You have to be pretty brave to launch a kart racing game on the Switch. When you have the direct ancestor of the title that created the genre available, you better make sure that you bring your A-game. When that series entry is arguably one of the best in the franchise, then you may want to consider your position altogether. Nickelodeon Kart Racers may well win awards for bravery by showing up on the home console of the moustachioed plumber’s racing game, but how does it stack up against its rival?
Nickelodeon Kart Racers comes from a Peruvian developer, Bamtang Games. They seem to specialise in licensed titles, with the other games they’ve worked on being Thor: Boss Battles (a web browser game) and Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle (a poorly-received console game). The Nickelodeon license here means that you can play as one of 12 classic characters. These are taken from SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The 24 tracks are also drawn from these franchises. With so many shows under the Nickelodeon banner, this seems a little paltry a selection.
When it comes to the racing, Nickelodeon Kart Racers does enough to get by but not much more. There’s drifting that ends in a boost. There are pickups that provide either weaponry or defensive abilities. There’s the odd shortcut on some of the tracks. It features all of the things that you want, or expect, in a kart racer. It just doesn’t do them with any level of finesse. Let’s take the tutorial as an example. Yes, there is a tutorial, but it involves a simple button prompt at the bottom left-hand side of the screen and comes at the exact time you would need to press the button. It is functional but I’d like to know before the lights go green how you accelerate. Likewise, it’s useful to know how to drift, but it would be good to know before I reach the corner rather than when I’m going around the bend. It all feels very perfunctory rather than polished.
Slime is a big part of Nickelodeon culture, and it features prominently in Kart Racers. It powers the boost of your kart. You collect it by driving through puddles of slime and sailing through it in the slime sections. Once you have filled one of the three tanks, you can then use it to boost. The slime doesn’t just stop there either. If you win the race, or series of races, then you will be greeted on the top of the podium with a dunking in slime. The loading screens give way to slime dripping down the screen. There is slime nearly everywhere in this game. It’s a theme that may not make that much sense if you don’t know Nickelodeon. It has been applied in a thoughtful way, though, and seeps out of every pore of the game.
Visually the game once again turns up for a participation award but is not going to win any medals. There’s no noticeable screen-tearing, but the frame rate doesn’t feel rock solid either. The cartoony art style is obviously lead by the Nickelodeon franchises it features, but it’s never that pretty to look at. Nintendo’s kart racing offering has a cartoony aesthetic too, yet that game looks great. Once again, it is another element where you feel the game comes up lacking.
I wanted to like Nickelodeon Kart Racers, I really did. It is a passable racer, but it just doesn’t match up to the competition. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe plays better, looks better, and has more tracks and characters. Nickelodeon Kart Racers does come in at $40, rather than Mario Kart’s $60, but unless you could pick it up for nearer $20 I don’t understand why anyone would choose this over its rival. You would need to be a really hardcore SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan to prefer this. I don’t doubt that there is a really good game that could be made with the Nickelodeon license, but it needs to have much better core mechanics. And with such a great library of Nickelodeon properties available, you can’t help but feel it should be using more of them.
A review code was provided by the publisher.