I knew going in that Kairosoft love to copy/paste their management simulation mechanics into various different themes. As a massive racing nerd, I wanted to see if the Kairosoft management magic could work nicely for Grand Prix Story. It does… for a while. Then the rot sets in very quickly.
You start off in a garage with a driver and two mechanics building a car for local races. Each driver has 6 stats you can boost by paying for training and you win money by doing well in races. To enter races you need a car and these have their own stats for speed, reliability and drivability and they are determined by the mechanics and driver stats whom build it. This sees you dive into an endless cycle of upgrade the team, build a better car, do a bit better in the races (which you don’t drive in but watch) and continue the cycle, chipping away at getting better. Kairosoft have a really nicely balanced system in that some tracks lend themselves to different types of cars and so you’ll fill out your garage with different cars set up for say offroad, ice roads, speed or grip. All the while, competing in races or grand prix series to win more cash and prestige.
Cars also come with part slots – empty slots you can install equipment onto. You largely unlock equipment by winning races or fulfilling sponsorship exposure bars by running lots of races and hopefully doing well. If you do poorly, the grind will be longer but eventually a sponsor will be happy, offer you a part that means your car can go faster, or you can train more effectively. This then means you can do better and work your way up the ranks.
The issue with Grand Prix Story isn’t its set up or initial gameplay mechanics – they are well balanced. It is that the game presents almost all of this within the first 15 minutes and then wants you to do the same menu hopping for the next 8-10 hours with little to no variation. Cars get faster and new tracks are unlocked but you are navigating the same 6 or 7 menu screens over and over. The initial three grand prix series are quite easy to beat and then there’s a huge difficulty jump to clear two final bonus races that adds on another hour of padded gameplay at best.
There is an aura boost mechanic you can use to feel like you have more control in the game. Pressing X in the races (PS4 version) with an aura gives a boost like in a kart racer but it is a waste of an aura. These auras are much more valuable being used in stat boosts, levelling up parts or training your drivers. Auras give bigger improvement boosts and ends the game quicker. After 15 years, you are given an arbitrary score but the game continues on regardless – making it feel a bit of a pointless endpoint that’s carried over from the mobile port for no reason. Indeed, the game on PS4 opens with “starting app” as the loading screen – showing that these ports are quite literal.
I had fun initially with Grand Prix Story but it totally lacks progression or increased complexity as you move through the game. After 6 hours, I was so done with the gameplay loop I watched TV and almost idle played to get to the end of it and gave up before getting the last trophy of 25 parts as I was just bored. A shame really as there is some good sound base structure here, its just limited by its mobile roots – and by mobile I mean 2011 mobile roots. No chests or boosts or pay to win – this is all about quick time grinding in short bursts and that just doesn’t work well on console.
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