NIPPON MARATHON

By TheDblTap

A NEWGROUNDS FLASH GAME DISGUISED AS A CONSOLE TITLE

Nippon Marathon is an indie on-foot racing platformer. Yourself and your friends or A.I are pit against each other in a 4-man race through various locations in Japan (Nippon, in romanised Japanese, hence the title). 

Every racer is on-screen at once in this top-down racer, and who-ever is in first has camera priority. Falling behind and therefore off-screen will result in elimination and once 3 players have been eliminated the game stops for a moment while points are awarded based on who was eliminated and in what order. Going for a long time without the race being stopped for elimination will result in extra inconveniences and obstacles being introduced to the race track.

Last one to the finish line may well be a rotten egg!

Various obstacles ranging from standard street-clutter to hordes of dogs or a barrage of watermelons will frequently get in your way, eager to cause your character to ragdoll to the ground for a frustrating few seconds as you fruitlessly spam the controller’s face buttons and waggle the joystick in a desperate attempt to de-ragdoll and avoid falling off-screen. There are also item boxes scattered throughout these maps in a very Mario kart way. 

These items are food-based and fairly limited. The game does have a pretty nifty and somewhat unique feature which allows you to choose between weaponising the food item – for example, throwing a watermelon at an enemy – or eating the food item for a speed boost. 

There is one item you don’t want, a stinky mushroom. Hold onto the stinky mushroom for long enough, or eat it, and your character with collapse temporarily. Simply having this item will also reduce your popularity, as you’ll be rather stinky. The stink trails coming off the item will also affect those running behind the wielder. Of course, the solution is to drop it and hope that someone behind you grabs the mushroom, therefore reducing their own popularity.

Popularity is a fairly important value. Avoiding elimination and staying relatively nice-smelling will result in your popularity gauge being quite high, resulting in more points during the final tally at the end of the race.

Things contributing to your final score are eliminations, popularity, final finish-line position and medals. Medals are micro-awards, awarded throughout a race for things like getting the most attention from Shiba inu dogs or eating the most food items.

The last one standing gains a star!

If it wasn’t frustrating enough that the race is frequently stopped and then started up again from a checkpoint every single time 3 players are eliminated, there is also a chance the race will be interrupted for one of the following game-show-esque minigames:

  • Slot Machines: Each player will have a slot machine drop from the sky in front of them. These slot machines will award items to players which they can use to gain an edge over the other racers – if they’re lucky.
  • Interview: A television-star/journalist character will come down onto the track via jetpack to ask the group of racers a question. You will need to construct an answer from 4 parts, each of which you’ll need to select from 4 options which accompany an emoji. Ideally you want to select the options with happier-looking emoji aside them, but here’s the catch: you’re all given the same options and need to select a good option as quickly as possible before somebody else takes it. Provided your answer is good enough you’ll receive a boost in popularity.
  • Maze Race: You and the other players are teleported into a lab-rat maze and need to find your way out. From my experience, there are very few layouts available, so you’ll come to know your way around these mazes pretty quickly until they are no longer a challenge. The reward for finishing the maze first is popularity.

None of these minigames are fun and simply add to the frustrations founded in this game’s constant stop-start nature. It’s like trying to race sports cars while monkeys have control over the brake pedals.

Things contributing to your final score are eliminations, popularity, final finish-line position and medals. Medals are micro-awards, awarded throughout a race for things like getting the most attention from Shiba inu dogs or eating the most food items.

The emoticons in the interview determine how popular your answer will be.

The game is visually painful. Minimal effort has been put into the models and graphics in the game, the illustrated portions look exactly like the average DeviantArt post and the 3D models are… unpleasantly lazy. If you were hoping – as with many indie games – that if the art is bad then the story must be good (or typically vice-versa) you will be disappointed. The story in the game consists of an uncomfortable barrage of small text-heavy cutscenes, one after the other, usually around 4-in-a-row before an actual race starts, this pattern then repeats.

Oh… Okay, then…

You can choose whether to play as one of 4 characters, each of whom has their own story mode, but the actual gameplay is exactly the same and the cutscenes aren’t worth watching – or should I say, reading.

The game isn’t all that bad, though, there are some saving graces.

The sense of humour in the game is very ‘Japanese’, it’s littered with over-the-top inexplicably quirky moments, good enough to get a laugh every once in a while, but the best part of all this is the announcer. His extremely exaggerated Japanese accent and Takeshi’s Castle inspired delivery do actually result in more than a few laughs, and it’s very quotable stuff!

There’s also a couple of party game modes which are far more fun than the actual game and are the only reason I kept this game installed on my PS4, so I could play it with friends in the future. 

The first of these games,  called Go-Go Trolley mode, is a bowling minigame. Except you are the ball. And you need to jump into a shopping cart. And there are sometimes ramps and other obstacles on the alley. It’s good, ridiculous fun. This is where the ragdoll physics in the game actually shine, instead of being a constant hindrance they’re actually part of the process and trying to get your character to ragdoll in just the right way is the best part!

