Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Tuesday 10s - Under-appreciated Kart Racers

The kart racer: a sub-genre in the racing game genre that generally features video game mascots and colorful cartoon characters competing in speedy races against one another for the sole goal of crossing the finish line in first place. No doubt Super Mario Kart made this sub-genre popular and put it on the map, but for every well-done Mario-branded racer, there are countless others that fall through the cracks. For this purpose SPC brings back The Tuesday 10s to list ten underrated and under-appreciated kart racers from a wide swath of developers and franchises. After you've checked out these ten, relatively unordered picks on this list, I encourage you to let the community know which ones you agree and disagree with.

Mario Kart Tour (iOS, AND)

I know what you enter this article to say, "Phil! How can a game in the Mario Kart series be under-appreciated? It's only the most popular kart racing franchise in existence!" Well, my answer is pretty easy. Mario Kart Tour is often maligned, and it no doubt deserved that contempt when it launched with bare-bones features (including a total lack of competitive multiplayer), a disgustingly aggressive series of microtransactions, and a limited amount of ways to earn rubies, the premium currency of the game. Heck, I even roasted the game as if it were a nasty-tasting marshmallow when I played it for my review way back when. 

However, Mario Kart Tour has only since improved since launch. Adding more ways to earn rubies than ever before, offering free pulls for participating in tours, implementing rather enjoyable online play with friends and randoms, and throwing in several updates and upgrades have made Mario Kart Tour a worthwhile game. It still won't sway those who loathe gacha-style games, but for those who enjoy the base gameplay of the Mario Kart series and adore the charm of the series, these are still present in Mario Kart Tour.

LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)

We move on from Mario to a pair of PlayStation first party racing games, the first of which being LittleBigPlanet Karting. Following the "Play, Create, and Share" mantra that the mainline LittleBigPlanet games showcased, LittleBigPlanet Karting not only brought racing to the LittleBigPlanet series, but also brought an overwhelming amount of creation tools to craft involve tracks and creations in its editor. From designing the track layout to even setting off triggers for special effects and camera angles, LittleBigPlanet Karting's creator was incredibly intricate, allowing an unprecedented amount of creation tools for a home console kart racer. The racing itself was also solid, implementing several story elements and mechanics from the LittleBigPlanet series to craft one really cool kart racer.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip (Vita)

If creating a compelling enough track in LittleBigPlanet Karting was too difficult for the average creator--and quite frankly, it was for most players--then my recommendation would be to take a peek at the ModNation Racers franchise, another PlayStation-produced kart racer. You could not only create a complex track, but you could do it rather easily, especially with ModNation Racers: Road Trip, a PlayStation Vita launch title. Even with the servers offline, I still find myself returning to Road Trip to create courses and tracks, karts, and drivers for the sheer enjoyment of racing and using my own creations. The kart racing gameplay, much like LittleBigPlanet Karting, is top-notch, too, and perhaps even better due to the fact that the rubber-band AI is nowhere near as severe. Considering it's dirt cheap to pick up nowadays and features a fully featured and fleshed out campaign filled with fun races and events, there's really no excuse to miss out on ModNation Racers: Road Trip if you have a PlayStation Vita and a love for kart racers.

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

The first Nickelodeon Kart Racers game was a pretty shoddy effort. The racing was okay, but everything else about the game seemed a bit off. The lack of online limited the longevity of the game, the assortment of characters and tracks didn't really dig deep into Nickelodeon's rich brand history, and the game just wasn't too enjoyable. Believe it or not, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix improves upon the original in pretty much every way possible. It added online, it beefed up both the amount of playable characters and Nickelodeon properties represented--including Ren & Stimpy, Double Dare, Rocko's Modern Life, Catdog, among many others--and the track design was much more inspired. The included mission mode, titular Grand Prix events, and aforementioned online made for a much improved kart racer. Sure, the rubber-band AI and item spam in later difficulties will make you wonder why the developer hates its target audience so freaking much, but overall, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 earned a wave of the checkered flag.

Mickey's Speedway USA (N64)

Let's move from Nickelodeon to Disney with a kart racer that came from the masters at Rare. However, Mickey's Speedway USA--specifically the Nintendo 64 version--released late in the console's life. Not only that, but it failed to reach the same levels of greatness as Diddy Kong Racing--which I would peg as one of my favorite kart racing games of all time. Despite these factors, Mickey's Speedway USA is still worth checking out if at all possible. The game features stellar kart racing mechanics, inspired tracks that take Mickey and pals across the United States from locales like the Grand Canyon and San Francisco, to name a couple, and includes an enjoyable story mode as well. The game also looks rather great on the Nintendo 64, even  tas a release that didn't utilize the Expansion Pak, when so many titles from Nintendo and Rare near the end of the N64's life seemed to do. At any rate, Mickey's Speedway USA is a fast and fun trip across the U.S. of A that will make any Mouseketeer beam from ear to ear with delight.

