round to stop it from feeling stale. The tracks have to be creative, fun and look good. Mario Kart is known for them (Rainbow Road, Bowser’s Castle) and so is Crash Team Racing (Hot Air Skyway) but how are Kotobuki Grand Prix’s courses? They are dull, bland, uninteresting and boring. Prepare yourself for familiarity as there are only six courses and hidden one that you have to unlock. Altogether there are seven tracks and every single one of them feels uninspired and boring. If you stick with this game you’ll be seeing the same circuits a lot and I mean a lot.

 

Sound

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The main theme is catachy at first but after a while, you’ll start to hate it. Image Credit – GameFAQs

Great music isn’t essential for a kart racer but it helps with creating the atmosphere for the track and it can make a track memorable. Unfortunately Kotobuki Grand Prix fails here too. The main theme which you hear when you see the title screen is actually pretty cool and is rather upbeat however, the charm soon fades away. What is a rather fun and catchy theme becomes annoying and irritating as it loops after about 30-40 seconds. Not only does it loop but it carries on into the other menus in the game and it starts to wear you down. The same theme plays when you go into the options, when you choose your character and when you decide which course you want to go on. The main theme may be upbeat and fun but after hearing the same 30-40 second loop over and over I started to develop a hatred for it. I heard the damn thing in my sleep for a couple of days.

The music for the courses whilst aren’t irritating they are incredibly dull, you won’t be remembering these. As there aren’t many tracks you’ll be hearing them a lot so the bad music can bring down the vibe. I advise you to play some music whilst playing this as you’ll get bored with the music that is on offer.

So we have an irritating main theme that loops and dull, uninspired music for the courses. Could the game’s music and sound get worse? Yes, yes it could. Each vehicle has a noise to it so you can hear it going but the sounds are terrible. Some of the vehicles sound like a lawnmower that’s about to conk out or a drain gurgling. The vehicle sounds are bad and are of very poor quality. Crash Team Racing came in the same year as this game and it has much better sound (better everything really).

 

Story

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Each character has a backstory which I think is rather cool. This one made me laugh. Image Credit – PSX Data Center

Story isn’t essential for a kart racing game but some do implement them like Crash Team Racing or Modnation Racers. Kotobuki Grand Prix does have a story and each character does have an ending but the story isn’t that interesting and the character endings aren’t amazing either. The “cutscenes” are static and play out like a visual novel so you’ll be reading a lot. You get a bit of backstory about the characters when you play each of them which is pretty cool. Whilst they could have fleshed out the characters a bit more, I do give the developers props for making attempt though.

Characters stories are accessed through the Kotobuki GP mode which is as it says, a Grand Prix. You have to go through several races and earn a select amount of medals in order to unlock the final race and to win the tournament. You’d think a Grand Prix mode would liven things up a bit, they do in Mario Kart and Sonic and Sega Allstars Racing but it doesn’t. It’s just more monotonous racing and the end result isn’t worth it.

Graphics

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A race in Kotobuki Grand Prix. Image Credit – GameFAQs

The graphics aren’t brilliant but they aren’t absolutely awful either. They could be a lot better given that the game released in 1999 in Japan (it didn’t release in the west until 2002 for some unknown reason). Crash Team Racing (CTR) which also released in 1999 looks a hundred times better visually.

The character models for Kotobuki Grand Prix aren’t terrible looking but when compared to CTR, they look poorly done. The same applies to the courses as well. There are one or two courses in Kotobuki Grand Prix that look rather nice but the rest look horrible and are not very nice to look at.

There are some weird graphical bugs that happen. I won a race and as my character was punching the air in victory, his arm disappeared (feel free to leave Monty Python jokes in the comments below). Another bug is when you start the race and the camera goes through the floor, sometimes through the racer and then behind you. This particular problem happened to me several times as I played Kotobuki Grand Prix.

 

Artwork

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The artwork is absolutely delightful. Image Credit – PSX Data Center

One area which this game does well is its artwork. I love the artwork for Kotobuki Grand Prix. It has an anime style but it has its own flair and it is really charming. You’ll see the artwork during the story mode cutscenes and load screens. There’s quite a few different pieces of artwork and they are all pretty and pleasing to look at. I just wish that this game had a gallery so I could admire the art outside of the aforementioned times. If the gallery was implemented and I had to unlock the art, it would have given me something to work towards and would have pushed me to keep playing.

 

Replayability

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The character select screen. Image Credit – PSX Data Center

Each character has their own story and ending which adds to the overall replayability the game but the question I have here is, why would you? The gameplay is boring and dull and it was slog for me to work through them all and by the end of it all, it didn’t feel worth it.

It is up to the player if they want to go through each characters story but I’ll say this, you’ll be frustrated with the handling of the vehicles and/ or bored because nothing interesting is happening.

Kotobuki Grand Prix does have a have a two-player mode which whilst the gameplay is still poor, can be fun as you can watch your friend struggle with the handling of the vehicles.

 

Verdict

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Just starting a race. Image Credit – PSX Data Center

Kotobuki Grand Prix is a bad and disappointing game. I wanted it to be good but the game has so many glaring flaws that it is hard to like it. The game has great artwork but unfortunately that is the only thing about Kotobuki Grand Prix that is great. The vehicles handle like a bathtub going downhill and there aren’t many courses which means you’ll be replaying them a lot and that isn’t helped the design of the tracks, as they are all bland and soulless. It also doesn’t help that Crash Team Racing released in the same year (of its Japanese release) and is better game in every single aspect.

I wanted Kotobuki Grand Prix to be good, I really did but after playing it I’d rather play another kart racer from that time like Crash Team Racing, Speed Freaks and Mario Kart 64. All of which are better kart racing games in every single way.

 

Score: 3/10

 

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