When it comes to kart racers, no one does it quite like Mario. In fact, the only real (recent) contenders for our favorite plumber in this field is that of our favorite hedgehog and our favorite bandicoot. This year alone, we’ve been spoiled for choice; between Team Sonic Racing and Crash Team Racing. Now however, we’ve got a new kid on the block to look to; Meow Motors. The question is, does Meow Motors have what it takes to stand with the greatest of its kind? Sadly, due to some glaring drawbacks, it doesn’t meet the same high.
In terms of quality and depth, Meow Motors sits very much inline with the likes of Beach Buggy Racing, being that it’s short, fun, but hardly all that compelling. There’s not much of a story present mind. Players are introduced to the game’s colorful cast of characters, in which the lead role, a small kitten named Rocky, is gearing up to race against his peers. Things take a turn for the worst when Rocky, mid-race, is incapacitated and then scoffed at by his primary antagonist, Master Duke, and from there on out, it’s a battle for supremacy.
The crux of plays sees you working through a collection of championships as you move towards dethroning Master Duke as king of the track. The game’s career sports ten in total, with each championship housing a set number of races within. You’ll earn a total of three stars per-race, depending on your performance. These stars will collectively add up, and as such, will unlock new championships, new power-ups, new characters, and new vehicles as a result. In regards to new characters and new vehicles, they all handle the same throughout.
Sure, new characters house some specific bonuses, such as Lucky being able to drive on the wayside without a speed penalty, or Blake’s ability to use Nitro more sparingly, but outside of that, and the ability to change a vehicle’s color, it’s all rather samey-samey. It would have been nice to see some more depth on this front, simply due to how robust the game’s contemporaries are, but, beggars cant be choosers, right? Nevertheless, that’s the framework of progression; race to earn stars, use stars to unlock content, and rinse and repeat. Done.
There’s three types of races to take to; race, drift, and strike. Race is your straightforward position race, being that all you need to do is make it to the finish line in the top position. Drift is fairly self explanatory. Here, you’ll be given a set time, and within that time frame, you’ll need to drift as much as you can to earn the required amount of points. Strike is somewhat more direct, being that here, it’s all-out free for all. The primary objective being that you just need to blast your opponents to smithereens. That’s really all there is to it.
The game spreads these race types across several championships, with each championship tasking you with taking on said race types across numerous tracks. When all is said and done, the game will probably take little more than a few hours to complete. Past that, a Quick Race mode enables you and up to four (local) players to take to the fields of play, bolstering its replay value to a small degree. There’s certainly fun to be had here, but amidst its repetition and its lack of diversity, it can all come off as fairly stale before too long.
What I will say, on the other hand, is that this is a wonderful racer for those of a very young age to sink into. The game’s handling is very easy to adapt to. Steering it achieved via the left stick, with brake and acceleration tethered to LT and RT, respectively. New features are unlocked as progression is made, such as being able to drop slippery oil (Y button), boost using nitro (X button) and supercharge your pick-up weapons (A button). Players can also drift (B button), and should you get stuck in the terrain, you can reset your vehicle via RB.
That’s as complex as it gets. It helps, of course, that the transition from input to execution is well set. Drifting, for better and for worse, takes no skill whatsoever. See a sharp turn coming up? Simply tap the B button and fly round the corner like something out of Tokyo Drift. The only drawbacks in regards to the handling is that it’s perhaps a bit too floaty for its own good at times, that, and there’s some track blemishes that can knock you about like a rag-doll when you find yourselves in the wrong place – thank goodness for that reset, eh?
Being a kart racer, you can expect heaps of wacky pick-ups to utilize against your enemies, though, for some daft reason, the developer thought it wise to introduce these on a championship-by-championship basis. This essentially means that you only have access to a few capabilities for the bulk of play, and most of them starting out are quite tedious and dull. Come the end of the game, you start unlocking the more outlandish of pick-ups, but by that point, you’re near the end of the game and there’s little reason to return after that.
It would have been much better to have all of these pick-ups unlocked from the outset, leaving kart and character unlocks for the star system. Nevertheless, it is what it is, but in my opinion, it’s a poor choice. All this really does is isolate much of the fun until later on in, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, for its cost, you cant really grumble, and to be fair to the game, it achieves much of what it set out to accomplish, but there’s no denying that with more time, more refinement, and more consideration, it could have been better.
One other issue I have with the game is that its tracks, nor its characters, particularly stand out. Whilst they’re well designed, none of them are memorable. Furthermore, and specific to the tracks, the game recycles its ideas far too often. For instance, in the Wild West cup, you’ll see wagons moving left to right across the track, put there to slow you down. Whilst that’s not really a problem in itself, the game uses this idea all over; from canons in the Skull Island cup, to ghosts in the Halloween cup. Where’s the diversity? Where’s the variety?
That’s Meow Motors’ greatest setback, it leans on singular concepts and doesn’t do much to step outside of its comfort zone. In essence, if you strip away a cup’s theme, and take pick-ups out of the equation, your first cup feels and plays exactly like your last. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the rubber-band AI. Boy howdy, even on easy, the AI stay hot on your heels no matter how much of a beating you give them. You can literally see them closing a gap on the mini-map in such a way that’s seemingly impossible to achieve yourself.
This is most apparent in the game’s strike races, being that your opposition will teleport in front of you whenever you get even just a few paces in the lead. Sure, this isn’t a position-based race, but constantly being unsure as to where my foes were due to this baffling design choice was a nightmare at the best of times. With those frustrations to the side, mind, Meow Motors goes on to get more right than it gets wrong, but only by a small margin. At very best, this is a serviceable kart racer, nothing more and nothing less.
When the game works as intended, it’s genuinely quite thrilling, but due to the juggling of issues outlined above, the fun is constantly interrupted. When that’s not happening, Meow Motors is joyous. I had a hoot flying through its distinct worlds, dishing out all manors of ass kickings through its (latter) pick-ups whilst making my way through its cleverly hidden branching track paths. I quite enjoyed, despite its repetition, the modes on offer; each providing a twist on how the game is to be played. Rubber-band AI be damned. Damned!!
In regards to the overall audio and visual design, Meow Motors just about gets a thumbs up for the former, and a pass for the latter. Whilst the game sports some nice detail and some decent variation across championship themes, it all falls rather flat as far as the audio is concerned. I turned my volume down due to the annoying cues and ear bleeding soundtrack. Still, and once again, for the younger audience, this will no doubt go down well, but if you’re here for the next best kart racer, well, you sure as hell wont get that from this.
Despite the fact that the game is quite unrefined and poorly paced, and overlooking the AI’s rubber band functionality, Meow Motors isn’t half bad. This is one kart racer that certainly caters for the younger audience, and even with its problems in mind, it just about manages to get more right than it gets wrong. It’s colorful, it’s cutesy, and it’s fun when it works as intended, but with more time in the proverbial oven, it could have been much better.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.