Kart Racing’s Best Line-up
While seemingly everyone in the world has been talking about the U.S, Election and the upcoming release of Halo 4, few have noticed something amazing is about to happen in the world of video games. This November, for what may be the first time ever, three kart-racing video games will be released — LittleBigPlanet Karting (9th), F1 Race Stars (16th) and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (16th).
The kart-racer is an under-appreciated genre, often derided as merely a quick cash-in for mascots from other, better games. Following the success of the Mario Kart series, which popularised the genre, it seemed that every semi-recognisable video game character got its own kart-racer. These ranged from the mediocre Chocobo Racing to the baffling Bomberman Fantasy Race.
Amid all the cheap knock-offs and clones there were a few gems though, some genuinely fun and fantastic games. So let’s take a look at some of the genre’s best that this November’s new releases will have to compete with.
Street Racer – Mega Drive/SNES
Back in the early 90s Street Racer was made available on almost every platform, from the Amiga to the PlayStation 1. Sadly, the only ones that were any good were the Mega Drive and SNES versions. The versions on earlier consoles suffered from hardware limitations whereas the PS1 and Saturn remakes tried to do too much. On the SNES and Mega Drive, they got it just right.
Street Racer was impressive among kart-racers because it didn’t piggyback off another franchise, it was an entirely unique IP that was confident enough in its gameplay that it didn’t have to have a mascot fronting it. Instead it created its own style with a cast of colourful characters and vehicles. Admittedly the tracks felt pretty standard, but this was made up for by its tight gameplay and rocking music.
Modnation Racers – PS3
When it was released Modnation Racers was marketed essentially as LittleBigPlanet but on wheels, with the focus being entirely on its customisable karts and user-generated tracks. So, with the real LittleBigPlanet Karting coming out this month you may be wondering why Modnation even matters any more. Well, Modnation Racers was a lot more than just a standard racer with a load of customisation dials.
It’s a game that is instantly accessible to all. Yet with weapons that could be upgraded with every pick-up and a shared boost/shield bar that forced you to choose between speed and safety, Modnation Racers could also be a devilishly tactical game. Though it may seem like another shallow generic racer, under its cartoony surface bubbles a complex and layered race experience that has yet to be replicated in the genre.
Diddy Kong Racing – N64
There are some things in this world that were made for one another, Rare and the N64 were one such combination. On the console Rare made such games as Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie. Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct; each one a classic in their own right. So it came as no surprise that when Rare decided to create a kart-racer for the N64 they made something special.
Diddy Kong Racing was one of the first that rejected the notion that kart-racers were mere party games, played only for multiplayer fun. It featured a fully realised single-player campaign with an overworld map that linked each race together in a tangible way. Races were themed according to the region they were located in on the overworld map, and completing all the races in a region unlocked a special race against a boss character. This single-player mode made the game feel much more substantial than its competitors at the time and still stands up to this day. Add into the equation that you could also fly planes and drive hoverboats and Diddy Kong Racing stands up as one of most versatile kart-racers out there.
Crash Team Racing – PS1
Back before Sackboy was the PlayStation brand’s mascot, it was Crash Bandicoot and much like Sackboy is about to get behind the wheel of a kart, so did Crash. Crash Team Racing combined the single-player mode of Diddy Kong Racing with a sense of speed and chaos that only the Crash Bandicoot franchise could provide.
Crash Team Racing was almost a purer version of Diddy Kong Racing. Instead of having multiple types of vehicles CTR just focused on making the karts as fun to drive as possible. Detractors of the series say that it’s just a blatant Mario Kart 64 clone, but there are those, myself included, who say that Crash Team Racing was the pinnacle of karting gameplay. Even its sequels couldn’t improve on the formula.
Super Mario Kart – SNES
Though there is some dispute about whether it was the first kart-racing game (some claim Pole Position takes that honour) its irrefutable that Super Mario Kart was the one that popularised and defined the genre. Super Mario Kart set in place the core mechanics that even today, 20 years after its release, still feature heavily in every kart racing game.
No-one can quite decide which of the seven games in the Mario Kart series is the best, older gamers will go with the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES, others may choose Mario Kart 64 for the N64 or the Gamecube’s stellar Double Dash which introduced a new style of co-op gameplay. Regardless of which one you believe to be the best, each of the seven Mario Kart games have done their part to cement the series as the king of the kart-racing genre.
Whether LittleBigPlanet Karting, F1 Race Stars or Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed will be able to contend with any of these games remains yet to be seen. One can only hope that this month will not just be the first to see three new kart-racing games, but three great ones.