Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Five Best Mascot Racers of the Past Decade

Start your engines, as SuperPhillip Central is set to explore five of the finest forays in mascot racers from the past decade! These games sped ahead from the rest of the competition and delivered some of the most high-octane racing entertainment imaginable and in video game form. After you've perused the picks here, give a shout out to which of these mascot-led racers are your favorites.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

The face of gaming, Mario, hops into the driver's seat once again for the eighth mainline installment of the ever-thriving Mario Kart franchise. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes all of the content from the Wii U version, including all of its DLC tracks, and adds to it new mechanics, modes, and playable characters to race as. With this deluxe package of the Wii U original, you get 48 tracks and over 30 characters total. In addition to that, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe saw the return of the traditional rules of Battle Mode with real arenas as opposed to the unappealing "full scale tracks turned makeshift battle courses" of the original Mario Kart 8.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a sensational kart racer to be enjoyed by players of all skill levels, and one that's perfect to be picked up and played. New mechanics like a third level of drift boost, as well as accessibility settings in the form of steer assist and auto-acceleration ensure that everyone can have a good time regardless of their mastery of Mario Kart.

Then, there are the actual tracks of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which are, in my opinion, the absolute best set of tracks in any kart racer, much more any Mario Kart, with their anti-gravity sections having players drive up cliff sides, speed down waterfalls, and steer through out of this world twists and turns. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may lack in single player content, it more than makes up for in stellar and solid multiplayer mayhem and fun that will keep most players coming back for more again and again.

Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW)

If you're looking for a multitude of content, especially of the ongoing kind, then does Beenox have a game for you with Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, a remake of Naughty Dog's original PlayStation kart racer starring the crazed bandicoot. The developer could have easily bumped up the visuals and called it a day, but the amount of TLC put into CTR is truly outstanding. Familiar courses were given total face lifts and makeover, sometimes indistinguishable from the originals.

With Nitro-Fueled, players are greeted with semi-monthly Grand Prix events, where in each a new track is added, as are new characters, karts, and cosmetics. Players compete for Nitro Points to earn these wares. This is on top of the immense assortment of content already in the game, such as the Diddy Kong Racing-inspired Adventure Mode, the various Cups that players can compete in, the 30+ tracks from both CTR and its sequel, Crash Nitro Kart, and a multitude of characters to play as.

Unlike Mario Kart, CTR takes on a much more skillful approach to its racing, but this is a double-edged sword in a way. The skill ceiling is so high that Nitro-Fueled isn't necessary the easiest game to learn and get into. It takes quite a bit of practice to learn the ins and outs of drifting, boosting, performing turbos, and an even deeper understanding of how to perform more expert-level skills like unleashing turbos for entire laps at a time. To say that Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a pick-up-and-play game is folly, but otherwise, it's a fantastic kart racer, filled to the brim with continuously updated content and things to do.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi)

Hot off the heels (or should I say "wheels"?) of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing comes a much more complete and content-rich racing game with the game's sequel, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The last word in the title refers to the ability to transform between vehicle types on the fly at specific sections of track: by car, by speedboat, and by aircraft. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed's transformations didn't just end with the aforementioned vehicles, either, as entire tracks would evolve and change between laps. One lap you could be racing via cars, and then the next, the track crumbles underneath your wheels, turning into a high-flying finale to the finish line.

The roster was a veritable who's who of SEGA's most memorable characters, featuring characters from Sonic the Hedgehog, Space Channel 5, Samba de Amigo, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, NiGHTS, and even deeper cuts like characters from Skies of Arcadia, Golden Axe, and Shinobi. The PC version of the game would receive several exclusive characters, such as those from series such as Football Manager and Total War. All in all, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed delivered fast-paced arcade-style racing that offered something for everybody.

ModNation Racers (PS3, PSP)

Just on the edge of being within the past decade, having released in 2010, United Front Games' ModNation Racers was the first console kart racer that allowed for an incredibly ambitious means to create one's own courses, characters, and karts. The amount of creation options was at the time unheard of for a game of its type on consoles, and the actual racing was terrific and solid as well. By performing drifts and other tricks, racers could generate energy in a gauge, allowing them to boost as long as there was energy remaining in the gauge.

Alongside the user-generated content that could be made for the game, ModNation Racers featured a full-fledged single-player story campaign. Each track in the game was made using the same easy-to-use and accessible tools that were available to players in the creation modes. Sadly, ModNation Racers' online functionality has since been shut down as of 2018. Still, the racing remains as enjoyable as ever, and I hope that Sony will return to this franchise sometime in the future, perhaps eventually on the PlayStation 5.

LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)

While ModNation Racers got into the starting gate first with user-generated content in a kart racer on Sony's third home console, it was the LittleBigPlanet series from Media Molecule that took the whole concept of "Play, Create, Share" and made it popular on the PS3 in the first place. It only seemed fitting that the then-popular LittleBigPlanet series would take on the kart racing genre and attempt to take the creation crown back. Boy, did it ever.

ModNation Racers had an extraordinarily accessible track creation system. LittleBigPlanet Karting was simple to plant down a track, but the amount of options and features that one could add to a track was astounding. We're talking essentially programming here, with the ability to alter the track and customize it to obsessive degrees. Everything from the AI to the intro camera sequence could be customized and crafted to a creator's liking. Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet Karting's online servers were shut down alongside ModNation Racers.

Regardless, racing was but part of the LittleBigPlanet Karting experience, as apart from breakneck racing with the AI in the abundant circuit races of the story mode, there were battle modes, mini-games, and other activities all pertaining to driving of which to partake. The clever incorporation of gadgets like the grappling hook to utilize mid-races to cross over chasms in a dazzling display also added to the charm of the game. While LittleBigPlanet Karting failed to be competitive with the top of the heap in the kart racing genre, it was still an amusing and enjoyable romp all the same.

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