Doing licensed racing games can be hit-or-miss, and unfortunately most of the time it's very much a miss situation. The likes of South Park, Garfield, Shrek, and even Disney have almost always failed to bring in the same kind of fun factor that Mario Kart delivers. It's why it's surprising to see Nickelodeon manage to bring forth what makes Nintendo's racing series work with its own racer via Bamtang Games' Nickelodeon Kart Racers. However, the smooth racing comes with a hefty price.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers has players choose from 12 racers from four of Nicktoons' popular lineup. The casts of SpongeBob SquarePants, Hey Arnold!, Rugrats, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles each have their own styles of vehicles that personify what and how these characters are. With 24 tracks to race on, gamers can dive into various worlds based on these series, all containing little hidden gems and Easter Eggs that fans with a keen eye may notice.
First, the good news. This kart racer plays beautifully, from its high-octane speed and drifting mechanics to even its challenging AI racers. Every time I jumped into a race, be it normal or elimination via free racing or Grand Prix, I felt like I was fighting every moment to make it into at least the top three. Never once did I feel like I was way too ahead and on my way towards an easy victory; this game makes you work to keep your #1 spot! (In fact, there were a couple of moments where I thought I was about to win, only to have someone nab it away from me at the last millisecond!)
Also on-par in Nickelodeon Kart Racers is its weapons system, with baby bottles, pizzas, acorn bombs, and foam karate chop hands in your arsenal. Watching these weapons in action is incredibly fun to witness, as you see karts spiral out of control or fly in the air after a nice explosion. On top of that, its drifting is surprisingly better than what I recently experienced with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. As you let go at the right moment and watch your racer speed past the competition, the feeling I received as I rode up the rankings was that of pure adrenaline.
While it may not be as eye-popping as what Nintendo delivers, the amount of detail placed into the track layout is pretty impressive. From cheering crowds at a school to seeing Shredder fighting above the rafters, there is so much going on as you race through the areas. As you race through, you can also collect coins that can be used in the shop to unlock new accessories to customize your kart however you'd like it. Bigger wheels, Ninja Turtle paint job, Flying Dutchman-styled engine, you name it!
With all that being said, Nickeloden Kart Racers does have its share of flaws as well. For starters, Team Racing is really hard to be victorious in during single player mode. While you can gain a top spot in a race, you can never predict where your partner will rank. As such, even if you win the race itself, your teammate could do terribly and cost you points. (Many times I did this in Grand Prix, and never once did I rank in the Top 3 due to my AI partner not ranking higher.)
The second issue I had with this game is its character representation. Only four shows from Nicktoons nearly thirty-year lifespan is showcased in its racers. With popular shows like The Fairly Oddparents and upcoming returns via Rocko's Modern Life and Invader Zim, not to mention the recent launch of NickSplat that plays nostalgic Nicktoons for a new generation to enjoy, it could've been a prime opportunity to showcases these classic characters in a new game! (Heck, even cult faves like My Life As A Teenage Robot or Sanjay & Craig could've been given some love here, but to no avail.)
Issue number three is the lack of voice acting in this game. It feels strange not hearing Tom Kenny's SpongeBob laugh or E.G. Daily's Tommy giggle as they race along. Despite the vivid personality showcases on the tracks themselves, it doesn't mask the weird silence coming from the racers as they go head-to-head in high speed combat. Needless to say, not having the cast come in to record some one-liners for their respective characters was a bit of a misstep.
Speaking of misstep, this leads to the final problem I have with Nickelodeon Kart Racers: the lack of online multiplayer. Although there is a good four player couch co-op system, the fact that a racing game doesn't have a way to connect with players across the globe is a bonafide travesty. I'm not sure what Bamtang Games was thinking not adding it in, but it goes without saying that not having the chance to compete with friends and other players is a huge mistake on their part.
- Great tracks
- Fun, unique weapons
- Challenging, competitive AI
- No online multiplayer
- Not enough Nicktoons variety
- Team Racing is a pain
- No voice acting
Nickelodeon Kart Racers has a lot going for it, thanks to its fast-paced competition and cool tracks. However, the lack of online modes and the little actual Nicktoon representation this game has will make it hard for some to be pulled away from the better racing titles out there. Maybe there will be some updates in the future to fix all of these, but for the time being, Nickelodeon Kart Racers is a full caterpillar just waiting to turn into the butterfly it wants to be.
Promotional consideration provided by Erica Enos of Clever Communications. Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.