There aren’t many subgenres in gaming with as pure of a vision as the R.C racer. Forgoing complex mechanics and controls for a style of gameplay that is easy to learn yet hard to master, generations of gamers have fond memories of huddling together on the couch to play R.C. Pro-Am, Super Mario Kart or Micro Machines. This simple re-creation of a kid playing with matchbox cars has again been condensed into a concise yet enjoyable formula in Chiki Chiki Boxy Racers, out now on Nintendo Switch.
Immediately upon starting you’ll be drawn in by the games blocky and colourful aesthetic. The nostalgic graphics and upbeat soundtrack set the tone for a game rooted in the casual fun of the couch co-op era that is increasingly rare today. The isometric perspective, a staple of the subgenre, also accentuates the vivid track design and makes you feel as though you are just a kid playing with R.C cars. There are two modes; Race will see you in a GP style tournament against CPU controlled opponents to unlock more vehicles and tracks, whilst battle contains some Mario Kart 64 inspired minigames from collecting coins to playing miniature soccer. It’s a neat distraction, though you will definitely need some friends to get the full value as this mode doesn’t support CPU opponents.
The games simplistic presentation also extends to the control scheme. Chiki Chiki eschews the traditional control setup where turning direction is relative to the cars orientation with respect to the camera, in favour of a more elegant approach. Players accelerate by simply pushing the analogue stick in the direction they wish to travel, with an additional button required to activate boosts collected throughout the level. It’s barebones, but it works here as it allows the player to focus on executing precision drifting around corners, which is the most viscerally exciting part of these kinds of games. The handling of the cars is suitably excellent, and their responsiveness will force you into a rhythm whereby you need to constantly look ahead, winding up to glide around the next corner at full speed. Though it makes the game a little easy for experienced players, it also means Chiki Chiki is perfect for gamers of all ages. I ran it through its paces with my 6-year-old cousin and we were both having a blast and finding challenge in our own desire to improve. For those with rusted on habits there is also an option to revert to a more traditional control scheme with dedicated buttons for accelerating. While a nice option to have, I found this mode to be a little unwieldy and would constantly spin out. It would have been nice to have a middle ground option or even a fully customisable control scheme that players could tailor to their specific tastes.
Though the game’s concise presentation and controls are a positive, the barebones nature of Chiki Chiki unfortunately carries over to its depth of content as well. There is a grand total of 3 courses in the game, with slight variations on each leading to 15 overall tracks to race on, and about 20 or so cars to unlock, each with varying speed and handling stats. This lack of content is compounded by the straightforward design of the tracks. Though they are certainly functional and designed with plenty of hairpins corners to drift around, there isn’t much variety, verticality or depth of mechanics with which to keep the player on their toes. Players who reminisce on the days of Mario Kart and its unique stage hazards and power ups will be disappointed by the lack of any kind of curveballs here. This level design would be fine if the developer was attempting to provide challenge primarily through the AI, but its disappointingly easy as well. Plenty of rubber banding means any seasoned racer will often shoot to the front of the pack and stay there without incident for the rest of the race. In the hour or so it took me to complete Chiki Chiki’s single player content I didn’t lose a race.
Take this assessment of the game with a grain of salt however, as the salvation of Chiki Chiki may be found in online competitions with real world players. As is expected, local multiplayer breathes extra life into the game, and the developer was no doubt banking on its online component to pad out the length of time that most players would stay engaged. Though this would help to extend the game’s lifespan and alleviate the AI issues, the game’s limited courses and lack of powerups still don’t lend themselves well to replayability. It’s also worth noting that following Nintendo’s decision to introduce its paid online subscription service this mode will be off limits to many players. But for those with friends, locally or online, who are looking to invest in a few hours of simple and nostalgic fun I can definitely recommend Chiki Chiki Boxy Racers.
Review by Dylan Cook
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