Oua-hoooooo!

The second is a lot like the game-show “Wipeout” also known as “Total Wipeout”. It’s a game of H.O.R.S.E (or “L.O.B.S.T.E.R” in this case), so you need to beat each other’s score by consistently reaching further than each other on the randomly-generated obstacle course, the first person to fail to beat the other’s score receives a letter until they spell the entire word. This game mode is quite fun, however, the random level generation is done by piecing together various pre-built sections, which eventually become repetitive and stale. Sometimes the level even gets generated in an order which is far too difficult to progress through.

Now, while this game is visually trash and technically okay it really shines in multiplayer. With the right group of friends, this game goes from bore to war. High-intensity races against up to 3 other people just as frustrated as you are with the atrocious hit-boxes, hair-trigger ragdoll physics, semi-functional controls and bizarre obstacles are just about as fun as this game gets.

Nippon Marathon Story Trophies

If you’re looking to put in the easy 15 hours to platinum this game, you’ll be wanting to start with the Story Trophies.

There are 4 story-related trophies in this game’s very short trophy list, one for each of the characters that you can play as. The “cutscenes” will be different depending on the character you use, but the actual gameplay is exactly the same. 

You will need to complete the same 8 races in the same order 4 times over. And no, the fact that you’re playing as different characters won’t change anything as they’re purely cosmetic and don’t have any differing stats or skills, you just need to put in the time and do the story 4 times. 

Luckily, you can skip the cutscenes by pausing the game and selecting to do so in the menu, so you won’t have to sit through all four of their totally uninteresting stories just for the opportunity to repeat the same few races 4 times… unless you really want to I guess.

I found a good strategy for consistently doing well in this game’s races was to just eat all the edible items you get – for a speed boost – and drop any mushrooms you grab.

Launching watermelons at characters or using a pineapple as a balloon to jump further (don’t ask, because I don’t know…) is all well and good, except it doesn’t really matter. The AI is likely to trip over the game’s janky hit-boxes and awkward track layouts anyway so your best bet is to just do your best to stay in first. Eating lots of items will also give you a medal at the end with a very welcome score boost.

Don’t forget that popularity is important too, so do your best to succeed in the irritating mini-games and avoid mushrooms.

Also, while you’re doing these story missions, look out for Wedy pages.

Nippon Marathon Wedy Pages

Wedy pages are the game’s collectibles. Wedy is the bizarre journalist I mentioned earlier, the one with the jetpack, yeah.

She appears to run some sort of tourist magazine and inexplicably all the pages from your copy have been scattered throughout Nippon. Of course, rather than grabbing a new copy like a normal person, you’re going to look for each of these pages like the weirdo you are.

The pages are fairly easy to find, just make sure that you’re not already holding the maximum number of items (2, one per hand) so that when you run over a page you can hold it. It doesn’t matter what you do with it once you’ve grabbed it. As long as it’s in your hand at some point, you’ve collected it. However, you will want to hold or to eat at least one page for one of this trophy:

Xylophagia Eat a Wedy Page and gain nothing but protein

Handily, each page is numbered, so you can check the magazine in the main menu to see which pages you’ve managed to collect and google-troubleshoot the ones you’re struggling with.

There are just a few slightly-less-easy-to-find pages dotted around Nippon that you’ll want to keep an eye out for:

  • On the river-side level, which eventually experiences an earthquake causing signs to fall down upon the racers, and the ground to break away, there is a downhill section which breaks into 2, causing racers to begin sliding rapidly down the track. At this point, you want to try and cause the round to restart by getting far enough ahead – or having 3 players die – so that everyone will respawn at the nearest checkpoint, which is just before the break in the track where there is now some exposed pipes. One of these pipes is home to a Wedy page. This sounds tricky, but it almost always happens naturally just because the next part of the track is a little tricky, particularly for the AI. The tricky part is getting to the page before an AI racer does, as they can and will pick up the page by running over it, meaning you’ll need to restart.
  • On one memorable level, you start on the roof of a train and eventually jump off at a train station. At some point, you will come to a yellow door just after some stairs, head inside for another Wedy page.
  • There’s a very traditionally-Japanese level with zen gardens, monks taking tests and paper sliding doors. Shortly after leaving a room full of Monks sitting at school desks you will come to a very memorable section with a very sharp turn which you can bypass by naruto-running under a hole in the dividing wall. If you skip this shortcut and head to the far right edge of the screen there’s a bench with a Wedy page on it.
  • On the level where everyone is giant, toward the beginning, there is a slanted building with 4 yellow dancers on top. Jump and dive to the freeway to the left and the page is up there.
  • On the last level in story mode in which everybody is Kaiju-sized, there’s a conveniently ramp-shaped building near the start with 4 ridiculous men dancing on top of it. You’re going to want to run up to where they are and then immediately jump and dive to the left of the building (top of the screen) onto the highway where you’ll find a Wedy page.

