STAFF REVIEW of Nickelodeon: Kart Racers (Xbox One)

Sunday, December 2, 2018.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Nickelodeon: Kart Racers Box art These days, what was once old is becoming new again. At least, that’s the case with quite a few properties and experiences, including classic movies and video games like Spyro the Dragon, A Star is Born and Final Fantasy VII. Companies know that developing a new IP is a costly and risky process, so they like to draw from the past and use both nostalgia, iconic characters and classic storytelling to revitalize older, once successful properties for newer audiences.

In a way, this applies to Nickelodeon Kart Racers, a Mario Kart-inspired game that uses nostalgia as one of its main forms of appeal. After all, many people within the average gamer age group (which, at least used to be in the mid-30s if I remember correctly) grew up watching shows like Rugrats, SpongeBob SquarePants, Hey Arnold!, Ren & Stimpy and more. Meanwhile younger gamers, including these folks’ potential kids, may have grown up watching some of the iconic, pop culture mainstay’s newer animated shows, like their modernized and very animated take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Of course, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been around for decades now, and were one of my favourite things when I grew up during the 90s. It’s just that they seem to be the most modern characters included here because of the recent show, and rival only SpongeBob in terms of popularity.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers is, at its core, a mixture of speed and nostalgia, with a copious amount of goo thrown in for good measure. It’s part Mario Kart and part 90s cartoon, featuring familiar characters and environments. Thus, there’s a lot of fan service, which will bring at least some back to easier days when the worries of adulthood were nonexistent. It’s also not very original, although we won’t pretend that it’s the first game to borrow from Mario Kart over the last 20 some-odd years. Hell, it’s kind of difficult to be a kart racer and not be compared to the series that made the genre what it is and still remains its biggest draw.

The action – which is spread over three different difficulties – takes place on almost twenty-five track arrangements, including ones set in Bikini Bottom, the New York City sewers, Tommy Pickle’s house and Arnold’s school. These environments are pretty true to their source material and ooze both colour and slime, with slime being a big part of gameplay. Then again, given that this is Nickelodeon that’s to be expected.

Truth be told, the first time I played this game I avoided the slime, thinking that it would be bad. I’d forgotten about how prevalent slime was on Nickelodeon TV, and didn’t think that it would actually be a way of earning speed boost. Then again, I’m a Canadian who has never had cable TV and only got to watch these shows during visits with his grandparents. Even then, I think they were on another channel, that being YTV.

Drifting is still an important thing to do if you want to get really good at this game and do really well within its confines, but riding over slime deposits (or activating each stage’s one or more slime shooters) is just as important. After all, slime equals boost and boost is important in a game like this, especially given that catch-up AI is a problem. You can be racing almost perfectly, yet still find others on your tail.

It should also be mentioned that, while some tracks only have a limited amount of slime to offer, others are mostly slime. On them, your kart uses its boat like attachments, which allow it to fly through the muck. These courses don’t control too differently from the others, and are pretty fun because they’re generally faster due to all of the free boost. That said, the game controls pretty well on all courses, though it's certainly not nearly as polished as Nintendo's efforts, or the two Sonic racing games.

For the most part, these courses are actually pretty well designed. They’re not the greatest tracks in the history of kart racing, but they pleasantly surprised me and provided more fun than expected. Going in, I honestly didn’t think I’d encounter anything that good, but things ended up being better than I’d ever thought they’d be.

Of course, being that this is Nickelodeon Kart Racers, a kart racing and Mario Kart style game, one must expect weapons and power-ups. They’re littered along the courses at different intervals, and come in forms like rockets, shields and slime. Furthermore, each character has his or her own special weapon, be it footballs, nunchuks or something else. These weapons are mostly pretty straightforward and unoriginal, outside of those specials, and they don’t always work as well as those in other games. For instance, it’s seemingly impossible to shoot certain projectiles backwards.

While we’re on the subject of characters, it’s important to note that there’s a roster of twelve here, all of whom are advertised as being “some of the most iconic Nickelodeon characters”. To some extent, this is true, given that you get to play as SpongeBob, Patrick, Arnold, Tommy Pickles, Reptar, Sandy Cheeks and all four of the re-imagined Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in addition to some other characters from those Nickelodeon shows. That said, so many are missing, likely due to licensing issues and a limited budget. There’s no Rocko, and no sign of characters from shows like Ren & Stimpy, Jimmy Neutron, Dora the Explorer, the Fairly OddParents or certain others.

Most of the characters have unique vehicles, like turtle shells and things like that. However, part of Nickelodeon Kart Racers is about earning in-game currency to upgrade and customize your ride with different wheels, boat skis and components. As such, it’s possible to make them look a little different, though not a lot given that the options are pretty limited. You’ll want to do this, though, because it helps with tackling the higher difficulties of normal and hard, where the catch-up AI can be worse.

What will frustrate some is the fact that none of the difficulties stack when it comes to achievements. I discovered this the first time I played the game, because when I completed one of the game’s numerous cups on normal or hard, I never got credit for doing so on easy. Thus, those who wish to play this game for its pretty easy achievements should know that they’ll have to complete the thing at least three times, and that can be a bit of a grind.

While it’s nice to see that Nickelodeon Kart Racers has a lot of tracks and, through that, also offers a good amount of cups, they’re not saved from repetition. The result is a game that can be fun in short bursts, but isn’t anything special either way. You’re not going to get the next Mario Kart here, but you will get a licensed affair that is better than it was probably expected to be. To fully complete it though, you’ll have to play through several cups, then the few unlockable (and twice as long) cups that open up after doing so, and must do this on three separate difficulties.

On the presentation side of things, this is a dated, but okay looking experience that does its job but won’t win any awards. The game doesn’t come close to pushing the Xbox One in any capacity, but it looks fine for what it is, and is quite colourful to boot. It also sounds like a Nickelodeon game, though the music can be annoying and you won’t miss a whole lot by muting it and just listening to music.

With all that having been said, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend spending full retail price for Nickelodeon Kart Racers. Those with children, or a really fond nostalgia for the channel and its TV shows will probably find fun and hours of gameplay here, but even with four player (local) multiplayer, there’s not enough here to really justify an approximately $50 (CAD) price tag. Nor is the game all that great. It’s simply half-decent, but surpassed my honestly low expectations and ended up being more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

Wait for a sale on this one if it intrigues you, or do as I did at first and borrow it from the public library.

**This review is based on a copy of the game that I borrowed, as well as a review code that we were supplied with afterwards.**

Overall: 5.7 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.7 / 10
Sound: 5.2 / 10


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