Posted on 21 Jan 2019 by Jay Shaw

Nippon Marathon

The Defence

Developer: Onion Soup Interactive
Publisher: PQube Limited
Genre: Action, Racing
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: No data.

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 2370M : None
AMD equivalent
VGA: Intel HD 4000
AMD equivalent
DirectX: 10
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 2300 @2.8 GHz
AMD Phenom II X4 940 @3 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
AMD equivalent
DirectX: 10
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

We first encountered Nippon Marathon back at Play Expo Manchester in 2016 and played against the super friendly developers who had so much passion for what they were making. We knew from the moment we saw images of a dog man, man-lobster, girl-narwhal, and old man in a sailor uniform that we were in for something special. Time to find out why. SAN! NI! ICHI! HAJIME!

The Trial

Nippon Marathon is fairly straightforward as far as concepts go: It’s a Takeshi’s Castle style race with all the associated Japanese brand crazy that implies. Four contestants per race compete to be the first across a finish line while flinging fruit with various effects around and dodging wacky obstacles like sweeping monks, Shiba Inu, and the dreaded supermarket mascot.

Courses vary quite a bit, from fishing villages to a building site and supermarket, a mountain onsen full of steamy monkeys, and even on top of a speeding bullet train. Through each course you’ll have to dodge various obstacles like people, pitfalls, swinging objects, the ubiquitous Shiba Inu and even earthquakes and collapsing buildings. Just about the only thing the game doesn’t throw at you is the kitchen sink. Frantic dashes between narrowly avoided obstacles with an opponent hot on your tail is thrilling and easily awakens your competitive spirit.

Items are distributed Mario Kart style in boxes of rapidly changing icons. Running into a box will give you an item if you have a free hand. Apart from a mushroom that smells bad and makes you fall over if you eat it, the items are all fruit themed and have two functions: they can either be eaten for a brief speed boost or can be used to trigger a unique effect such as floating on a pineapple balloon or launching a homing watermelon at the race leader. Rarely will an item take you out of the race outright but you can occasionally be knocked off a cliff or into a hole by one, though it never feels frustrating or cheap, the whole situation is just crazy and fun from top to bottom and you never feel cheated.

Snugaru just wants to play in the snow with his new friend.

The atmosphere is enhanced greatly by a wonderfully energetic commentator who interjects with gloriously left-field phrases like how he bought underwear at a supermarket last year, or how the contestants should “do a bareru roll” in his thick Japanese game-show voice. He also comments on things that are actually happening, like being chased by dogs or having a monkey on your head amongst others. I’ve snort-laughed at some of the sheer insanity that comes out of his mouth and can’t imagine the game without him.

Music is also an important component: Diana Garnet, voice actress, singer, and Japanese TV/radio personality (perhaps best known for the Naruto intro) sings an astonishing track called Hyper Love Racing that fits the game perhaps more perfectly than any other game music ever has, and I say that as someone who practically ruined their pants when the Doom theme kicked in in the latest one so you know I don’t say that lightly. Other tracks are more subdued but fit the theme of each level very well but lack the joyous energy of Hyper Love Racing.

Visually, the game isn’t immediately appealing; the wooden animations and frankly monstrous looking character models can be off-putting at first glance but seeing them flop around and get into bonkers situations melds with that competitive spirit and gets you attached to your chosen character fairly quickly. Their personalities also quickly hook you, Nishibori getting angry at being called a unicorn and then explaining the difference between unicorns and Narwhals is fantastic. They’re your guy/girl and you want to win, you want them to win. After spending dozens of hours with the game in various states of completion over the past three years we’ve grown to love the potato faced models and rubbery looking outfits. They fit with the rest of the insanity, any other graphical style would feel wrong.

Did we mention it's a bit bonkers yet?

The modes of play are fairly straightforward: you have a campaign mode with four different stories; a versus mode with single race, half marathon, and full marathon modes; and a mini-game mode with trolley bowling and L.O.B.S.T.E.R games, each with short and full options to tailor the length of your game. Multiplayer is where Nippon Marathon shines the brightest, a group playing locally makes for an exhilarating few hours. That’s not to say the solo player has been abandoned, the stories are a few hours in length each and have even more insanity than mandatory MDMA night at the loony bin.

The Verdict

Nippon Marathon is pure joy. Tight controls and a simple concept make it an excellent pick up and play game. Anyone who has ever laughed at Takeshi’s Castle or similar shows about people getting beaned with scenery on crazy gauntlets will find a lot to enjoy here. You’re not going to get a tense narrative and deep, multi-faceted characters but you are going to get a dog man called Snugaru Maestro who wants to open a dating agency and a woman who wants to be a narwhal who will make you laugh time and again. It’s as close to perfect as a game of this style has ever gotten.

Case Review

  • WTF: WTF is a question you will frequently be asking yourself, and anyone around, while playing.

  • Unicorns: The comedy is spot on and unrelenting. Even running gags rarely fall flat.

  • Pure Joy: Easy to use controls and simple gameplay let you enjoy the experience without the controller getting in your way.

  • Hyper Love Racing: We can’t stress enough how stupendously awesome this track is for running around a digital exaggeration of Japan.

  • Mini-Games: While a lot of fun, the mini-games do leave you wanting more of them.

  • Kill It With Fire: The graphical style will put a lot of people off of even giving it a chance.

5 Score: 5/5
Keep it real, keep it Nippon.


  • Config: Basic resolution and general quality options, music and master volume sliders, language selection for text and spoken commentary, turbo mode, items enable/disable, mini-games enable/disable.
  • Controls: Full control remapping for keyboard and controller for up to 4 different players.
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