The thinner left-most pipe is where you’ll find the tricky Wedy page on the earthquake-riddled stage.

Just to reiterate, it’s very important that when you see a page you try and get to it before the AI can, as they will collect the page for themselves and it won’t respawn unless you restart the level.

Once you have them all, you should get this trophy:

Travelling Enlightened Collect all Wedy Pages and become a Legendary Backpacker

Nippon Marathon Miscellaneous Trophies

Most trophies will unlock naturally as you go through the story 4 times over and any extra times you need to do a level for Wedy pages, except the following few:

I just felt like runnin’ Finish a full marathon

Yeah so… Marathon mode is all 8 races in order, essentially story mode again but this time without the pointless cutscenes. At least it’s an extra 5th chance to look for Wedy pages I suppose.

You love the Dog Choose Snuguru Maestro 25 times in Versus Mode

Fortunately, this trophy doesn’t mean you need to play an extra 25 races in versus mode. Although, as I said, the game is pretty fun with friends, so if you have somebody willing to play 25 races with you for the sake of it, just make sure you pick Snuguru Maestro every time. 

Snuguru is the better-looking character to be fair.

If you’d rather not do that – understandably – then you can just start go into Versus mode, select “single race” and then choose Snuguru Maestro as your character, but then back out without pressing “ready”. That’ll count as one. Just repeat that 25 times and bingo was his name-o. 

Poor man’s Chicken Traverse 200 metres in LOBSTER mode

This one’s tricky, due to the randomly-generated nature of the L.O.B.S.T.E.R mode levels. You really need the conditions to be just right to be able to reach 200 metres without great difficulty. At certain points in the game, the level will be re-generated, so it’s worth just playing this game mode with a friend – like I did – and then hoping the right conditions are met and one of you makes it over 200 metres.

Despite how tricky it is, it’s probably one of the most fun things to do in this mess of a game.

The trophy is also bugged, of course. When I was going for this trophy, I made it over the 200m threshold multiple times but the trophy wouldn’t pop. So bear in mind you may need to attempt this multiple times.

It helps to note that if a friend manages to reach over 200m this could also trigger the trophy for you, as long as your account launched the game.

Turkey Trolley Get 3 Strikes in a row in Go-Go Trolley Bowling

This one’s quite tricky, due to the fairly sensitive nature of the trolley’s trajectory, you’ll need to use some strategy and care to get 3 strikes in a row. The game will also randomly add ramps and obstacles to the alley after a few rounds, making it even more difficult to set things up right. I just played with a friend as, just like the above trophy, if they manage to fulfil the constraints you’ll get the trophy too.

Eventually, we figured out a decent method:

  • Place the trolley as far forward and as centred as you can.
  • Don’t run and leap into the trolley like the game wants you to, slowly approach it and lightly tap it, trying to keep it aligned so it doesn’t veer off course afterwards.
  • Once the trolley is moving, run and leap down the alley yourself, pressing to throw yourself for extra speed and distance. 
  • When you’re sliding, you can use the [left stick] to navigate left and right slightly, try to aim yourself towards any pins the trolley missed and knock them down, if you’re fast enough you can get a strike by cheesing it in this way.

You will want to place the Trolley here

Repeat the above 3 times and if you’re lucky you’ll get the trophy.

It’s also worth noting that people have reported this trophy is buggy also and you may have to pull off this same feat multiple times until the trophy finally pops.

All in all, Nippon Marathon is a weakly structured attempt at a unique racing game. When compared to better games of the same type, such as Sprint Vector or Rayman M, it’s quite clear this game falls short at almost every turn. The only things saving this unpolished mess of a game is how much more fun you can have on it with a friend.

My Verdict:

Pass

If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for fun party games, you could get a few hours of fun with friends out of Nippon Marathon. Otherwise, though, it isn’t even worth getting the game for its relatively easy plat. Give this one a pass, play something better, you owe it to yourself.

Pros:

  • Fun with friends

Cons:

  • Poorly built and unpolished
  • Buggy trophies
  • Irritating stop-and-start gameplay

No Trophy

I’d have to be insane to award this game so much as a bronze trophy. It would be an insult to other games to offer this one any recognition.

About the Author

TheDblTap is fond of single-player action and adventure games as well as the odd collect-em-up or RPG. He thinks FPS games are stale and repetitive and has little patience for gunfights which are too drawn-out. Originally a Nintendo gamer, the PlayStation line of consoles quickly took their grasp as he fell in love with Sony’s gamer-centric approach and – eventually – collecting shiny, shiny trophies.

With a keen eye for secrets and treasure, TheDblTap’s play-style often benefits him as a trophy hunter, but as someone with poor timing, he struggles with more skill-based combat trophies…