Nickelodeon Kart Racers is a combat kart racer availablefrom retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4.Nickelodeon has been at the forefront of cartoons for decades with iconic series and characters. Can the development team at Bamtang embrace Nickelodeon’s iconic characters while simultaneously delivering an entertaining kart racer inNickelodeon Kart Racers?

Grand Prix mode provides half a dozen championships with four races per cup that are each three laps in length, while there are a further three unlockable championships containing eight races per championship for a greater challenge in consistency throughout the duration of the longer championships, although Grand Prix mode would have been even better if it had customisable championships. There are two ways to approach each championship as solo mode sees every competitor trying to win each race for themselves, although team race mode provides a different dynamic as each of the five teams attempt to win the race with the most combined points from both team members. Winning a cup in Grand Prix mode results in the pleasant reward of your character standing on the podium in celebration of finishing in first position over the course of the championship. Meanwhile, Free Race mode offers 24 tracks or random track selection in solo or team race mode. Time Attack mode provides the player with the chance to drive around the 16 tracks for three consecutive laps in an attempt to learn the tracks better to improve your lap time in preparation for entering races and cups, while also comparing your total three lap time to varying standards of times.

Despite there being some great modes and gameplay variation; a story mode reminiscent to Crash Nitro Kart in which the characters have to race in order to save their home towns from villains with the villain in each chapter unlocked as a playable character, alongside their own kart design and individual kart components would have improved the quality and quantity of modes and gameplay.

A dozen of Nickelodeon’s memorable characters including SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy from SpongeBob SquarePants created by the late great Stephen Hillenburg; Tommy, Angelica and Reptar from the Rugrats; Arnold and Helga from Hey! Arnold; and Mikey, Raph, Leo and Donnie from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There are further characters that could have been featured such as Chuckie from the Rugrats; SpongeBob SquarePants’s Squidward Tentacles, Eugene Krabs and Sheldon Plankton; and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ April O’Neil and Splinter, alongside entire Nickelodeon cartoons that do not have any presence in Nickelodeon Kart Racers such as Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jimmy Neutron, Power Rangers, Rocko’s Modern Life, the Ren and Stimpy Show and much more besides.

Every character has a unique kart design with a customisable paint job, although kart customisation has far more depth to it as the in-game shop contains a multitude of kart upgrades including tires, engines, spoilers, jet skis and paint jobs. Each kart starts out with stock parts before upgrades are gradually unlocked in order to progressively improve your kart’s performance in five major attributes including speed, acceleration, traction, handling and slime handling. Kart upgrades and attributes work in perfect harmony to provide an element of strategy in your pre-Grand Prix championship or pre-Free Race kart customisation; for instance the Mermaidman jet ski significantly outperforms all other jet skis in relation to slime handling that is especially important for tracks that are entirely situated on slime such as the Slalom tracks as the cornering becomes much smoother and natural.

There are an amazing variety of weapons and power-ups that really increases the fun gameplay. Power-ups include two types of shield with the Kah-Rah-Tay Glove producing a counter attack to all projectiles aimed at your kart, while a sewer lid provides a force field. Weapons include an acorn that can be fired backwards to keep opposing racers behind your kart, while a bubble puddle can be positioned immediately behind your kart, alongside the ability to obscure your opponents’ sight with a flying extra cheese pizza; a single or triple baby bottle and football that can be thrown at opposing racers; and more besides. Special attacks are exclusive to each character including Tommy’s ball that is aimed at the character in first place; Leo’s homing shurikens find opposing racers with ease; SpongeBob produces jellyfish too bscure the sight of opponents; and much more besides.There is also a special attack that any team can perform in team race mode in which both team members must collect the hammer before perfectly timing the moment when the weapon is simultaneously used.

Track design throughout the 24 tracks is entirely themed on Nickelodeon cartoons including Hillwood Rally and Hillwood City of Lights being set within the city that Arnold from Hey! Arnold lives; Journey Through Dimension X, Into Dimension X and Escape From Dimension X is set on the alternate dimension of Dimension X from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, while sewer based tracks such as Sewer Madness and Sewer Surfin’ are related to sewer lairs in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Bikini Bottom Boogie Nights, Bring It Around Town and Bikini Bottom Boating is set in SpongeBob SquarePants’ Bikini Bottom, while Glove Universe and Glovey Glove’s Festival of Lights is based upon the theme park in SpongeBob SquarePants; Toy Store Flash Sale and Shopping Spree are based on the Toy Palace episode of the Rugrats; and much more besides, alongside slime being a mainstay in Nickelodeon cartoons for decades.

