A Mario Kart clone with a Nickelodeon coat of paint, will this racer give you full throttle nostalgia? Keep reading and find out in this Nickelodeon Kart Racers review.
When I was a child in the ’80s/’90s, there was one company that was so good, so on top of its game, that it was able to give the Walt Disney Studio a run for its money when it came to TV entertainment. That company was Nickelodeon.
With cartoons like Inspector Gadget, Rocco’s Modern Life, Doug, Danger Mouse, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and dozens more (never mind the live shows like Double Dare, You Can’t Do That On Television, and Are You Scared of the Dark?), Nick proved itself to be a children’s entertainment heavyweight capable not just of quantity, but also quality.
And since then, the company has continued to crank out some of the best animated shows that Western entertainment has to offer. Think of Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Fairly Odd Parents, Invader Zim, Rugrats, Spongebob Squarepants, Danny Phantom, Hey! Arnold, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron and many more!
So it was that I first listened to the announcement of Nickelodeon Kart Racers with nostalgia bubbling from every orifice. I love kart racing games! I love Nickelodeon! This is going to be the BEST GAME EVER!
Nickelodeon Kart Racers
Released: October 23, 2018
Developer: Bam Tang Games
Publisher: GameMill Entertainment
Genre: Racing, Action, Arcade, Multiplayer
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Bam Tang Games is not breaking any new ground with Nickelodeon Kart Racers. If you’ve played Mario Kart, you already know exactly what you’ll get here. One to four players compete on various race tracks that are organized into cups. During the race, players can pick up Slime Tokens (to be spent later on upgrades) and boxes (containing items with which to torment your fellow racers).
Although the items are themed according to Nickelodeon’s various properties (for example, there is Tommy Pickles’ baby bottle or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s pizza), they basically serve as 1:1 replacements for Mario Kart items. Spongebob’s spatula is a blue shell; it targets the person in first place. Footballs are red shells; they hit whoever is nearest to you. The pizza splatters the screen and obstructs your view just like the Blooper’s ink.
An optimist might say this recycling of ideas makes the game instantly familiar and accessible–a true pick-up-and-play experience. Anyone else might say it makes it kind of meh.
Considering the vast number of characters at Nickelodeon’s disposal, the line-up of Nickelodeon Kart Racers is decidedly underwhelming. You can play as Spongebob, Patrick, and Sandy from Spongebob Squarepants; Tommy, Angelica, and Reptar from Rugrats; Arnold and Helga from Hey! Arnold; and all four TMNT.
Don’t get me wrong. These are great characters (and I especially love the inclusion of Reptar). But where’s Rocco? Where’s Danny? And Ren and Stimpy and Doug and Patty and Zim and Cosmo and Wanda and …*gasp*… literally everyone else?
Perhaps there are licensing issues involved. I don’t really know. But if Nintendo can put 30 drivers in Mario Kart 8, you’d think a portfolio like Nickelodeon’s could at least do better than 12 characters from a total of four properties.
For The Kids
Like the more recent entries in the Mario Kart franchise, Nickelodeon Kart Races seems designed first and foremost for the youngest racers (with older kids and adults tossed in as an afterthought). For example, the Automatic Acceleration feature is turned on by default, so the kart moves forward all on its own. No button pushing required; just steer. Fortunately, you can turn this off, but you’re going to have to hunt for the menu.
The available kart speeds include Beginner, Regular, and Expert, and you can also set your desired difficulty level for drifting and the skill of your AI competitors. Full disclosure: I was bored to tears with this game initially. Once I figured out how to turn off all the nanny stuff, customized the controls, and boosted the speed to Expert, the game improved 400%.
It does beg the question, however: who is this game intended for? It plays like a kart racer for young kids, but the characters included are not necessarily the ones young kids will recognize. Yes, everybody knows Spongebob and the TMNT, but Hey! Arnold aired from 1996-2004. Rugrats‘ original run also ended in 2004. It’s possible they’ve seen reruns, but if young kids are the target audience, they’d probably be more interested in the likes of Lincoln Loud, Kid Danger, and the Paw Patrol crew.
The race tracks in Nickelodeon Kart Racers are all themed according to one of the four included properties, and there are lots of fun touches throughout. In Bikini Bottom Boogie Nights, you must dodge a giant mecha Plankton. School Hijinks takes you to Hey! Arnold‘s PS 118. The tracks are organized four to a cup, such as the Cynthia Cup and the Sewer Cup.
To explore these tracks, players have several game modes at their disposal. Single players can choose from Grand Prix (a full cup), Free Race (single races against a full field of AI), and Time Trial (just you and the track; no competitors). Multiplayers can choose Grand Prix or Free Race, and they can choose to go Solo or do a Team Race (where the scores of the two-person teams are averaged). You can also play a few Battle Modes, including Free for All, Capture the Flag, and Tag.
