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Nickelodeon Kart Racers Review

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On 10/23/2018 at 09:00 AM by Nick DiMola

Competent kart racing with a light dash of Nickelodeon paint.

It's tough to recommend Nickelodeon Kart Racers, especially on the Switch - you'd be better off getting Mario Kart. On the PS4/X1, there's no direct analog, but most kids won't go nuts for the franchises represented here regardless of how competent the racing is.

Five minutes with Nickelodeon Kart Racers and it’s very clear that Mario Kart 8 acted as not only an inspiration to the game, but in many cases as a blueprint for its design. As it turns out, that’s not a bad thing at all and helps make this a very competent racing game with some nice features and even a few things that help set it apart. But like any facsimile, it’s not nearly as crisp, pristine, or flawless as the original.

I think it’s important to say in no uncertain terms that Nickelodeon Kart Racers is actually a good racing game and one that I definitely had fun with. However, it is a no-frills experience that seems to have been made on a shoestring budget.

For starters, the Nickelodeon IP used here is questionable at best. The only two that are currently in the cultural zeitgeist are SpongeBob and Ninja Turtles. Unsurprisingly, when playing the game with my kids, they only wanted to play as characters from those series. Rugrats is due for a new series and a movie from what I’ve read, which explains its inclusion, but Kart Racers preempts that return by a number of months, so kids who would be drawn to this title have no knowledge of such an old franchise. Finally, Hey Arnold is also included, which I enjoyed as a kid, but is a totally out-of-left-field choice that also has no appeal to the current generation.

Considering this could have been inclusive of the entire Nickelodeon catalog, it had the potential to be one of those experiences that transcends generations, bringing together young and old. I grew up watching Nickelodeon, as have my kids and it would’ve been cool to man a kart as Rocko, while my boys hop in with Lincoln Loud or Sanjay and Craig.

Because the roster is small and ignores the vast array of Nickelodeon animation properties the tracks also suffer. Not that they’re bad tracks to race on, the actual track layouts are solid and they shift and change throughout the laps. But they’re lacking in variety and nothing about them recalls the locales of any of the franchises they represent in a blatant way. It’s not like Mario Kart where you feel transported into the Mushroom Kingdom to race. Broadly, the game is lacking in personality. While it’s always nice to see recognizable characters, very little is really done to capture the magic of Nickelodeon and the humor that’s laced into all of its programming.

The fact that the racing is actually not total garbage, as you might expect for a licensed game of this nature, makes all the prior points that much worse. From what I’ve researched, developer Bamtang employed use of Vector Unit’s racing engine, which explains a lot. I’ve enjoyed Vector Unit’s past offerings, and I’ve found them to be a talented team that makes quality racing experiences. In this regard, perhaps thanks to the engine, Kart Racers is no exception.

Like Mario Kart 8, you can customize your kart with different parts, including the engine, wheels, glider, boat parts, and paint job. You’ll collect coins while you race that allow you to buy new parts and as you level up, you’ll get a victory lap where you might pick up new parts or coins by racing through item boxes.

While Mario Kart has you going under the water, Nickelodeon Kart Racers has you navigating over it, and rather than water, it’s the infamous Nickelodeon Slime. While getting slimed is usually a bad thing, here, slime is your ally. You’ve got a meter and as you traverse over slime, it’ll fill up and allow you to boost for different lengths of time depending on how full it is. It’s an important distinction from the Mario Kart games and adds an element of strategy in how you traverse the track and when you execute boosts to stay ahead of the competition.

The items used in-race are almost one-for-one with Mario Kart items. The green shell is replaced by a baby bottle (though it won’t bounce off walls), the red shell becomes Arnold’s football, the blue shell is a fly swatter, the bullet bill becomes the flying dutchman’s ship, banana peels are soap bubbles, the gooper blooper becomes jellyfish from SpongeBob, and even the boo shows up as a mouser from Turtles. There are a couple defensive items that offer up some of the protection that holding an item behind you would do in Mario Kart, but broadly speaking, Bamtang has copied and reskinned Mario Kart's items.

Powersliding, gliding after launching off a ramp, and on-track boosts are all present here. The feel of the racing is slightly different and less tight than Mario Kart, but it still feels responsive and fun. The tournaments you race through are also offered in three speeds (1/1.5/2x) similar to the 50/100/150cc speeds of Mario Kart. Even the features of auto-accelerating and motion steering are available.

There are three extra tournaments you’ll unlock after finishing all of the tournaments that are available from the get-go. But this is really the only unlockable stuff in the game, which is a real shame. It would've been nice to be working towards unlocking cool new characters, karts, or tracks from all of the Nickelodeon series. Without that, completing the tournaments feels without purpose.

There are options outside of the tournaments, of which you can also play with friends. There's also a fairly well featured battle mode, again, not dissimilar to Mario Kart. It's a nice extra inclusion that will definitely offer some mileage on the experience for players with some local friends/siblings. That being said, navigating the menus and getting all the controllers squared away proved a bit difficult for my kids and it took consistent intervention to actually square them away with a battle match.

It's so disappointing that Nickelodeon Kart Racers nailed a great racing experience, but fell down on drawing in a broader set of characters and franchises. I hope that Bamtang is given a bigger budget for a sequel where they can polish up the experience and add all of the flourishes and character to pull this out of the bargain bin and make it a must-have family racing game.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Cary Woodham

10/23/2018 at 09:41 AM

I just reviewed this game, too.  It'll post next week.  I thought it was pretty bad, myself.  Why get this when you can just play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe instead?

Nick DiMola Director

10/23/2018 at 10:23 AM

For sure. On the Switch, just get Mario Kart. It's better in every imaginable way. On the other systems, I almost want to recommend it. But I'd say if they make a sequel with more characters and some improvements, that would be the one to get.

Cary Woodham

11/01/2018 at 10:25 PM

Casey Curran Staff Writer

10/23/2018 at 11:08 AM

I think the reason Hey Arnold got included was because of its recent TV movie. Wouldn't be surprised if Nick wants to test the water for a full blown reboot. Thing about their current cartoons is they only have four currently airing and one of the two not represented is involved with the Dan Schneider controversy. Still, no Loud House is pretty baffling. 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

10/24/2018 at 05:02 AM


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