Gentlemen (And Ladies)... Start Your Engines!
Third parties have a historically flawed strategy when it comes to the Wii. Instead of filling in holes of Nintendo's own lineup by putting out big time shooters and such, these companies unload the Wii with a flood of "me too" software, hoping to cash in on the popularity of Nintendo's titles. We've seen it happen originally with the highly successful Wii Sports and Wii Play which brought out the infestation of mini-game themed party titles. With the continued craze for Wii Fit, we've seen current and upcoming software like EA Active (which in all fairness seems like a legitimate effort) and several poor efforts trying to take it to the bank. Now with the fantastic sales of Mario Kart Wii, we have EA once again jumping on the bandwagon with NASCAR Kart Racing. No need to honk your horn in anger, however, as this game may just get your motor running.
NASCAR Kart Racing is very much inspired by Mario Kart Wii. Everything from the number of racers in a given race (twelve) to the cluster of chaotic items to clobber your competitors with. Essentially every NASCAR Kart Racing item has a Mario Kart Wii counterpart. For example, the nitro boost item is a golden mushroom, the yellow caution flag much like Mario Kart's lightning bolt causes every racer to be slowed down, and the wacky "Your Ad Here" power-up when used puts your ad bouncing all around every other players' screen much like the Blooper squid ink in the Wii and DS incarnations of Mario Kart. Get used to seeing ads because just like the real life "sport", NASCAR Kart Racing is chalk full of them from logos on cars, billboards, and menu screens. It really doesn't detract from the game at all, and a big portion of my fun came from beating the crap out of the guy driving the GameStop car. Power to the pulverizer, you pilfering punks!
Now while there are many striking similarities to Nintendo's wildly successful kart-racer, NASCAR Kart Racing does set itself apart from Mario's romps on the blacktop. Like the NASCAR in reality, each racer has a buddy, a person on their team looking out for them. When two buddies are close to each other, the boost bar in the lower corner of the screen begins to fill. It can be filled up to three zones, giving the player the ability to hold three boosts at the same time. While behind one buddy, the other buddy can let loose a boost to slingshot past, giving him a greater boost than normal. The two can continue slinging off one enough for as long as they can keep it up to gain some serious ground on the competition. Boosts can also be earned by jamming on a button as the countdown to start the race begins or through power-slides. However, in time trial-like situations, I've had my CPU-controlled buddy do some precarious actions. Twice I've been knocked off a track. Well, actually, not necessary knocked... more like pushed for three seconds off the track by my teammate. Other times the buddy will stay just a bit too far behind me meaning we're not close enough to have my boost power go up, and this is a problem with your teammates who otherwise always catch up to you no matter what. Well, can't win them all. Speaking of which, your opponents aren't anything like Mario Kart Wii where they bombard you with items or speed up to impossible velocities just to catch up with you.
EA left the choice up to the player in the control department. NASCAR Kart Racing allows the choice between the Wii remote by its lonesome (Wii Wheel or not), Classic Controller, Gamecube Controller, or the Wii remote and nunchuk combo that I used. Driving with the Wii Wheel is a very fun experience, and there's not much need for severe precision in the game. It works well and it's a blast to use. The Classic and Gamecube controllers will probably be what others use as the Wii remote and nunchuk use the "-" button to brake which is quite awkward to reach. Regardless, I can count the times I had to use the brake button on one hand. Basically, any control method works well, and it just comes to the preference of the player.
NASCAR Kart Racing is comprised of twelve total tracks. While this number may seem small to other games, EA has cleverly designed each track to have the ability to played in reverse adding a completely different feel to each track. No worries if you're not a fan of traditional NASCAR as only the first track is the time-honored "left turn... left turn... holy crap! Another left turn!" oval loop the sport is famous for. Others are filled with twists, turns, bumpy hills, wide roads, narrow roads, shortcuts, and obstacles to navigate through. There's really a great deal of creativity in the track design that separates Kart Racing from uninspired to pretty nice.
Unfortunately, a lot of the tracks and racers are unavailable at the start of the game. This is where the Championship mode comes in. The Championship mode is the main single player draw here where players will unlock new tracks and racers to burn rubber on and with. You go through the ranks with every division having you have off against two rivals. Beat the division's first three challenges-- normal races with up to twelve opponents, and precision and distance challenges (more on those later)-- and you'll take your rivals on in one final race to determine the champion of that division. Win and you'll not only win a reward, but you'll also move onto the next division. Lose and you'll face ultimate humiliation knowing that you have failed in your goals, dreams, and the world's faith of you... or just hit "try again" and have another go at it.
Other modes feature a time trial-esque mode-- I say "esque" because the game doesn't record your total time for the race. It just keeps track of your best lap time-- a precision driving challenge which has the player driving through as many rings as possible in one lap, and a distance challenge where the player tries to drive as far as they can in a set amount of time. These modes don't really have any rewards to them, and because you have to beat all of one track's challenges to get anything (that's basically eight gos on one track), it comes off as tedious after a while. Nonetheless, multiplayer is great entertainment for up to four friends. There is no online play to speak of, so those without gamers around them may have to retire from this race before everyone else.
NASCAR Kart Racing boasts competent visuals and presentation. The game just uses the likenesses of the various cast of NASCAR champions from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Jeff Gordon who in-game looks like a Dan Akroyd from his Saturday Night Live days. Kart Racing looks like a mid-era Gamecube game at best, but there's an admirable amount of moving trains, boats, ships, and other objects in the background and alongside the track with nary a hint of graphical slow-down. In Championship mode's pre and post-race conversations, the relatively humorous dialogue is accompanied by Sim-like speak full of blubbering and other gibberish. This personality is a nice touch-- it just isn't let that personality shine through the entirety of the game making the NASCAR Kart Racing feel rather ho-hum in this regard.
NASCAR Kart Racing may be an imitation of Nintendo's entertaining Mario Kart Wii, but don't write it off as a cheap cash-in or a title that reeks of rush. The game is quite fun to play, and it shows a lot of promise for predictable subsequent installments. For those tired of searching for an alternative to Mario Kart Wii have one game to invest into-- except this one is lightly painted with a coat of motor oil, licensing, trucker hats, and a long, bushy mullet. For forty dollars, NASCAR Kart Racing is definitely a much better use of money than driving around in your car 200 laps burning up oil every Sunday.
[SuperPhillip Says: 7.25/10]