MySims Racing (Wii)

Let's look at two Wii kart racers from Electronic Arts. First, MySims Racing brought some uniqueness to the kart racing genre with full-blown character and kart creation. Using the MySims series'--and Sims series in general--penchant for creation and customization, MySims Racing brought full customization of one's character and kart to the game. It's something that even the Mario Kart series wouldn't see until Mario Kart 7 on the Nintendo 3DS in 2011! As you played through the campaign, you earned kart parts to further customize your kart to make it one impressive and stylish beast of a vehicle. The game's 15 tracks offered colorful tracks with multiple places to take advantage of the game's boost functionality to cut across ground conditions that would otherwise slow one's kart down, as well as plenty of opportunities to shave precious seconds off of one's laps. It's by no means the best kart racer on the Wii, but MySims Racing did bring a fun, family-friendly alternative to Mario Kart Wii on Nintendo's motion-control-centric hardware.

NASCAR Kart Racing (Wii)

The other kart racer released by EA during the Wii years is an unexpected one, and one that from reading the title might make you assume it was yet another game to add to the pile of seemingly endless shovelware that plagued Nintendo's revolutionary system. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, NASCAR Kart Racing is a strong kart racing game using a partner-based system. When in the vicinity of your racing partner, you produce boost energy. When one of the two of you uses their boost from behind the other, they slingshot ahead of them. It's possible to chain slingshots together for an impressive speed boost. Featuring 12 tracks, almost two-dozen racers, a competent campaign, and more product placement than a traditional NASCAR race, NASCAR Kart Racing is an entertaining cartoon-y arcade kart racer that more people should know about and play.

Crash Nitro Kart (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Let's now go back a generation of consoles from the Wii era to the PlayStation 2, GameCube and original Xbox era with Crash Nitro Kart. There's no question that many fans of Crash Bandicoot's debut racing game were perplexed on how to feel about this particular kart racer. After all, the series had long since been out of Naughty Dog's hands, but overall, Crash Nitro Kart shined brightly on its own, even in the shadow of the original Crash Team Racing. Crash Nitro Kart's greatest achievement was possessing tracks that in some ways rivaled those seen in CTR, and delivering some impressive mechanics in them, too, such as some featuring loop-de-loops. Thus, it was great to see that CNK had not been fully forgotten, implementing all of the characters and tracks into Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, CTR's remake that is without question the most feature-packed and content-rich kart racer in genre history. 

Pac-Man World Rally (PS2, GCN, XBX, PSP, PC)

Namco could not resist entering into the foray that was the kart racer, and it did so with its starring mascot, its pride and joy Pac-Man. There were some clever ideas in Pac-Man World Rally, such as collecting fruit that would open up alternate shortcuts and paths, as well as the ability to gobble up other racers by collecting Pac-Pellets in true Pac-Man fashion. It also helps that World Rally was ultimately a well executed racer as well, feeling tight and enjoyable to control. While it didn't necessarily push the genre forward in any meaningful way, it did bring those who played the game, including yours truly, some joy. And hey, any kart racer that allows you to play as the Prince from Katamari Damacy (including having his own themed track as well), can't be appreciated enough!

Konami Krazy Racers (GBA)

Before Mario Kart: Super Circuit stormed onto the Game Boy Advance, GBA owners at the system's launch had the choice of picking up a bit of an appetizer to the Mario Kart series' handheld debut. That kart racer using a Mode 7-like approach to its visuals was Konami Krazy Racers. For fans of Konami, this kart racer is of special interest due to how many Konami franchises were featured in the game. The likes of Goemon from the Mystical Ninja series, Dracula of Castlevania fame, Gray Fox of Metal Gear Solid notoriety, and Vic Viper from the Gradius series, were but a third of the 12 playable racers in the game. That says nothing about the various tracks that were themed after numerous Konami games as well. No doubt Konami Krazy Racers was all but a Mario Kart clone in name, but this handheld kart racer offered lots of entertainment leading up to Mario Kart: Super Circuit's launch and remains an excellent game.

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