Are You Ready, Kids?
Mario Kart has been one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, and countless developers have tried to replicate that success with their own versions of it. This has led to some successful games like Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing and Crash Team Racing. Most of the time, though, it leads to shameless rip-offs that don’t have the heart or charm that Mario and his pals do. Unfortunately for Nickelodeon Kart Racers, there’s no question where it lands on the spectrum.
Where is Everyone?
Nickelodeon is no stranger to crossover games, and they’ve made great use of their franchises in the past. After all, Nicktoons MLB managed to throw in characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender along with SpongeBob and Timmy Turner. However, the impressive backlog of quality TV shows aren’t represented in Nickelodeon Kart Racers. The issue that bugged me the most is that, with all of their great shows, only SpongeBob SquarePants, Hey, Arnold!, Rugrats, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are represented, with no more than four characters per franchise. Where are Invader Zim, Danny Phantom, and Rocko’s Modern Life in this mix? The worst part is that there are no unlockable characters either.
What makes this pill harder to swallow is that the characters in the game are only representations in name only. You can select a character, but they don’t make any noise. The most interaction you’ll get out of them is an animation at the end of the race along with the same bit of pop-up text every time they hit or get hit during a race. With iconic characters, it’s important that they feel like themselves, but the ones in Nickelodeon Kart Racers feel like cardboard cutouts at best. As someone who is a longtime fan of SpongeBob SquarePants, it seems like a seriously missed opportunity.
For how wide the game seems with a title like Nickelodeon Kart Racers, the game is seemingly devoid of many of its best shows. This lack of franchises bleeds into the courses as well. While there are over 20 of them, many of them blend together. Half of the courses have players driving through rivers of slime, and none of them feel distinct from one another. A lot of the regular courses also deal with a similar set of obstacles, making it hard to remember any of them.
If there is one area in Nickelodeon Kart Racers that does work, it’s the slime mechanic. In each course, there are pools of slime that racers can drive over. This fills up a meter that they can then use up to perform a boost. If the game held more clever twists like this, it would be a respectable kart racer on its own. Unfortunately, that’s about all it does differently. It does add a plane to the karts, but those are simply variants of the glider in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. On the list of positives, the game also has a set of character-specific power-ups that hearken back to Mario Kart: Double Dash. While many of them feel random and overpowered, it was a nice touch that I can’t help but want in Nintendo’s racing series.
On the topic of racing itself, the game’s controls are fine. Drifting feels a bit too easy to execute, making it simple to exploit it to get ahead in a race. The button mappings are also a bit awkward but, other than that, everything works well.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers brings a bit more to the table than standard racing. Players can access Grand Prix, Time Trial, and three different Battle Arena modes. The Grand Prix mode is standard affair, as is the surprisingly-difficult Time Trial. The Battle Arena modes are where I want to spend a bit of time. They are Free-for-All, Capture the Flag, and Tag. Free-for-All is a regular battle mode with health and deadly power-ups. Capture the Flag is where racers hold onto a flag for a certain number of seconds. Tag, the most inappropriately-named mode of the bunch, involves one player leaving behind a trail of coins for others to pick up and vice versa.
The issue I take with the Battle Arena modes is that they only support local play with no computers. Unless you have three friends, they’re the sort of modes that you play once and then move on. Each plays alright, but I can’t help but feel that the first two are just copies of Balloon Battle and Shine Thief from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The Tag mode does offer something new to the table, though it would be better with bigger arenas and the ability to play with computers.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Nickelodeon Kart Racers was provided by Dead Good Media.