Christmas is coming and the kids are scribbling their lists to Santa, so it’s about time a few games were released aiming at younger players. Little more than a week ago we had Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 borrowing tips from Super Smash Bros, so low and behold we have another game that might appeal to the family favourite Mario fans, with another All-Star showing in Dreamworks All-Star Kart Racing.
It’s over thirty years since Super Mario Kart first released on the super Nintendo and while the Nintendo franchise has gone from strength to strength, we see a typical “Mario kart clone” released most years.
Diddy Kong, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Lego, Looney Tunes, the list goes on and on, but while some come close, nobody really manages to find that perfect mix of fun racing and vehicular combat that Mario nails time and time again
So here in the pit lane, we have plenty of popular faces from Dreamworks franchises, Characters from “Kung Fu Panda”, “Shrek” and “Madagascar” are arguably the best known additions, but we also have characters from “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Boss Baby” with the “Trolls” making an appearance as race hosts and power up masters.
I’m sure it’ll sound familiar to anyone who’s ever played a similar racing game, but from the starting line, you’ll race around all manner of wacky courses, collecting weapons to fling at your opponents and boosts for that added edge as you strive to reach the finish line first.
DreamWorks have added their own spin on proceedings, starting off with the Trolls. These cute little guys will grab hold of your Kart while racing, attracted by the more musical notes you collect, giving you a slight speed boost and a special Troll surprise (power-up).
There are also glowing harps of light, these magical switches will activate a literal rainbow road, with some split into multiple switches and sections for various short-cutting opportunities, as well as more standard corner cutting and jumps to give you the edge over other races.
In total there’s 20 courses covering various popular locations from Dreamworks films, some are more recognisable than others, but overall there’s a good level of detail with each one. The core courses are, like Mario Kart, relatively simple, especially when compared to games like Sonic Team Racing,
Likewise you’ll be racing with a selection of 20 characters (10 unlocked with progression) and an extra 2 available via the Rally Pack DLC which is a £13 DLC bundle, that’s also included in the Rally Edition (which only costs £5 more (£39.99) than the base game (£34.99)
Each character will race in their own unique Kart, which has multiple variations and parts, with dozens of extra wheels, spoilers and designs being unlocked through in-game quests.
Most also have their own “home” track, with only one core character and the two DLC characters as exceptions. The 20 courses are split into sets of four which make up the various cups.
So, long introductions aside and the important question is, how does it play, or race, and while it’s a difficult question to answer, it’s best to consider who’s going to be playing the game.
As an older gamer, who has played every kart racer you can think of, it leaves a little to be desired, but having also watched all of the featured DreamWorks movies over the years, it’s also an impressive collection of some famous names that the younger gamers will love.
My main complaint is the speed of the game, you have four choices in total, but even on the fastest setting I still found the game really lacking any feeling of speed, and when I did hit multiple boosts in a row, with a drift boost a jumping boost, and a power-up, any very brief speed, was usually accompanied with the feeling of lacking control.
On the slowest two settings it’s painfully slow, default “turbo” still feels quite restrained and there just wasn’t that 150cc feeling that you hope for as you get more used to the game. Worst still, increasing the speed seems to drastically increase the difficulty, meaning you either take an hour trundling along in slow speeds, or spend an hour trying to complete a race where you’re not screwed out of a podium finish by brutal AI.
Thankfully, the majority of the time in the game won’t be alone as it’s more of a family title, and while I found it a little too slow, my 8 year old wasn’t too bothered and no doubt found it a little easier due to having plenty of time to register the turns ahead. Thankfully there are a few options for multiplayer with 4-player split screen available for both single races and cup mode, which will take you through the series of four races in a battle for the podium.
Sadly though, these cup races will be part-filled with AI racers, and this is where my enjoyment of Dreamworks All-Star Kart Racing got hit by a proverbial blue shell, just before the finishing line.
Usually I’m quite critical of “rubber banding” a method common in arcade racing games to keep the competition close, I often find it too strong, but in DreamWorks Kart Racing it feels far, far too weak, unless you’re in the centre of the pack and then everyone wants to be next to you.
If you do get beyond the reach of your opponent’s attacks, you’re likely to find yourself 5-10 seconds ahead with no competition, but likewise, if you get caught by a few attacks or obstacles, you’re going to be at the back of the pack with little chance to catch up.
There’s no racing from 8th to 1st in one lap, and even if you could, it’s pot luck what you’ll randomly be hit with, to knock you back to square one, especially in the last two speed options, where you can’t even say one mistake will ruin your race, becasuse you can be driving along without fault and still end up in last place.
This strange balance is consistent throughout, attacks often seem unpredictable or unannounced and just aren’t as noticeable or memorable as those pesky Red Shells or Banana peels, even thinking back, I’d struggle to know exactly what half of the “weapons” in DreamWorks Kart Racing are supposed to be, so knowing exactly what they’ll do is another hurdle.
Don’t worry though the AI remembers just fine and no matter how well you might be doing in 2nd place, you’re likely to get hit by surprise, bumped, knocked and slowed down until you’re closer to the back of the pack, which can ruin a few laps of near-perfect racing in a few unavoidable seconds.
It sadly gives quite an unbalanced feeling of luck to races, with a 1st place finish with seconds to spare, just as likely as last place and struggling to reach the car ahead, even when you’ve put in consistent fast laps of you’re caught near other riders, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel unfairly knocked about and pushed to the back of the pack.
So, it’s fair to say the gameplay might not be the perfect racer, but a special mention has to go to those harp switches, the temporary roads they produce offer a fun way of bypassing large sections of the track.
Another positive is the overall presentation, characters and courses are well made, carry their own unique personas and appearances and while the Karts, all seem to drive very similar, they all look and sound unique just as the impressive courses do, sure there’s repeated voice lines, repeated animations, but what you see and hear Is mostly well done.
It’s a shame however that while Dreamworks have included a lot of voice acting, very few sound as familiar or “real” as the movie actors/voices, I believe the only original voice actor is the Turtle from Kung-Fu Panda (one of the DLC characters).
So while the exchange between Shrek and Donkey during the brief tutorial, might sound like what they’d say, it just doesn’t feel like it’s them actually saying it. The overall amount of voice acting is promising, with characters having voice lines often dependent on who they’re having a little banter with, but most characters just feel a little too far from the Mike Myers and Eddy Murphy’s who originally brought these iconic characters to life.
Overall, DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing is a game with a lot of potential for a fun few races with family, there’s some great characters and tracks with plenty to work through, however it does feel unfairly unbalanced on faster speeds. Playing with younger players, you’ll feel forced to the slower difficulties, lacking in speed, in search of a fair race.
Theres no doubt a few patches could vastly improve the brutal AI and inconsistent rubber-banding, so there’s hope yet. However, in its current state, it all feels a little unfair, maybe the game struggling to provide any real feeling of speed even on the fastest setting, ment the AI had to be pushed into overdrive to force difficulty beyond a single playthrough of each course.
The launch price of £34.99 feels perfectly fair and while I couldn’t recommend it to older gamers looking for a nostalgic trip down rainbow road, it’s certianly the sort of game families with a few younger kids will find more than enough to enjoy for the occasional family game night.
Dreamworks All-Star Kart Racing
DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing is a game with a lot of potential for a fun few races with family, there’s some great characters and tracks with plenty to work through, however it does feel unfairly unbalanced on faster speeds.