Grand Prix Story - F1 team management done the Kairosoft way

The familiar King Akbar, Chimpan-Z and Kairobot are back. The new title by Kairosoft moves away from the heavy simulation and strategy building of Mega Mall Story, Pocket Academy and Hot Springs Story to return to the basics of the beloved Game Dev Story. But what could make it better than any of their games released on the App Store so far?

Grand Prix Story [iTunes Link] by the mysterious Japanese developer Kairosoft is the Formula 1 management game where you direct a team to win the most exciting races around the world. The theme complements perfectly the mechanics seen in their first game, since you must develop a unique car researching parts, install upgrades and train your team to become a serious contender for the championship. 

Don't think Grand Prix Story has anything to do with actual driving: this is a pure management sim where you use your intuition to improve stats, seek sponsorships and hire pilots and mechanics within a budget. Notice how I say intuition. Like other cryptic Kairosoft games, the game tutorials, dialogs and in-game text aren't going to help much. It’s up to you to experiment with different parameters until you get it right - I can’t deny that this lost in translation element is an important part of the fun.

If you have played any of their games this won't be a problem since everything looks very familiar. The menus and interface, which still haven't been improved for iOS resolutions, are located in the same place. You also get the strange touch controls used in the mysterious Japanese smartphone this game was originally developed for. The game currencies continue with the same success formula, mixing money and research points, serving as restrictions to upgrade and buy new items or skills that actually give you a direction to follow during the game. 

The same game mechanics you already know

I got the impression that research points aren't as important as in previous titles, probably because they’re very easy to earn. Every time you race - should I say, watch a race - your drivers will gain individual skill points and research skills to be used in development. Since you can race as many times as you like, this is an easy source of XP. The only drawback is repairing the car after every race, which also earns you XP and skill points for your team. Easy, right?

The game starts in a humble garage where you assemble your first car and get a team of mechanics and pilot to participate in races. Finishing first will unlock new parts or skills and will get the attention of the equivalent of Bernie Ecclestone, who will call you with an invitation to participate in new circuits and eventually the Formula One Grand Prix.

Having gone through these routines, Grand Prix Story becomes a fairly easy and predictable game as long as you keep upgrading and researching continuously. Just like everyone imagined, this makes for the most dangerous combination where you play for hours in a single sit without even realising. The general pace is also pretty slow, but I find it quite similar to Game Dev Story, where you could launch, perhaps, three or four games per year.

Racing through the Japanese perspective

As far as realism goes, Grand Prix Story takes many cues of the real Formula 1 and industry players, including familiar-sounding company names, F1 pilots, the usual colours you see on the grid and the world’s most famous circuits. The most questionable game design decision was to mix on-road, off-road and icy tracks on the same championship. I'll explain: you can develop a maximum of six cars (three per pilot) to compete in a GP. The performance of every car is conditioned by several factors, such as the road conditions, laps and amount of turns. You’ll need to tweak your car with more handling to take on curvy circuits, use studs and chains for icy roads or equip the best tyres for dirt roads. 

As a team manager, this means that you need to develop at least three different type of cars to have a chance to score points in every race. Simply changing tyres before a race (like in real life) won’t be enough because your mechanics won't have enough time to repair and install new parts before the race starts. This ensures that you research and develop the righty technology before moving on to more competitive races, but limits the freedom you could have planning and developing just one amazing car. I would have preferred having a dedicated GP for off-road circuits - like a Rally Championship.

There’s also a fairly unrealistic and rather confusing part in the game, which is down to the type of car you can bring to a race. In earlier competitions, everyone will use the simple models, but as soon the difficulty increases, other teams will use their whacky models, making you doubt about your own development decisions. From the basic Roadster, you can move up to the Buggy, Proto car (my favorite) and Super car, maybe go for the Dragster technology tree with the Cigar and Spiral cars or go for the F1-looking Wing, Sonic and Aero bodies. You also get a bunch of crazy special models thrown into the mix, but I won't spoil for you in this review.

Road to the championship

The trick here is to aim low and max out the performance of the simple models before taking on the most advanced ones. The “Tech” parameter of your racing team will define how the new car developed will turn out, meaning that an unexperienced team won’t be able to handle the better models. This completes the cycle of development, racing, racing and more racing, upgrading and then develop a new model with all the new stuff learned in the process. This doesn't provide the same satisfaction feeling one gets developing a game console in Game Dev Story, but for me it's the most interesting part of the game - prepare a new car for a GP and see if it can obliterate the other teams.

If you liked the previous Kairosoft releases, Grand Prix Story is a stop you shouldn't miss. Having a very specific theme doesn't mean that it's only for racing fans, since there’s little realism and a lot of management and strategising involved to cater for wider audiences. My biggest complaint is, again, the overall quality feel of the end product, which plays well but is along the worst examples of game porting to iOS. At least this time they used a Retina Display ready icon, so maybe next time they’ll fix the UI too. The game runs OK on iPads at double resolution, but I don't see any reason not to release a Universal or HD build for the price being asked.