I’m a big fan of playing local multiplayer games with friends, be it battling each other in Smash Bros Ultimate, racing across topsy-turvy courses in Mario Kart 8, or even wrestling in bizarre confrontations in Gang Beasts – there’s just something about having these epic showdowns together from the comfort of the couch that feels so satisfying.

Well, Christmas has just passed and during that time I got to try out a whole new multiplayer release with friends: Nippon Marathon. Whilst the name alone sounds pretty bizarre, the game itself just so happens to be bloody weird too. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always equate to a good game and whilst Nippon Marathon certainly has its fun moments, they’re pretty short-lived in the grand scheme of things.

Nippon Marathon is essentially a racer, with players competing together to get through an obstacle-filled track that’s full of bizarre hazards. There’s a tricky physics system in place too, meaning the slightest fall or collision can leave you stumbling as you try to recover and get back into the race. One fall can mean the end though, with Nippon Marathon having a setup that’s similar to Micro Machines in which any players who fall out of range of the camera get eliminated. This keeps going until there’s only one racer left on the screen; the survivor gets a point, the race continues with all competitors back in play, and the cycle repeats itself. Whoever has the most points at the end of the course is deemed the winner – simple.

Nippon Marathon

A game based around racing across obstacle course-like levels depends heavily on solid level design to be a success, and in fairness Nippon Marathon offers a decent amount of variety across all of its courses. However, there are plenty of moments across them all where it’s not always made clear where exactly you need to go, with a lack of signposting and the clumsy physics often seeing the player at a disadvantage. Admittedly, this is nit-picking a bit, but with so much crazy action taking place on the screen it was too easy to lose track of where exactly you need to go, which isn’t ideal for a racer where one wrong move can see you get eliminated

There were sections of levels that just felt more frustrating than fun to work through too. Whilst I appreciate that Nippon Marathon has a big emphasis on silly fun, having to run through a maze or over a hill that’s full of randomly appearing dogs could just be a bit of a nuisance… or maybe I’m just a bit bitter because they both ended up causing me to lose my lead. In seriousness though, the level design could be a bit of a mixed-bag, with all of the fun courses featuring sections that aren’t so enjoyable to traverse across too.

Nippon Marathon

That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun though, because honestly, it kept me and my friends entertained during our multiplayer showdowns. Nippon Marathon is very accessible from the get-go with the controls limited to running and jumping to avoid obstacles, so it’s easy to pick up, play, and be good at regardless of your experience with games.

It’s hard not to laugh at just how bizarre it all is too, with the unpredictable absurdity of the game proving to be one of the highlights – there’s nothing quite like seeing a rival mauled by a dog and then beating them to first place, right? It’s always funny to see one of your friends get clattered by an obstacle on the course or even just falling to their demise during a mistimed jump, whilst it’s also satisfying to surge to victory in the meantime. It’s a surprising amount of fun, even if the foundation of the game’s design could be pretty flawed. Oh, and there’s also a bowling-themed mini-game called ‘Go-Go Trolley Bowling’ that’s exactly how the name describes – despite being a small addition to the game, it offered a jolly time and is definitely worth checking out outside of the game’s ‘traditional’ racing.

It’s more of a quick multiplayer fix kind of game than one you can spend a whole night playing, though. There’s not much depth to the whole experience and once you’ve raced across a course there’s not much about it that’ll pull you back in for more. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll certainly be entertained for an hour or so, but given than the level design isn’t always the best and that the physics can be troublesome (and not in a satisfying Gang Beasts kind of way) you shouldn’t expect to be up all night having showdowns with friends on it.

Nippon Marathon

Of course, there is a single player mode on offer for those who want to play alone, but it’s a bit hard to really recommend. It mixes up racing with a visual novel experience, but with a story that’s too silly to really appreciate and gameplay that’s better suited to playing with friends, it’s a little tough to invest yourself in playing alone. There’s no online multiplayer on offer either, so it’s probably worth staying away from the game if you don’t have any friends around who can join you for local play.

Developer: Onion Soup Interactive
Publisher: PQube
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Mac