While playing Konami’s new arcade racing game, GTI Club Supermini Festa!, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the recent controversy surrounding Final Fantasy XIII and its purported linear gameplay. Of course, the counter argument that you hear is that linear gameplay is essential when trying to tell a compelling story because it allows the creator to know when and how a narrative unfolds before the player. I am not arguing that GTI Club Supermini Festa! is trying to tell a story anywhere near in the same vein as Final Fantasy XIII, but I will argue that its attempts parallel this kind of reduction of choice in order to control the player’s progression.
In most arcade racers, it wouldn’t be wrong to presume there is a career mode, but GTI Club Supermini Festa! plays with those assumptions and has come up with a new clever title: “Quest”. This new quest mode sets up the developers intentions to juxtapose the structure of their new game with RPGs such as the aforementioned Final Fantasy XIII.
There are essentially only five tracks to choose from: France, UK, US, Italy, and Japan. On the surface, this would seem to be a very limited amount of asphalt to cruise on but that’s where the RPG elements come in. The developers force you to start at the base beginner level, which coincides with the amount of freedom that you will have while racing. From this level, you can only drive through areas according to the freedom afforded by the game design, which I found confusing because the previous load screen just said “Find the best shortcut route to win”. Initially, I assumed that the shortcuts wouldn’t be displayed on the mini-map corner, and I would have to find them for myself, therefore rewarding me for my exploration. Instead, the developers decided to reward the player for leveling up. As you finish your quests in each location, you are allowed to level up to the intermediate and advanced difficulties. With each difficulty level, the tracks open up with more and more freedom of choice.
Your progression in the game coincides with the leveling up structure, which is based upon mileage points. For each quest that you complete, the game rewards you with points based upon performance. Depending on how you beat the quest and how fast it was accomplished, the game grants the player more points. These points go towards unlockables such as new cars, parts, and decals. They also go towards the car that you have been progressing with, allowing you to choose how to level it up based upon four criteria: top speed, handling, dash, and acceleration. Excluding the four ways to level up your car, all of the rest of the choices are just cosmetic, allowing the player to distinguish their car from another.
The “Quest” mode accomplishes its reinterpretation of staple RPG elements in order to make the player feel like they are accomplishing something, but that accomplishment isn’t as great as the games that it steals these ideas from. The only sense of new narrative in GTI Club Supermini Festa! comes in the form of new areas to explore from already traversed tracks. The new sections that you are rewarded with unlocking never build upon the skills that you have utilized in order to get to this point, dissolving the sense of accomplishment that the game seemed to be rewarding all along. Instead, the new shortcuts are needed in order to have a chance at beating a rubber banding AI reminiscent of old NES era games.
Besides the solo quest mode, GTI Club Supermini Festa! also offers a wide range of multiplayer options. One of the more entertaining options is having a friend play a cooperative quest, allowing a type of cooperative RPG/arcade racing game. Some of the other multiplayer options (which also be experienced in single player) include: a game of hot potato where one person has a bomb and the other tries to run away before the timer goes off, an “Oddball” mode where one tries to control a wrapped gift the longest, a tomato shooting mode where you try to deplete the other player’s health, and a type of car soccer. Some of these modes sound interesting and maybe even fun before you try them, but the control mechanics of the cars dilute the experience (driving a car that can’t turn while trying to guide a soccer ball into a net is an example of this frustration). Some say multiplayer/co-op makes games better, and I would agree that it does make some of these modes more palatable, but soon enough the infuriating controls will limit the fun that you thought you would have.
GTI Club Supermini Festa! should be commended for its attempt to appeal to a mass audience by implementing a very controlled and calculated progression system, but the experience is marred by some shoddy mechanics. For as much as the game rewards you for leveling up, if that reward doesn’t build upon or make the experience seem worthwhile, it’s all for nothing.