I wouldn’t say I had high expectations for Nickelodeon Kart Racers, as a matter-of-fact, I suspect many of you expect a scathing, cut-throat analysis of its many pitfalls and shortcomings. I wouldn’t fault you for that and, by all means, while I do my best to be constructive with my criticisms and never bash something for the sake of it. I bought Nickelodeon Kart Racers, not because I thought it’d give upper-tier racers like Crash Team Racing a run for their money, but because I enjoyed Nickelodeon in my youth and I wanted a chance to revisit the characters of my childhood. I wasn’t expecting a contender for the Mashers Club championship, but I was hopeful for a fun, racing-kart video-game and I figured that it was a simple, straightforward enough concept that it wouldn’t be difficult to competently succeed with.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers is the first Nicktoons game released in over seven years with the last installment being Nicktoons MLB back in late-2011. The video-game was developed by Bamtang Games, a developer without a Wikipedia page, whose resume includes Mighty Morphing Power Rangers Mega Battle, an arcade-style beat-em-up.
Something Nickelodeon Kart Racers made me appreciate early-on I think a lot of us might take for granted is its title-screen. By that, I mean Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ title-screen is the worst I’ve ever seen for a video-game released in the modern-era. Offering access to Single Player, Multiplayer, and the in-game Shop, the menu reminds me a lot of a copy of a DVD from a rental store, the ones with a still image and a selection menu tacked on at the bottom. It might not seem like a crucial detail in the grand scheme of things, but it’s what you first see when you load-up Kart Racers and sets a very lackluster, budgeted mood off-the-bat.
The game-play options are straightforward and about what you’d expect, you can choose a single-track or a “Free Race,” as it’s called, or you can go for the Grand Prix. You’re allowed to choose from six different Grand Prix options, each comprised of four tracks apiece. If you win all of the Cups, however, you’ll unlock the Orange, Remix, and Slime Cup, which don’t offer you any new tracks, but are comprises of eight tracks apiece instead. Personally, I like the idea of having Grand Prix’s with more races attached to them, and it, or actual customization, is something I’d like to see become a standard in kart racers.
Once you decide on a Cup, you’ll now be tasked with choosing your driver. Saying the cast of characters leave a lot to be desired is an understatement. Again, I’ll mention that I never expected a lot out of Kart Racers, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw-in that I bought Nickelodeon Kart Racers on sale for less than four dollars, but the original retail price was thirty bucks! The roster is comprised of only twelve different racers and features characters from Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, SpongeBob, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There are no characters to unlock either, this is all you have to choose from. This is nerve-racking when you consider the crazy roster of characters Nickelodeon has to choose from. What about characters from shows like Jimmy Neutron, Danny Phantom, Fairly Odd Parents, Avatar the Last Airbender, My Life as a Teenage Robot, or, even, Dora the Explorer, if you wanted. That’s the era of Nickelodeon I was brought up, but, if you wanted, you could even look to The Angry Beavers, Rocko’s Modern Life, or Ren & Stimpy, or, even look forward. As a twenty-three-year-old man, you’ll be surprised to learn I haven’t watched Nickelodeon in nearly a decade, but I know series’ like The Loud House, Henry Danger, or The Legend of Korra could offer more than a few racers to choose from.
As you start your engines and begin your race, you’ll soon discover something else as well. There is no dialogue in Nickelodeon Kart Racers. Part of me didn’t mind this. I didn’t mind it because I know if Kart Racers did have voice-actors, I’d be spammed to death with nonsensical sound bites from each character. Instead of verbal dialogue, Kart Racers opts to feature word-bubbles on the bottom corner of the screen, featuring the character spouting lines vaguely commentating on what’s happening during the race. The music is bland and does very little to liven up the dull audio, but is, other-wise, unoffensive.
The game-play is a mixed-bag of emotions. Like I prefaced earlier, kart racers are straightforward and simple at their foundation. A lot of the time, it feels like Mario Kart did the heavy-lifting and a lot of racers merely tweak that formula to their heart’s content. The animations of each character are lifeless and lack personality, feeling like mascots or stand-ins for their cartoon counterparts, but there’s faithfulness in the tracks and abilities. Each character has a special-ability that fits with their character, like SpongeBob’s ability to cover his opponents’ screen with jellyfish or how the Ninja Turtles can collect their weapon-of-choice and tank through enemies for a short period.
The levels can feel a little repetitive as far as color-scheme is concerned and slime featured during race-tracks can burn your eyes with how bright it is on some levels, I appreciated how they depicted areas from the respective cartoons. Whether it’s driving through Bikini Bottom or a high-school for Hey Arnold!, it at least shows glimpses of how much better this could have been if they were more expansive. I liked other features as well. Every now and again, during a Cup race, they’ll add stipulations to a race to bring a little variation. This can include having to follow arrows and a path, or face elimination after you’ve failed too many times, or the last-player in a race being eliminated every fifteen seconds. They’re additions that add layers to the tried-and-true racing formula, and for Kart Racers and its few tracks and few racers, it’s a welcome addition.
The racing itself, at its best, is competent and enjoyable, a standard kart racer without a lot else to say about it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was enjoyment to be had on occasion. At worst, it can be a mess, with characters spamming the same attacks over and over again in a short time-frame and decisions that boggle the mind. For example, Kart Racers features intervals where you go off track and must glide, kind-of on the order of Mario Kart, however, what I’ve found it’s faster to wreck and re-spawn than glide to the track.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers has no story-line and no online-play, and the additions its store offers are merely modifications for your kart, no real major additions.
There isn’t a lot to say about Nickelodeon Kart Racers on the surface. I was able to keep my expectations in-check because my investment was limited to spare pocket-changes but anyone who purchased it at its retail-price would certainly be disappointed. It features a severe lack-of-polish and cuts a lot of corners, a fact that can be seen straightaway from the main-menus and is only emphasized through the game-play itself. Imagining a Kart Racers comprised of Nickelodeon’s most famous cartoons from over the decades, featuring thoughtful tracks and voice-acting, a decent budget, and more time spent under-the-hood, and you have reason to be excited. Unfortunately, that’s not what this is, and it’s not even close.