Nippon Marathon, from developer Onion Soup and published by PQube, has got to be one of the strangest, yet funniest games I’ve ever played. It is a physics-based running/odd sports title where you play as very unusual characters and race through silly, but fun obstacle courses. However, while Nippon Marathon might have the charm and unique premise to be enjoyable, this is still a bad game.
First of all, it’s important to point out that Nippon Marathon was made by only two people, which is very impressive considering all the gameplay and physics systems in play. One thing I wasn’t expecting was a story mode where you can choose from four different characters with more to unlock, and each one come’s with their own story arc. They have to be some of the weirdest characters I’ve ever seen though, with a guy who thinks he’s a lobster and a dog in a tracksuit. What makes Nippon so funny is the dialogue in-between and during races, and the actions you perform while racing. You will definitely get a good laugh watching this.
Nippon Marathon is mostly about racing your characters to the end of a stage to earn stars and points in order to build up your reputation. The camera is focused into the air giving you an isometric angle, making it feel like an old-school arcade title. Physics are the main draw of Nippon though, and are so sensitive that anything you touch will knock you down in comical fashion.
Like in a classic game like Paperboy from the 80’s you need to avoid all kinds of obstacles and figure out some puzzles along the way. You’ll be dodging such things as dogs, construction workers, tree logs, tables, and it gets more zany the further you go. Later, you’ll be running over rooftops, jumping onto ferris wheels, running on gigantic hamburgers, and everything gets harder to traverse as well, leading to some insane predicaments.
During each race, there may be some sort of mini-game to go through or even play during a break. They’ll have you answer random questions or try to solve a maze, among other tasks and it all just adds to the strangeness of Nippon Marathon. It’s really hard to give the game an identity as there’s really nothing else like it. What comes to mind for me is a title that came out earlier this year on consoles called Guts & Glory that had you performing insane stunts, or if you go even further back to a game called Pain, having you slingshot random people to inflict as much pain as possible.
The physics involved are what make Nippon Marathon so funny to play and there’s no way you can finish a race without falling at least once. This can get frustrating when as soon as you get up you’re knocked right back down again, but playing with your friends is hectic and it does provide a great deal of laughs because of how ridiculous it all is. Nippon is certainly much more fun to play in multiplayer, and sadly there is no online mode, but you can play with up to four others locally.
As stated before, Nippon Marathon is meant to not be a polished experience and even bad in some instances. The gameplay is sometimes not responsive on purpose and the exaggerated style takes some getting use to. Nippon feels very much like a Japanese title, from the way it animates, to the over-the-top voice acting and dialogue. The level designs are clever with many different environments to race through with urban streets, cliffs, school buildings, and even constructions zones.
Graphically, the lighting and effects look decent considering the budget and manpower of the title. Everything has a pasty-like aesthetic and the characters faces look ugly, but thankfully the eccentric soundtrack and out-of-control sound effects mesh well with what Nippon Marathon is trying to accomplish.
Overall, Nippon Marathon is a weird experiment of a game and it was really hard to put into words how I felt about it. I did have fun and enjoyed playing it for the silliness and humor, but the gameplay and overall presentation is lackluster in execution. If you have friends to play with, Nippon Marathon can be a good time, but just know the content provided might wear thin pretty quickly.