Thursday, December 20

Review: Nippon Marathon [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There are certain types of games that can be hard to put a score on because they fall outside of normal expectations and are heavily dependent on whether you’re “in on the gag”. Physics games often fall into this space, with the frustrations and jankiness they often possess being frustrating to some and silly to others. Goat Simulator (which is somehow still not on Switch) is a terrific example of an oddball title that has had quite a bit of success despite being a weird and glitchy mess, but mixed up in such a way that it also works and can be entertaining. With that mindset in place we can discuss Nippon Marathon, an unusual game about an even more unusual race where you’ll take control of one of four oddball characters solo or with some friends.

Playing Solo you’re most likely going to spend your time in the very weird Story Mode where you’ll ge to try to progress through the multiple stages of this annual event and hopefully get to the final race where you’ll face the infamous Handsome Hazuki. While the stories aren’t even remotely serious with the right mindset and an appreciation for some very quirky Japanese humor they can be entertaining, conveyed in short skits and moving between official news coverage and discussions between the game’s main characters. Calling it all bizarre would be an understatement, but it is certainly unique and can be amusing.

Whether by yourself or with friends the main attraction is the races themselves, which are equal parts funny, confusing, and unpredictable. Your route can meander, there will be civilians, dogs, and even cars to get in your way, and sometimes you’ll need to make some crazy diving jumps to take or maintain your lead but it’s all certainly unique. In each race segment if you’re unable to keep up you’ll be eliminated, with the last survivor taking a star while the others will lose some depending on when they were eliminated. Pick-ups that you can eat for a boost of speed or for a few different effects pepper the track and can be crucial strategically and can help you gain some popularity points with the fans, which can be crucial in helping you win overall if the races remain tight. There are two additional party modes, one that’s roughly bowling, and another with its own gauntlet of challenges to try to perform the best in, but ultimately enjoyment still boils down to your mindset and whether you enjoy the oddity of it all.

This is the sort of game that will likely be divisive, with less likelihood of neutral opinions. Either you’ll embrace the overall experience, appreciating the quirks and jankiness as part of the joke, or you’ll find it off-putting and outright annoying. Myself, I enjoy the flavor and weirdness, so I tended to laugh as I went but getting my family to play along for more than a few events was tough because they didn’t share my enthusiasm for it. If you’ve got some friends who enjoy weird games or just want to go all in solo and work through the bizarre storylines for each character, you may find something in Nippon Marathon you simply won’t find anywhere else on the Switch.

Score: 6

  • With the right mindset and sense of humor this game has tons of quirky moments that can be fun
  • The game’s primary characters are all thoroughly weird and have running gags that I found entertaining

  • If you’re not in on the joke and don’t particularly care for janky gameplay, even if that’s somewhat the point, you’ll likely want to set the game on fire
  • If you remove the veneer of quirky humor the core game experience isn’t terribly diverse or deep