It does feel like there's some strange appetite at the moment for multiplayer games that are actually a little bit shoddy. Gang Beasts is kind of the poster boy for this brand of title, with its flailing, imprecise brawls leading to some golden moments. Nippon Marathon slots very neatly into this small but growing convention, although we'd say the game leans a little too hard into its janky nature to remain entertaining for very long.
If you're unfamiliar with this unusual title, it's essentially a multiplayer racer that sees you running through various Japanese locations, littered with all sorts of obstacles and hazards. Adopting similar rules to Micro Machines, stragglers will be knocked out until one racer remains, earning a star. The player with the most stars at the end of the race wins, and then it's off to the next location.
Controls are straightforward, allowing almost anyone to jump in and try their hand at navigating through each course. There's definitely some fun to be had playing this with a few friends, as it's inevitable that the first few races will be dominated by mistimed jumps and awkward stumbles into barriers. There are fruits you can pick up throughout each race, which you can either eat for a speed boost or use to get the upper hand. Dropping a banana peel behind you, for example, or using a pineapple balloon to dramatically extend your jump. It's all incredibly daft, and there's no doubt the game is aiming for this quirky style.
Unfortunately, there are two major hurdles that trip the game up. The first is that its presentation wears thin extremely quickly. It really wants to emphasise this wacky, Japanese aesthetic, but with repetitive music, an assortment of images and text popping up onscreen, and frankly terrible visuals, it all grows quite tiresome before long. The single player story mode, with its visual novel storytelling, is mainly nonsense, and while we understand it's supposed to be off-the-wall, it just isn't very well written. By the time you finish one character's story, you probably won't feel like playing the others.
The second main problem with Nippon Marathon is that its deliberately ropey gameplay just isn't very fun. It's easy to pick up and play, and the races can definitely be a good laugh with friends, but it can feel a little confusing, or even unfair at times. Occasionally the way forward isn't particularly clear, and there are only so many times you'll find it endearing when a pack of dogs appears and homes in on you, tripping you up and forcing you to lose. There are random distractions, like needing to deliver quick-fire answers to a bizarre question, or making your way through a maze, and they feel out of place at best. The gameplay is janky, and not quite in the way the developer is clearly shooting for. The game has been in early access for a long time on PC, but the end result certainly doesn't feel like it.
Outside of the regular race modes are a couple of party modes, L.O.B.S.T.E.R and Go-Go-Trolley. The former challenges players to run through the obstacle course the furthest, with the losing player earning themselves a letter towards being dubbed a lobster. The latter is a bowling mini-game in which your character jumps into a shopping trolley before colliding with the pins. This pair of mini games is a nice addition, and like the main game, they're briefly fun, but ultimately throwaway.
Nippon Marathon is a curious multiplayer game that unfortunately falls prey to its own over the top nature. Some might enjoy the off-piste humour and Japanese influences, but it sadly limits the game's appeal, and at the end of the day, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. The frantic gameplay feels too clumsy and disjointed to remain fun for very long. The janky nature of the game is part of the joke, but the joke isn't particularly funny in this case, and others have told it much better than this.