Is Anything Original?
Considering Nickelodeon Kart Racers doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s an obvious Mario Kart clone, is there anything here at all that’s not ripped straight from Nintendo’s playbook? Fortunately, the answer is yes.
In addition to a couple of new race types (like slalom, knockout, and victory lap), the primary new aspect you’ll notice is the presence of Nickelodeon’s signature substance: slime. It’s everywhere, but that’s a good thing because you need it. Karts use slime like street racers use NOS. Well, sort of. As you drive over puddles of slime, your kart will suck it up, filling your slime gauge. You then hit the boost button for a shot of speed. This feature provides much needed variety to an otherwise very routine gameplay.
Slime is also used as a driving surface all its own. One third of the game’s 24 available tracks are slime courses, meaning your kart turns to a speedboat, and you race across a lake of slime. This is somewhat novel, but ultimately disappointing because steering on the slime is nearly impossible. What makes it even worse is the presence of slalom courses.
In these courses, you must navigate around arrows by driving on the side that the arrow is pointing. If you don’t pass on the correct side, you lose a hit point. Screw up five times, and you are kicked from the race. These tracks have the potential to be a fun challenge, but the horrible steering mechanics in the slime just result in them feeling unfair at the best of times and impossible at the worst of times.
And now we come to the absolute worst, most unforgivable aspect of Nickelodeon Kart Racers. I said earlier that there are 24 tracks. That was basically a lie (sorry). There are really only eight tracks, and each appears three times with three different names: once in its original form, once reversed, and once as a slime course.
I first noticed this while racing on the track in the first image above. Birthday Bash takes you through a party at the Pickles’ house. But wait a minute…so does Party Crashers (the second above image), just reversed and set at night. Strangely enough, Slime to Party is the exact same birthday celebration, just flooded with slime. The Pickles’ seem to have an awful lot of birthday parties.
You might think that there are additional tracks available if you can get 1st place in all the cups and gain access to the three unlockable cups in the game: the Orange Cup, the Slime Cup, and the Remix Cup. Sorry to disappoint you, but no. When you unlock these cups, you are rewarded with…wait for it…the EXACT SAME tracks! They’re just split differently, putting eight races to each unlockable cup rather than the four with each of the standard cups. No matter what you do, you will still be stuck racing the same eight tracks for as long as your sanity allows.
I cannot view this as anything other than a blatant shortcut. Did they think that by reversing and renaming the tracks, we wouldn’t notice they’re utterly identical? Or that we wouldn’t notice the actual amount of content in this game is a fraction of what was advertised? It lends credence to the idea that young kids are the game’s target audience because they would be the only ones likely not bothered by this.
As it stands, Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ anemic content will send anyone over the age of 8 straight for the Battle Modes just to keep from dying of boredom. That is if they don’t go running for another game altogether.
The one thing you will notice right off the bat is the sound–or rather, the lack of it.
There are no character voices. None.
They do have dialogue boxes that pop-up in the lower left hand of the screen, but you won’t see them because you’ll be busy, you know, racing. And anyways, each character only says the same two or three phrases over and over again. Considering the larger-than-life personalities bunched together on the screen, the lack of voices has the probably unintended effect of making the game feel eerily quiet. To see Patrick Star yet not hear him just feels…wrong.
The other sound effects are utterly forgettable (except for the squealing tires, which quickly become annoying when they’re the main thing you’re listening to). The background music is fine but equally forgettable. That’s a good thing because you’ll probably be muting the game anyways to escape the squealing tires.
As for the graphics, the tracks are decently fun and brightly colored, but Nickelodeon’s signature palette (orange, green, and purple) is over-used, making everything look the same. The characters should be the game’s saving grace, but they are stiff and plastic-y. Characters in Lego games have far more personality. The result is that you’re not really playing as Raphael or Spongebob, but as listless, spiritless representations of them.
Considering Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ dirty secret (its 24 advertised race tracks are really just eight tracks repeated three times), there is one thing that could have saved the replay value of this game: online play. Sadly, there is none. Once you get bored of the tracks, you may find some entertainment in the Battle Modes, but as things stand now, I really do not see any reason for returning to this game after an initial playthrough.
I’ve gotta be honest: ten year-old me is heartbroken right now. Nickelodeon Kart Racers had the potential to be great. It could have gone head-to-head with Mario Kart or struck out on its own and given kart racing fans something new to love. Unfortunately what we got was a phoned-in effort.
If you do decide to buy this game, at least wait for it to go on sale. Don’t pay full price when Nickelodeon Kart Racers is really only one-third of a game.