Saturday, January 23, 2016

Top Ten Underrated Kart Racers

The kart racer is my preferred type of racing experience. Everything from fantastical racing locales and tracks to item combat is what I like in my racing games. When you have colorful tracks, whimsical characters, and wacky items, you have a game I'll probably enjoy. This top ten list is dedicated to kart racers, but not the ones you'd probably think of first when the words "kart racer" come to mind. No, these games are ones that don't get as much credit, which I think is as great as a flat tire on the final lap. With this list of my ten favorite underrated kart racers, it's my hope that getting the word out on these games might give these games some of the attention that they truly deserve.

10) NASCAR Kart Racing (Wii)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! This first game on my list of favorite underrated kart racers is a lot like many games on this list, no doubt modeled after Mario Kart. The items in NASCAR Kart Racing have a lot of Mario Kart counterparts. However, NASCAR Kart Racing offers some new twists to the winning formula, such as having a partner just like in a typical NASCAR race to ride near and generate boosts. Unlike NASCAR, however, you won't be tediously making left turns the entire time. The game's twelve tracks are suitably colorful and can be played in normal or reverse form, essentially turning twelve tracks into 24. Whether you prefer the Wii Remote by itself, turning and twisting it to steer (which isn't a problem because precise steering isn't as required in this game as other Wii racers), using the Classic Controller, GameCube controller, or the Wii Remote and nunchuk combination, NASCAR Kart Racing, like your racing partner in-game, has got your back.

9) Mickey's Speedway USA (N64)

After working on Diddy Kong Racing, Rare took their talents and created a game starring some of the most cherished characters in history: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and more! The end result is Mickey's Speedway USA, a standard kart racer with 21 tracks spanning the country of the United States. Can't afford a trip to the U.S., European pals, or want to have a memory of the country that you used to live in after you leave if Donald Trump wins the presidency, fellow Americans? Then, Mickey's Speedway USA is the game for you! With five cups to enjoy of four races each, three difficulties, multiple characters to unlock, a traditional time trial mode, and heavily Mario Kart 64-inspired battle mode, you'll get to enjoy this kart racer for sure. Sure, it's nowhere near the greatness of Rare's past racer, Diddy Kong Racing, but really, what is?

8) Konami Krazy Racers (GBA)

Take characters from various Konami properties like Goemon from The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Gray Fox from Metal Gear, Dracula from Castlevania, and many more, put them into a kart racer with capable Mode 7 graphics, and you have the kraziness-- ahem-- craziness of Konami Krazy Racers. Whether you like the idea of speeding through Dracula's magma-filled castle, weaving in and out of lines of cardboard boxes from Metal Gear Solid, or racing around a baseball diamond a la MLB Power Pros, there's Konami goodness in each of the sixteen themed tracks in the game. Thankfully, you can enjoy the game's racers and races further with Konami Krazy Racers' tight and responsive controls, working wonders for an enjoyable racing experience. This Game Boy Advance launch title was a pleasant surprise, and it was a great time-killer to help the wait until Mario Kart: Super Circuit.

7) MySims Racing (Wii)

Time for another EA racer on this list (the first was NASCAR Kart Racing, for those keeping score at home). The simple-to-do customization of the MySims franchise remains apparent with MySims Racing, offering the ability to create your own character and kart, inside and out on the latter. You're able to outfit your ride to customize its top speed, acceleration, and much more. There are 15 tracks total, and each feature some really well hidden shortcuts, colorful worlds, and fun kart combat. The item variety is again like Mario Kart, but thankfully there is no obnoxious imbalance of items to be found, like some more recent Mario Kart games have had an issue with. What you get with MySims Racing is a humorous story and enjoyable kart racing that all ages can enjoy.

6) LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)

ModNation Racers predated LittleBigPlanet Karting, and it gave PlayStation 3 owners the first taste of creating tracks. However, LittleBigPlanet Karting brought the creation of tracks to a wholly new level of customization. Before I get ahead of myself, the actual racing of LittleBigPlanet Karting is immensely enjoyable. Sure, you might get picked off with more weapons and get passed by more AI opponents than you might like, and the game's difficulty isn't very kid friendly, but who cares when you create some insanely detailed tracks and play them with friends and strangers alike! Here's where LittleBigPlanet Karting's brilliance really shines. Although it takes some work to create some truly awesome creations, you can design your track as simply as driving a path with Sackboy or Sackgirl, set props, create typography, set the time of day, create shortcuts, and just do anything your heart desires, like make part-for-part Mario Kart creations like some happy gadders have done!

