J Darwin’s dead grandpa sent you a letter via an agency, after being hit by a meteorite, something he appears to have predicted. Anyway, the letter qualifies Darwin to enter the Nippon Marathon! There’s a story. It’s a bit mad. As is this game.
There are hints of corruption going down in this visual-novel story mode and you’ll unravel the craziness through four separate tales, it’s more expansive than expected and though never deep, is filled with plenty of laughs. Lovely stuff.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way here, immediately. Nippon Marathon, for the most part, has the production values of Goat Simulator running on a broken treadmill; a very janky framerate with masses of slowdown, extremely low poly model, sluggish menus, excessive load times (on Switch), input lag, unpredictable physics, the list goes on and on… and Nippon Marathon wears these blemishes with pride!
San, Ni, Ichi… Hajime!
Put off? Don’t be, because Nippon Marathon is a drunken game of Takeshi’s Castle combined with the spirit of Japanese TV ads and some downright silliness that only insane minds can spawn. To which I say, thank you Onion Soup Interactive, you’ve made my week.
Nippon Marathon, as the title suggests, is a race through the streets of Japan but, outside the TV station and the spectators, much of the rest of Japan is carrying on as usual. Races consist of four people, all vying for stars, popularity votes and bonus points. In practice this plays out like Micro Machines meets Octodad with Mario Kartstyle weaponry. A party run ‘em up, if you will. No, that’s terrible, ignore that.
Can Lobsters Qualify
Who’s racing? Well, there are plenty of runners to choose from such as an old guy in a girl’s school uniform (of which he has no recollection of donning), a human dog, a dude dressed as a lobster, a fella with a mean ‘stache named Handsome Hazuki (no onemesses with the Champion, Hazuki, not even Hazuki), Elizabeth Nishibori rocking an awesome ‘unicorn’ horn, celebrity-types and other normies. Mechanically everyone plays the same and has their score weighted in the same way, but I found my favourites quickly enough.
While you may expect the general goal to be ‘win the race’, this is but one aspect of the ugly, misshapen, wonderfully beautiful scoring system. In reality, score calculation is more akin to Mario Party than a conventional race. End of race multipliers are awarded for anything from how many homing melons you successfully launched, to who was the smelliest, adding to your cache of stars and positively or adversely affecting your popularity score. To jump back and explain the Micro Machines comparison a bit, you gain stars, the biggest points earner, by out-pacing your opponents until they fall back to the edge of the screen, facing elimination one-by-one, the last runner remaining “gains a star” (a phrase you’ll come to love once you hear how it’s voiced). You’ll benefit from unfair advantages as often as you fall foul of a stray girder.
Nippon Marathon’s about breaking through panes of glass, knocking over boxes, jumping off buildings, escaping from dogs and running through a room of monks doing their tax returns. Sincerely, this is the tip of the iceberg. Jumping and diving down a water slide is extremely satisfying and some of the ragdoll stunts wouldn’t be out of place in a Trialsgame.
Your travels will take you through bullet trains, cities, snowy mountains, temples and fishing villages, each with unique elements for you to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge. Anyone familiar with Japanese video game and anime culture will feel right at home.
Win a Round, Gain a Star
Versus mode is the go-to mode, offering the chance to string races together in a half or full marathon, or to simply choose one of the games cool-as-heck locales for a single race.
Rounding off the modes are the party games. There’s L O B S T E R (think H.O.R.S.E.), where you take turns running through a Takeshi’s Castle-style obstacle course. This got highly competitive due to some very close scores and added a nice change of pace. Then there’s Go Go Trolley! which is human 10-pin bowling with shopping trolleys. And it’s glorious.
What do you do with Mushrooms? Love them Because of Social Media Trolls
The music’s silly and catchy; it serves to compliment the fantastic performance of the commentator. Lines aren’t particularly varied but this isn’t the type of game you’re likely to play for hours at a time; it’s a pick and play effort so most of the charm should remain for the most part.
There’s nothing quite like a drop-in/drop-out four-player local multiplayer round of Nippon Marathon. It takes a special kind of ridiculousness to have the whole family burst out laughing at the on-screen action. Honestly, when Wedy Jones, comes down from the sky to conduct an interview in a quick-fire round of nonsense, you’re in for a treat. Hitting one of the four buttons to string a panicked, makeshift sentence together makes for some excellent word-foolery.
It’s just a shame then, for a game that clearly knows it’s no technical showpiece, the performance and load times are as bad as they are on Switch. It’s easily offset by the modest price point, though so get your fill!
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Don’t miss out on Wedy’s Travel Guide (‘a guide to folklore, etiquette and other useful info and top tips!’) which offers some fun, comedy reading through its unlockable pages.
Format: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Price: £11.99 (UK eShop)
Developer: Onion Soup Interactive
Age Rating: PEGI
Release Date: 17/12/18 (UK eShop)
Review copy provided by publisher