Rating : 4/10
Combining Nickelodeon’s roster of characters and solid kart racing action seems like an easy decision, they’ve tried it before but now it’s the current generation’s turn. How does this new entry into the genre fare and is it worth your time?
Take Mario Kart, sprinkle in your own characters and setting and you’d think you’d have an instant hit! Nickelodeon Kart Racers attempts this and brings an assortment of characters from four popular shows into the popular kart racing format. The game features 12 characters on its roster; Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy from SpongeBob SquarePants; Reptar, Tommy and Angelica Pickles from Rugrats and finally Arnold and Helga from Hey Arnold!
This selection of characters and shows is very disappointing, even ignoring that Nickelodeon have a great selection of shows they could (and have in the past) cherry-pick from. Having all four heroes in a half-shell but no other iconic characters from the show is a huge waste, likewise having no Chuckie or Phil and Lil to flesh out the Rugrats just seems odd. If the roster involved a lot more shows, I could understand the rationale of having a couple from each show, but with the focus on four shows it feels very lacklustre.
This same mindset follows through to the track designs with a few locations from each of the four shows acting as a backdrop to the courses within them, the environments themselves look nice (if a little simplistic) but the courses themselves don’t really have anything unique about them. They look and feel generic and worse still is that none of the courses are memorable, it’s a terrible shame as the actual environment art looks nice, it’s just wrapped around empty, dull courses.
So that’s all negative, but let’s talk about the game itself rather than the bizarre mistreatment of a license. The game features three solo game modes; the standard Grand Prix and Time Trial you’d expect along with Free Race. It also includes split screen local multiplayer for up to four players featuring those same racing modes along with three Battle Arena game types.
Initially Grand Prix gives you access to five cups, each with four tracks. Winning these cups in first place unlocks a further three cups that rearranges existing tracks; one comprises eight tracks instead of four, one reverses the tracks and the final one consists solely of slime races. Slime races? What are those, I hear you cry? They are the closest thing to Wave Race we’ve had in years!
Racing in Nickelodeon Kart Racers mimics Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed and the more recent Mario Kart titles by having your kart glide and propel itself through slime at various points in each track. Being a Nickelodeon game, it has a rather unhealthy obsession with green slime; it powers your boost, it’s more common than water, it gets in your hair and it’s even your reward for getting on the podium.
Areas that would normally be water sections in other games are slime here, with entire tracks dedicated to bobbing about on the stuff. These slime races differ from the norm by having different rules like Elimination where the person in last place as you cross the line and at timed intervals gets eliminated and Slalom where the game has you weaving between buoys as you race. These racing and the slime sections in the ordinary tracks add a nice amount of variety and your kart controls differently compared to on tarmac.
Speaking of control, that’s one area that feels solid, from timing your boost off the start line to controlling your corner slides, the karts handle well. Once in the slime they feel less responsive and susceptible to oversteer as you’d expect, sadly all the characters feel the same. Kart upgrades make an obvious difference and you get them via an in-game shop where you spend the coins you collect as you speed around the courses.
A basic progression system is in place too where winning races earns experience that levels you up. Once you hit a new level, you’ll take part in a Victory Lap which sees you race around the course you just finished collecting coins and special loot boxes, these mostly reward large denominations of coins but can also contain kart parts, saving you cash you can spend on other upgrades. The Victory Lap is a neat way of rewarding play and is one of the few original elements I’d love to see adapted into other games going forward, as it’s far more fun and rewarding than just getting a pop-up saying you’ve earned currency.
The game does do some interesting things with its mechanics; you have multiple ways to boost for example. You can boost from a slide like in recent Mario Kart games but you also have a three segment meter that fills as you drive over slime. The higher the meter the further you can boost. And yes, that means in slime races it is constantly filling!
Items in the game are basically re-skinned versions of the items you see in Mario Kart, baby bottles fire straight forward, pizza obscures a drivers vision, a Mouser (from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) steals an item from another racer just to name a few. Each racer has a unique item though, Raphael’s Sai pickup sees him twirl them which gives him a speed boost damaging anyone he touches and Michelangelo’s Nunchaku gives him three boomerang type shots that come back to him once he throws them for example.
Visually the game is nothing spectacular, it has a nice clean look to it and there is some good effects work on slime in particular and the bright neon-like signs and lighting. It does a good job of capturing the Nicktoons aesthetic, but it is clearly not a graphics showcase. It runs at a solid 60fps on PS4 although I had a curious glitch happen a few times where it would suffer slowdown upon loading a new track and the neon bloom effects would become overly saturated until the race finished when it would snap back to normal. I couldn’t reliably reproduce this but it happened multiple times which is something to be aware of.
Bizarrely there is also no voice acting for any of the characters, no original dialogue or even samples from the existing shows. They are all literally silent which just feels eerie, playing one of the Turtles and not hearing them throwing out one-liners is just wrong. Music is also a missed opportunity, there isn’t enough variety and you hear the same few tracks constantly. None are particularly memorable but at least they won’t have you muting the TV.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers can be a fun time when racing, the multiple boost mechanic is interesting and the Victory Lap upon levelling up is a novel way of presenting new goodies but the track design is bland and uninspired whilst the character selection just feels like a waste. It’s a competent kart racer and like with most things if you can drag a friend or two into it with you there are some laughs to be had but I can’t recommend it as it is.
No online multiplayer, oddly narrow selection of properties, a lack of characters and imagery from the shows they used along with oddities like no voice work make it hard to recommend, there’s the nugget of a great kart racer in here but it all feels so half-hearted. A real shame.
Often reminiscing about the ‘good old days’. Simon has almost perfected his plan to enter the Speed Force and alter the timeline.