5) Chocobo Racing (PS1)

Forget what you know about other Final Fantasy games with their Gold Saucer races or obnoxious Final Fantasy X mini-game! The original PlayStation's Chocobo Racing is the best simulation of Chocobos and other Final Fantasy characters speeding through themed circuits! With this game, you get a selection of modes to choose from, whether it be Story, Versus, Grand Prix, Relay Race, or Time Attack. Final Fantasy mainstays like magic use, several locales (there are ten tracks total), characters like Mogs and Behemoths, and other touchstones of the franchise make it a game especially of notability to fans. While Chocobo Racing is indeed modeled after Mario Kart, with some critics calling it a mere "cash-in", those of us who have taken Chocobo and friends around the game's themed tracks a number of times can say that the game has its own presence for fans of Final Fantasy, kart racing enthusiasts, and newcomers alike.

4) Crash Nitro Kart (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Crash Nitro Kart apes Naughty Dog's Crash Team Racing formula of old completely, but that's a very good thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Or in a kart racer's terms, if the bowling bomb hits, why mess with the aim? Crash Nitro Kart has all the goods from Crash Team Racing: a capable story mode where winning races, participating in CNK Challenges (collecting three letters on a race and winning it) and Relic Races (crashing into boxes that pause the timer so you can beat a race's target time) are all required to complete it. Although multiplayer is limited to battle mode and Grand Prix races (no quick race option is available for multiple players), there is still fun to be had with friends. The track design is superb, even beating Mario Kart 8 to anti-gravity sections of track, where you go upside-down, left side up, and any other way you can think of, though this isn't as polished as its fellow kart racing successor. What Crash Nitro Kart is, however, is a fantastic post-Naughty Dog effort that is worthy of attention.

3) Speed Punks (AKA Speed Freaks) (PS1)

Whether you know it as Speed Punks, Speed Freaks, or don't even know it at all, this next kart racer on my list is pure, unfiltered fun! Each five lap race around colorful locations brings all the entertainment of blitzing around tracks as one of six competitors. Special speed boost tokens can be accumulated in races and used to perform high powered boosts to blast past opponents. There is a great amount of skill to be had against AI opponents, and this isn't because of some cheap manner like item imbalance or severe rubber-band AI. No, you have to bring you A-game when you're racing in Speed Punks. Through racing several tracks in a row in a traditional Grand Prix-style Tournament mode, you can tour the game's tracks, and if you win, you can take on a character that will unlock for your usage if you beat him or her. Speed Punks doesn't have an established character like Mario or Crash Bandicoot tied to it, so there's no wonder why the game was overlooked when it originally released in 1999 in PAL territories and 2000 in the U.S. (to not compete with Sony's own Naughty Dog production, Crash Team Racing).

2) ModNation Racers: Road Trip (Vita)

Though you're limited in your customization and creation abilities compared to LittleBigPlanet Karting, you can still create some magnificent works with ModNation Racers: Road Trip, a game that got vastly overlooked because of it: 1) Being on the PlayStation Vita, and 2) Lacking standard online play. However, the story mode is as full-featured as ever, offering great tracks to get ideas from to create your own masterpieces, varied objectives per race, and much more. The creating fun comes from designing your own avatar (and you can create some really detailed stuff, even looking like certain game and cartoon characters), vehicles, and of course, race tracks. Creating stuff is easy and intuitive, using the Vita's touch interface in marvelous ways. After you have put the finishing touches on your created work, you can upload it online, meaning you can also download a near endless array of Mods, vehicles, and tracks. I had a wonderful time with ModNation Racers: Road Trip, and I hope the lackluster response, both sales and critic-wise, don't doom the ModNation Racers series to a permanent hiatus.

1) Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (PS3, 360, Wii)

There are different levels of underrated-ness on this list. While a game starring Sonic as well as multiple recognizable SEGA characters wouldn't be seen as underrated by some, I think Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is underrated due to gamers usually preferring and recommending its much more bug-prone sequel that released several years later. What I like about SEGA's first all-star kart racer is that the tracks, although nowhere near as varied franchise-wise as the sequel, offer easier to see turns, less glitches, and aren't nearly as long (sometimes All-Stars Racing Transformed's tracks felt too long). Also, the items are much more Sonic and SEGA themed, bringing speed shoes, barriers, and more to the fold.

Furthermore, the mission mode brings some very fun objectives, and acing each one felt like a real, fair challenge instead of the occasionally infuriating difficulty of All-Stars Racing Transformed's main mode. I'm looking at you, Traffic Attack and Pursuit! The collection of characters is also something I prefer. There's no weird appearances from Wreck-It-Ralph or worse, NASCAR's Danica Patrick. Instead, you get old and new favorites like Billy Hatcher (of Giant Egg fame), Ryo Hazuki (Shenmue), Jacky Bryant and Akira Yuki (Virtua Fighter), Opa-Opa (Fantasy Zone), the mice from Chu Chu Rocket, and more. It all adds up to why I prefer the original Sonic and SEGA all-star affair over the sequel, which is still one of the better kart racers out there.

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