Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

We continue from last Thursday's Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue HD review with more family-friendly fare, this time with the cast of zany characters from the realm of Nickelodeon with Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix. Ride up to the starting line, racers, and get ready to race with SPC's review.

Slime Time Drive

In 2019, I joined the likes of SpongeBob SquarePants, Tommy Pickles from Rugrats, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to name a few, and sat behind the wheel of Nickelodeon Kart Racers. Between the lack of characters represented, charm, polish, and online play, I decidedly did not enjoy my time with Game Mill Entertainment's freshman kart racing effort starring Nickelodeon's all-stars as evidenced by my review. However, the developer of the game seems to have taken the common criticisms of their first title to heart, as Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix not only adds a wider cast of characters, but online play as well. Sure, the latter is doomed from the get-go due to an inactive player base, but still! It's at least included. Nevertheless, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix manages to speed across the finish line as a much improved game from its predecessor. Though, not without its own issues.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix features a wider net cast on Nickelodeon representation. While voice acting from said characters is still nil, there is a grander array of both playable racers and characters in general. The latter is due to the addition of a new chief and crew member mechanic. Before the racing begins, you select from a crew chief, featuring lesser known or supporting characters from several Nickelodeon properties, and these give your racer a helpful bonus ability to use when their slime meter is full. This is performed by riding through trails of slime and picking up slime coins, which serve another purpose as to make your driver's max speed increase for every slime coin collected. 

Chief skills run the gamut of usefulness and helpfulness. For instance, if you're sick of constantly getting hit by items--something that this game's AI is wont to deliver unto you--then you can have Filburt of Rocko' Modern Life fame to give your racer a temporary shield when your slime gauge is full and you activate the power. Or there's TMNT's April O'Neil's chief skill that grants invisibility when the slime gauge is at its maximum. Perfect for confusing opponents. 

The cast of characters included in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 has increased exponentially,
whether as playable racers or crew members.

While chief skills are skills activated manually, crew member skills are passive abilities that are activated automatically under certain conditions. Some activate upon collecting a slime coin, resulting in a boost. Others activate when your racer takes damage, such as Hey Arnold's Eugene providing a boost when your racer gets hit by an item. Of course, crew member skills can't be used one after another; they require a cooldown period of varying times in order to be utilized again. And unlike chief characters, you can have two crew members on your side at any time for a total of three members total to help your cause of securing first place on the podium.

There are over 100 different chief and crew members in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2, so this already presents plenty of character representation in a way not seen in the original game. It doesn't stop there, though, as there are about 30 playable characters and 30 tracks to enjoy as well, also representing plenty of Nickelodeon properties. New characters alongside old favorites from the original join the playable roster, like Ren and Stimpy, characters from Avatar the Last Airbender as well as its successor series The Legend of Korra, there's characters from Danny Phantom, CatDog, Rocko's Modern Life, and many more.

New to the Nickelodeon Kart Racers lineup, the Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra series.

Tracks take place in a large variety of locations and locales, some returning from the original game with new alterations. There's everything from racing through SpongeBob SquarePants' Krablantis and the city streets of TMNT's NYC, to speeding through a Double Dare-inspired obstacle course and Rocko's Modern Life's O-Town--complete with familiar sights like Rocko's house and Chokey Chicken. (And if you must ask, yes, that's innuendo that somehow got past the censors in the '90s among many others on that show.) There is some really cool designs on display in the tracks, and if you're not impressed by those or some of the shortcuts featured, you might just get a kick out of the shows and characters represented, you hard-to-please player, you!

The titular Grand Prix mode in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix features your standard Mario Kart formula of four races one after the other with the top point winners landing on the podium. Also, like Mario Kart 8 and its Deluxe variant, you'll want to aim for first place each race in a cup if you wish to earn three stars. While this is easy enough in the slow and normal speed difficulties, once you reach fast and the insane speeds, you enter Nickelodeon's version of the fifth circle of Hell, though this version trades flames with slime. The eternal damnation persists, however. It's insanely difficult to consistently win races, as the AI loves its rubber-banding, severe item usage, and yes, its Blue Shell equivalent, that damned Jellyfish, which comes up way too often in races--two to three times.

Hurry up and beat that ghost in this tense time trial!

Outside the hell that is Grand Prix's later difficulties, there is a free race mode, a Mario Kart DS-style mission mode known as Challenge mode, time trials, an arena battle mode (though this only has two arenas, unfortunately), and a garage area where players can spend slime coins earned through regular play to purchase new vehicle parts and skins for their various racers' rides. It's a game full of content here, and while not all of it is desirable (again, looking into the eyes of the hellish demon that is Grand Prix's Insane speed), it's mostly fun.

Challenge Mode features six tiers of seven missions each,
ranging from destroying targets to boss races to unlock new playable characters.

That fun is in part due to how much of an improvement the vehicles handle and control in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix when compared to its predecessor. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before or done better by Mario Kart--such as performing tricks off slime ramps, holding drifts to get a stronger boost, etc.--but hey, it works and is functional. Even the item selection borrows heavily from Mario Kart with every item in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 having some kind of Mario Kart 8 equivalent, from M.O.U.S.E.R.S. that steal items from other players much like Mario Kart's Boo item, to its Lightning Bolt equivalent, an obnoxious pig that hitches a ride on the back of your racer's kart and slows it down considerably.

Even the visuals of Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix is an improvement over Game Mill's original outing. While nothing will make your eyes start tearing up because of the immense beauty on display (there is nothing of that sort here), you may just appreciate the level of detail in the racing environments. Meanwhile, while again, no characters have voice acting to speak of (which like with the original game, is a bit disappointing and occasionally off-putting), the sound part of Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2's package isn't overly a failure. The music is pretty good, honestly. I actually found myself humming on the rare occasion to the songs on offer. It's all original stuff with no melodies from the source materials featured, but it's not half bad.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix doesn't necessarily finish at first place on the podium, but it also doesn't necessarily limp across the finish line on fumes, either. I appreciated the improved presentation (lack of character voices and familiar music aside) and increased number of shows and characters included in the game, whether they be playable, chief and crew members, or track designs. Better balancing of the harder Grand Prix speeds would have made for a higher level of enjoyment, as I don't know what kind of kid would not rage at the nonsense that happens during these races when a grown adult almost does, but overall, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix 2 is good slime--er, time. Lack of originality and balancing, notwithstanding.

[SPC Says: C]

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