Tracks require the karts to evolve based upon the track surface in a gameplay element that is reminiscent to Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed by adapting from a kart on tires to manoeuvring on jet skis through slime and even momentarily utilising wings to glide through the air while attempting to avoid jellyfish. Some tracks have their own event type such as an elimination event in which the kart in last position is eliminated from the race until only one competitor remains, while slalom tracks are genuinely game changing. Slalom tracks are reminiscent to that of the original Splashdown’s gameplay with big jumps and arrows guiding competitors in the appropriate direction, albeit that water is replaced with slime. Every track requires the player to learn the track layout to find shortcuts that provide an advantage in track position, but also to remember that tracks are altered usually on the final lap of the race. It would have been amazing to have unlockable reverse, forward mirrored and reverse mirrored track layouts for every track after successfully completing and winning every championship with one set of track layout variations per speed difficulty level.

Earning XP to level up is important as the player’s finishing position in each race determines the quantity of XP gained with 100 XP required in order to level up. A reward will be earned after every occasion that the player reaches the next level in the form of a victory lap thatcontains chests with a reward for each collected chest such as a new paint job design or better tires for your chosen character’s kart, a bonus of 100 coins and more besides.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ has an excellent sense of speed, especially when choosing the fastest of the three speed levels, while handling starts out responsive and becomes even more responsive when upgrading your kart. There are also a few tricks to learn such as revving your kart’s engine at every traffic light during the pre-race build-up provides an immediate boost off the start line, while long drifts produce an increase in speed, alongside driving over slime to fill your kart’s slime bar for a full turbo boost, although filling one third of the slime bar produces a partial turbo boost.

There is only a single third-person camera angle, although it is immersive as it dynamically follows your kart when drifting through a corner to emphasise the drift, while the player can also look behind their kart which is helpful when aiming a weapon that can be fired backwards at karts situated behind you or positioned on track. It would have been better to be able to choose from a multitude of camera angles such as from the front of the kart without any bodywork; a bonnet view showing the bonnet’s bodywork; a driver’s eye view from the perspective of your chosen character with the steering wheel and interior of the kart on display; and a Micro Machines or MotorStorm RC styled camera angle that would be situated above the course as though a helicopter is dynamically following the racing action. Meanwhile, there are no replays or photo mode, so those features would further improve how the race, championship or Battle Arena mode could be captured and viewed.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers is the kind of kart racer that the Vita has been crying out for a native port of for quite some time as the last kart racer to release on Vita was Table Top Racing in August 2014 with another couple released in 2012, so it is a genre that has a lot more to give on Vita, although remote play functionality is supported. Nickelodeon Kart Racers’s remote play performance is excellent as the graphics, audio and general performance maintains the quality of the PS4 version. Nickelodeon Kart Racers naturally allows players to accelerate and drift with R2 or R1 and L2 or L1 respectively; resulting in a very comfortable remote play control scheme as the player can accelerate and drift with R and L respectively; therefore Nickelodeon Kart Racers is as entertaining in remote play as what it is when played on PS4.

The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with a control scheme consisting of holding R2 or R1 to accelerate; holding L2 or L1 when steering into a corner to drift; pressing O to brake or holding O to reverse; pressing X to fire a weapon or use a power-up; pressing triangle to boost; holding square to look behind your kart; changing the direction of the left analogue stick or pressing left and right on the d-pad to steer or optionally utilising the gyroscopic motion sensing functionality to steer your kart; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. However, there is no button to allow the player to reposition their kart on track that could potentially lead to a few seconds in time lost on some of the harder tracks before being reposition on track as it is not an instantaneous process. Vibration focuses on landing on the track surface after a large jump and hitting obstacles or the trackside barrier rather than when being hit by an opposing racer’s weapon. There is no touch pad implementation that could have provided a method for repositioning your kart on track after driving the wrong direction. There is no light bar support that could have produced a colour representing your individual character in solo mode or your team’s colour in team race mode.

