Choro Q Park (1998, Nextech for Sega Saturn)

Choro Q Park is a charming little kart-style racing game that is based on those adorable little Penny Racer cars that were a fixture in my childhood. They were called “penny racers” because you could attach a penny to the trunk of the tiny cars and when you wind them up, they would spin around and zoom and do tricks. It was an easy gimmick but extremely popular with kids around the world. I know the kids here in the States would really have enjoyed playing this videogame adaptation.

It’s very easy to look at this game as another copy of Super Mario Kart, with its cartoony visual designs, boxy vehicles and looping, winding track designs. Choro Q Park isn’t on the same level as Nintendo’s classic series, and doesn’t really compete directly. Instead, it’s perfectly happy to play in its own little sandbox. The game takes place on a large island that features a number of stops, including racing arenas, a shop to purchase more vehicles, a garage and paint shop to store and customize your cars, a daily weather report, and a test track where you must first earn your driving license. The goal is to win races where you can earn money and new cars and trucks. Dozens of vehicles are available, each with their own unique handling and performance stats.

That is the thrust of the game. You play to collect penny racers and race with friends. There are a large number of race tracks spread across multiple locations, but there is no circuit mode where you compete for trophies ala Mario Kart. What makes these races novel is that you can change racers at various points along a race track. You select which car to use at each checkpoint, and you must choose wisely depending on the terrain, whether you’re racing on pavement or dirt, across straight paths or winding curves.

While driving, you can pick up power-up icons that either shoot a tire directly ahead or leave an oil slick directly behind. These are the only weapon items in the game, so you’ll have to make them count. Winning races often depends on successfully using the tires and oil on your rivals, especially when racing against someone who’s much faster than you. The computer-controlled vehicles can also fire on you, but with nowhere near the intensity or relentlessness of Mario Kart. The pacing is far more relaxed and casual, more of a Sunday drive than a white-knuckle dance with doom.

Western players have difficulty playing this game at the start, as all the menus are in Japanese. At the beginning, you begin with one car but also need to purchase a second from the shop. Once you have chosen a second vehicle, then you can visit the test track to earn your license. You will place your cars along the designated checkpoints and then race a couple laps to prove your worth. After a few moments of driving around corners, bridges and dirt roads, you will be awarded a license that allows you to compete at the first racing arena. A second license is also available for you to access the second arena, and the following courses must then be unlocked by winning all the previous races.

After you earn your licenses, Choro Q Park opens up and you’ll discover the many courses and cars available to you. The track designs are very impressive and designed with many corners, curves, hills and branching pathways. I am reminded of Mario Kart 64 which is very similar in style (Donkey Kong’s island course pops into my head as I write), although at a far more polished and competitive level of performance. I only wish this game were a little faster and more competitive, with a few more power-up items. A few more cars on the tracks would be very nice.

Racing fans will really enjoy playing this game. The visuals are highly polished by Saturn standards, colorful and detailed. The cars tilt in turns, kick out smoke clouds when burning rubber, flip and spin in the air when shot by tires. The environments are varied enough to keep you interested and there are an impressive number of courses to play (there’s even a Rainbow Road course at the end, becuase of course, there has to be one). The music is bouncy and even features a couple bluesy tracks that stick in your head. A two-player split-screen mode is very welcome and should extend the game’s replay value. And, of course, there are all those little cars and trucks to collect.

Choro Q Park was developed by Nextech, a contract studio that was founded in 1992 and purchased by Sega in 1997. They also acquired the software studio Gau Entertainment in 1994, who the creators of the excellent Ranger-X on Sega Genesis. Their contracted work includes Linkle Liver Story (a charming Legend of Zelda inspired game), Battle Arena Toshinden Remix and URA (two dreadful Playstation adaptations), and a number of Capcom ports including Resident Evil on Saturn and Resident Evil: Code Veronica on Dreamcast.

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