Not Even Close to a Kart-astrophe.
The kart genre is no stranger to zany and colorful games. When you think of games with karts, you most likely think of races around wacky circuits a la Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing. The newest effort by Big John Games forgoes such a formula and creates its own unique DSiWare entry with Kart Krashers. With a price tag of five bucks, is Kart Krashers a party worth "krashing?"
Kart Krashers starts off by interjecting a loose plot into things to give players a feeling of motivation to engage in the game. It really isn't necessary as the title is worthy of playing on its own merits without the need of a story. All you need to know is there is a Kart Krashing competition that will award the winner with a myriad of money, and one of the participants wants a pony. There you go; the plot in a nutshell. The game introduces new characters at a consistent pace, even allowing you to play as five of them as the story grows, each with their own kart and attributes.
There are ten levels to be played within Kart Krashers, each with three events. Levels are opened up on the world map one at a time, and through collecting enough Golden Wheels, new levels are unlocked for play. Across the Kart Krashing competition, you will speed, bash, and "krash" through malls, Mayan temples, twilight hour cities, junkyards, and even the moon.
As I said, Kart Krashers does not do the typical racing experience that you might expect with a kart game. Instead, Kart Krashers is all about collecting, and to be more specific, collecting stars. Strewn about the various levels and events are multicolored stars, each worth a significant amount of points. As you collect stars, your score multiplier goes up. You need to keep moving in an agile manner or else the multiplier will begin to decrease and fall little by little. You can continue your multiplier by collecting another star, so it is not a lost cause once your multiplier begins descending; You can still get it back. Outside of collecting stars are rings that are worth a substantial amount of points, but they require a bit more skill and driving finesse to reach. There are also enemies that can be defeated that also deal out points.
Each event (three in each of the ten levels) has three Golden Wheels to attain, earned by scoring a set amount of points within a given event. Through gaining four Golden Wheels within a level, the next opens up for you to engage. I seldom found myself having a rough go of getting all three Golden Wheels in most of the events, as there are a generous amount of point opportunities to be found. Sure, an occasional event will trip you up, but for the majority of the game I had little problem. That is not to say the game is immensely easy. Your mileage will vary on how much of a breeze or how much of a challenge you have. Regardless, a level ends when all stars have been collected, time runs out, or your kart loses all of its health.
The levels themselves are pretty much nicely designed. Stars are generally laid out in a smart enough way where there is usually a right racing line to grab them for the most amount of points in the fastest available fashion. Levels have plenty of ramps and paths to drive across, as well as hazards to worry about. The Cityscape level, for instance, is occupied not only by your standard alien menace, but there are also UFOs that will pick you up and knock you aside, taking out part of your kart's health.
Losing health is not much of a problem early on because the hazards are not as plentiful as they are later in the game. And even if your wheels do take some damage, you can drive into a first-aid kit to restore some health. That is not the only type of power-up available in Kart Krashers. There are rockets that allow you to boost across chasms and to speed up steep slopes, there are shields that can temporarily defend you against hazards as well as enabling you to take out enemies and boulders, there are magnets that grab hard-to-reach stars, and there are brushes that increase the reach of your kart, allowing it to collect more items and defeat more enemies more easily.
As for the actual driving mechanics, Kart Krashers offers a relatively tight experience, though you'll seldom want to put the pedal to the metal all the time. Usually I found myself easing on and off the accelerator to be steadier in my driving to collect stars. With the R shoulder button, you can use the handbrake to peel around corners in a single speedy action, something I hardly had to utilize, but it is nice to have for more hardcore players.
Nonetheless, to go along with all the things that are right with Kart Krashers, there are some problems. For one, the physics of the game are not always perfect. You'll come to careen on an edge and no matter how hard you fight to stay on, you will always fall off; no matter if the majority of your kart is on solid ground or not. Then there is the problem with when your kart is upside down or on its side. It is incredibly frustrating trying to flip your car back on its wheels (attempted via pressing the Y button). This is especially aggravating when you are being locked on by missiles and are being attacked and you just flop around like a goldfish out of its fishbowl. One time it took a full fifteen seconds for my kart to actually regain its bearings and get back on its wheels. Unbelievable and immensely irritating.
On the presentation side, Kart Krashers shows that you do not need an overwhelming budget to make a competent and capable looking game. The visuals are quite good, especially for a DSiWare game, though darker areas look a bit muddy. The kart models look pleasing, too, as does the user interface of the game. Sound-wise, things are about as much as you could hope for. The music does not grate on the ears, and it can actually be catchy at times. Good luck hearing it clearly, however, when it is competing with the roar of your kart's engine 100% of the time. However, all is not well with the sound. One particular sound effect when you switch selections on the main menu is cringe-inducing in its badness.
Kart Krashers presents an atypical arcade kart game for any gamer on a budget. It won't last a significant amount of time -- perhaps a few hours to get all Golden Wheels and to obtain every achievement the game has to offer, but it is an entertaining title for the brief amount of time it can be played to full completion. Nonetheless, I can only help but think how online leaderboards for players across the globe or country to compete for the top scores on each level would have helped the longevity of the game. Along with that thought of what might have been, as well as the control issues and physics problems aside, Kart Krashers managed to exceed my expectations greatly. If you're looking for a relatively cheap and really engaging DSiWare game, introduce and acquaint yourself with Big John Games' Kart Krashers.
[SuperPhillip Says: 7.25/10]