Graphically, Nickelodeon Kart Racers is pretty good as it efficiently utilises Vector Unit’s graphics engine to assist in bringing the colour palette and performance to a very respectable level of quality. Themed surroundings of each track are well depicted, while character models are realistic to their cartoon counterparts and have some fantastic animations such as celebrating when hitting an opponent with a weapon, being in the middle of a large jump and winning the race or championship, alongside some great effects for weapons and an immersive camera combining with the anticipated sense of speed from a kart racer.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ presentation is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main menu, single player menus, split-screen multiplayer menus, track selection menus, character selection menus, kart customisation garage menus, options menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. Menu backgrounds are bright and colourful as they feature Nickelodeon characters during the racing action.

Disappointingly, there are no voice-overs for any characters, although the sound effects are of a pretty good standard as they include accelerating, braking, drifting, collecting slime, weapons and coins, using slime, firing a weapon at an opposing character’s kart and vice versa, while there is arcade style instrumental music, but no Nickelodeon cartoon themed music. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation that could have produced voice-overs, sound effects or music.

The trophy list includes 28 trophies with 10 bronze trophies, 11 silver trophies, 6 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies include the Eyes On Me bronze trophy for winning a victory lap by earning XP to level up once; the Baby Throttle bronze trophy for winning your first race; the A Baby’s Gotta Do What A Baby’s Gotta Do bronze trophy for using boost for the first time; the Slimed! silver trophy for using the slime valve for the first time; the Make Papa Stu Proud silver trophy for upgrading your kart for the first time; and the Das Subway gold trophy for finding a shortcut. Harder trophies include the I’m So Good silver trophy for winning at the last second in Grand Prix mode; The Best Around gold trophy for winning every cup in expert mode; and the Mogul gold trophy for unlocking every upgrade in the store. However, there are two local multiplayer trophies that require two controllers including the Warrior silver trophy for competing in any Battle Arena mode for the first time and the Heavy weight Champion silver trophy for competing 10 times in each Battle Arena mode. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 10 to 15 hours to platinum the trophy list.

There are two sets of difficulty levels comprising of three speeds and three A.I. difficulty levels. Speeds and A.I. difficulty levels canbe adjusted in Free Race mode whereas only speeds can be customised in Grand Prix mode’s championship cups as the A.I. controlled characters increase in difficulty in the later championships. Speeds include beginner, regular and expert, while A.I. difficulty levels include breeze, tough and punishing with the major differences being a noticeable increase in the sense of speed, alongside the A.I. controlled characters becoming far more precise in their driving and cornering with a more aggressive approach to utilising weapons.

Split-screen multiplayer allows 2 to 4 players to participate in Grand Prix mode championships and Free Race mode’s individual races with A.I. controlled characters driving karts to round out the field of 10 karts in solo or team race gameplay within the same team or separately competing teams. However, split-screen multiplayer rather interestingly has an entire mode exclusive to multiplayer in the form of a Battle Arena. Battle Arena offers three gameplay variations including free for all were players must attempt to reach 10 points first by hitting opposing karts with weapons collected from battle boxes, while capture the flag tasks players to hold on tothe flag for a total of 15 seconds per point with the first player reaching three points winning the game, alongside tag that sees one of the karts producing coins that vanish after a certain period of time with players trying collect them as the player that collects the most coins wins the match. All three gameplay variations within Battle Arena mode are equally as entertaining as the split-screen multiplayer racing, although none of the Battle Arena modes have A.I. controlled karts. Every split-screen multiplayer mode has a vertical display, but for anyone who prefers a horizontal display during split-screen multiplayer should not be concerned as the wider tracks actually translates rather well to split-screen vertical display. However, there is no online multiplayer or online leaderboards for fastest lap times.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ replayability stems from 24 tracks and 12 characters themed on Nickelodeon cartoons, 9 championships in Grand Prix mode in addition to Free Race mode and Time Attack mode, alongside the excellently implemented split-screen multiplayer for 2 to 4 players in Grand Prix championships and individual races in Free Race mode are complimented by three variations of gameplay in Battle Arena mode that will collectively keep players returning for many hours. However, customisable championships, a story mode, more characters, character voice-overs, unlockable track layouts and more camera angles would elevate the quality further.

Analysis

  • Title: Nickelodeon Kart Racers
  • Developer: Bamtang Games/Vector Unit (Game Engine)
  • Publisher: GameMill Entertainment/Maximum Games
  • System: PS4
  • Format: Blu-Ray Disc/PSN Download
  • Cross-Buy: No
  • Cross-Play: No
  • Players: 1-4 (Split-Screen Competitive Multiplayer)
  • Hard Drive Space Required: 529.5MB

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