Put on your good shoes and grab your watermelons, it's time to run.
From its very first moments Nippon Marathon makes no effort to hide exactly what it’s trying to be: wacky, surreal, and extremely Japanese. Featuring a cast of kooky characters and a selection of chaotic tracks for them to run on, it largely delivers on this aesthetic. Once you look past the surface however, Nippon Marathon becomes yet another entry on the long list of games hoping to get by on quick laughs generated by a broken physics system and a liberal use of ragdoll.
The story centers around four characters: the lobster farmer and professional lobster cosplayer J Darwin, the aspiring marine biologist and narwhal aficionado Elizabeth Nishibori, the old man in a sailor uniform Zenbei, and the dog-man Snuguru Maestro. Each of these characters are attempting to enter and win the world famous Nippon Marathon, a dangerous multi-part race held throughout Japan so that they can use the prize money to accomplish their own separate goals. The road to first place is hard as the popular Handsome Hazuki has regularly won the marathon for years and seems on track to do it again.
The story mode is uninspired and thinks it’s a lot more clever and funny than it actually is. Very rarely did a joke from any of the writing ever really land or pull a laugh out of me and most of the time when it did I was more laughing at just how stupid the whole thing was. The story appears to be more worried about being goofy and random than it does about being interesting or fun. Cutscenes last for far too long, sometimes going for fifteen or twenty minutes before you get to play another race and to make matters worse the game needs to load between every single one. The cutscenes themselves are badly animated and show off just how horrendously ugly the character models are. These are not models meant to be seen this closely and creating entire cutscenes where we have a full view of their bug eyes and creepy emotionless faces was not a great choice.
Terrible story aside, the races themselves are actually quite fun for a small while. The Nippon Marathon is a series of foot races through chaotic obstacle filled courses that range from a riverside, a supermarket, and even the top of a bullet train. The player has the ability to jump, duck, and dive to avoid obstacles, but making even slight contact with most objects will cause them to ragdoll and lay limp for a few seconds. If someone falls too far behind they will be eliminated until one racer remains and wins the round. The four racers then regroup and continue the race from a nearby section of the track, so on and so forth until the end of the course is reached. If a round has been going for too long the game will enter “Sudden Death” and begin either dropping exploding melons all over the course or spawning angry shiba inu to chase the players. Randomly between rounds one of three mini games will launch and you’ll find yourself playing either an item roulette, a strange and nonsensical news survey, or a rat maze that was regularly my least favorite.
During the race players can also run into item boxes and obtain one of four foods: a watermelon that can be thrown in front of you and will attempt to target another player, a banana whose peel can be dropped behind you, a pineapple that can turn into a balloon and allow you to float over certain obstacles, or a mushroom that will cause you harm and leave a poison trail behind you until you drop it. Sadly you’ll rarely find yourself using these abilities as almost all of these items can be eaten instead of thrown to provide a short speed boost, which tends to be more useful than any of the regular item abilities in the long run.
Playing these courses alone quickly becomes tedious and shines a spotlight on the AI’s awful pathfinding skills, but my roommate and I later found that we were having a blast with the multiplayer. Once we’d seen all of what each track had to offer there really wasn’t much more to be found within Nippon Marathon. Also included with the main campaign are two party options. The competitive obstacle course game L.O.B.S.T.E.R is roughly the same as the races and goes on just a tad too long. Go-Go-Trolley Bowling is where you send a shopping cart careening down a hill to knock over bowling pins that honestly should be a full game in itself. You can also earn yen to purchase more playable characters, but as far as I could tell every character is identical in terms of stats so this is largely a cosmetic purchase.
In the end having extra modes beyond the main game do nothing to help Nippon Marathon remain a fun time for more than a few hours at most. It would be impressive as a final project for a college course and is still good for a few laughs at a party, but those fleeting good times are not enough for me to recommend this game.