Nickelodeon has a strong place in the hearts of many, from the good old days right up to now, featuring classics like Spongebob Squarepants, Hey Arnold!, TMNT, and Rugrats of course. In fact, all four of these franchises have now appeared in the new racing game Nickelodeon Kart Racers, and we've been putting the pedal to the metal to see whether this convoy of famous faces can sit alongside the likes of other stellar themed racers like Mario Kart, or whether it's another tie-in that falls short of the mark.
All you need to know is essentially in the name, as it's a racing game featuring all four franchises, split between 12 characters. This includes all four turtles, two Hey Arnold! characters, three from the Rugrats, and three from Spongebob. Considering this is meant to include all of Nickelodeon, this isn't much variety at all, and there's even less variety when it comes to modes, as there's Grand Prix, Free Race, or Time Attack, either in single-player or multiplayer (locally on the same console with up to four players).
You would've thought that, even though there's not a lot, it's good at least to have these four big series in there? Well, none of the characters have any sort of voices at all, and so we're pretty much witness to silent races with 3D versions of each. Half of the personality in these characters comes from their voices, and to have nothing said by any of them as they whizz past each other and battle for supremacy is lacklustre, to say the least.
There is much more variety in terms of the tracks, but there's one big problem. The game lets you race in a number of ways, whether that's using wheels on dry land or wings in the air, but when you're a boat on the slime (yes, it's Nickelodeon) it's absolutely horrendous. For some reason, the game deems it necessary to twists your vehicle left and right at all times, which makes racing not only much harder but also intensely frustrating.
The racing elsewhere is at least functional; on dry land you can drift and handle your car in the ways you'd at least expect. 'Functional' is the optimal word here though, because it's not nearly as smooth and refined as competitors like Mario Kart 8, although the items are pretty much all directly lifted off from Mario's game and reskinned as other things.
In the races you suck up slime to fill up a gauge for boosts, hit boxes to get items to thwart your opponents, and pretty much do what you must to get first place. It's a very familiar affair that doesn't take too long to get used to, but some explanation would've been nice at the very beginning. The first time you boot the game up you get three options - single-player, multiplayer, and shop - without so much as an opening intro. In fact, it all feels a little low budget as the main menu is comprised of several still screens and a handful of options.
Like in Mario Kart you can take part in a Grand Prix if you want some sort of campaign-esque mode, choosing from beginner to expert difficulty (which determines the speed, like 50cc to 200cc). If you want just the one race you can do Free Race or Time Attack for a more leisurely experience, and of course local multiplayer gives you another option, be that racing against each other or as part of a team. It's really disappointing to see online multiplayer entirely absent in this day and age though, even if we do always love to see local multiplayer.
While you race you pick up coins which can then be used to buy stuff in the shop, including engines, paint jobs, and wings. These can all be swapped in and out of your vehicles before you race, changing the stats accordingly, and if you really want to get all the items you'll be sat there for a while collecting to unlock them. You also get XP as you go, which also unlocks content.
The tracks you race in - while having awful slime sections - are probably the best part about the whole game. They're shiny and polished and offer a ton of colour in an otherwise thoroughly uninteresting experience, and what's more is that they change their layout at various points in the race to keep you on your toes. Nickelodeon fans will probably get a kick out of seeing locations like Bikini Bottom recreated in racetrack form, along with the various decorative elements that crowd the side of the course.
There isn't very much to say about Nickelodeon Kart Racers other than that it's just lacklustre and feels like one of those unremarkable tie-in games we used to get on the PS2, except with much shinier graphics. For all his quirks, Spongebob Squarepants and his friends are far from boring, but this game has managed to make them so. There's a distinct lack of personality on show here, and it's not only repetitive and uninteresting, but it's also everything we've seen before. That's without mentioning the awful boat racing and the lack of online multiplayer. We'd advise you to steer clear, whether you're a Nickelodeon fan or not.