Ah, the good old kart racer. Over the years, many brands have delved in to the genre – often with less than spectacular results. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon Kart Racer follows on with the trend. What we have here feels like a lazy, rushed cash in, relying on the name recognition of some popular franchises and little else. Characters and tracks are featured from four of Nick’s roster, though the selection still manages to feel bare bones. Just a couple of characters from Spongebob, Rugrats, Hey! Arnold and TMNT are playable, with tracks loosely based around brand locations.
The visuals are at least okay, with half decent renderings bringing the characters into 3D models. Environments are colorful, with references to the other characters in the background. Tracks occasionally change on new laps too – previous routes blocked off sending you off in unexpected directions. Cars will transform into boats or planes (yes, I’ve played Sonic and Sega All-Stars too) for segments. Boats glide around on the slime and for a while I couldn’t get my head round why something felt weird.
Sitting still, however, shows that the camera swings left and right a ridiculous amount, I guess to give a sense of bobbing on water. All it really achieves is making the already awful handling worse. This feeling follows through the rest of the game, with everything just…off in one way or another. There’s no sense of weight to the karts, feeling more like they are gliding around the track. The drift is dreadful too – lifted straight from Mario Kart, a speed boost is granted for holding it for a few seconds. Slightly graze a wall or off-road section though and you’ll nigh-on grind to a halt.
Three speed levels are on offer – the lowest of which makes the dreadful handling even more apparent, while the fastest will see you bouncing off pretty much every wall you come across. There doesn’t appear to be much variation between the racers either. Unlocks can be earned or purchased via in-game currency but you’d be hard pressed to notice any real difference. Weapons round out the in-game activities – all of which can easily be traced to their obvious inspiration from Mario Kart – though none feel even remotely satisfying to use.
I was surprised too at the lack of character that the, well, characters have. Not a word of spoken dialogue is here, not even clips hastily ripped from episodes. Occasionally a speech bubble will pop up in game, with vaguely generic text for each character but it’s both terrible and forgettable. And the music. Once again, nothing appears to have anything to do with the properties on show. Just awful, generic sounding racing game backing tunes that had me reaching for the mute button quickly.
Sound effects while racing are almost non-existent too. Weapons whiz off with a whimper, the dull drone of the engines get old fast – it just compounds the lack of polish on show here. But, you may be thinking, surely the game is aimed at the younger gamer, one not so discerning of the finer details as long as they can play as a recognizable character? Well, if that’s the intent here, then firstly that’s an insulting, terrible, 90s era way of approaching a licensed game. Secondly, if my kids are anything to go by the game fails here too.
Initial excitement at seeing SpongeBob faded by lap 3 – by the time I’d loaded another race they’d given up entirely. Of course, that’s purely anecdotal on my part but I can’t imagine many people having much of a different reaction. I cannot possibly imagine who at Nickelodeon looked at this and thought ‘Yes, that’s the kind of quality we want representing our brand’. No doubt younger games will be keen to play with Spongebob and co., but do them a favor and don’t give this game the time of day.
I cannot possibly imagine who at Nickelodeon looked at this and thought ‘Yes, that’s the kind of quality we want representing our brand’. While some track layouts are okay and character models passable, everything else here feels half-baked, lazy or downright awful. Terrible handling, poor audio, and the range of characters and their lack of characterization, collectively make a mockery of the franchises.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.