When EA Sports decided to take their beloved franchises in new directions on Nintendo’s newest console it seemed like the right move. Making these generally realistic sports more accessible to the millions of casual and younger gamers just seemed like the logical choice. NASCAR Kart Racing continues this trend by taking everyone’s favorite left-turn simulator and reconstructing it into a Mario Kart clone. Now I know what you are thinking; this is the biggest mistake since replacing Solid Snake in MGS 2, but as it turns out this latest clone is one of the most enjoyable kart racing games since the king itself. Even fans of the sport will find something to love in this re-stylized version of America’s favorite redneck past-time.
It’s not hard to see all of the influences of Mario Kart pouring from every corner of NASCAR Kart Racing. Everything from the cartoonish visuals to the power-ups feel lifted from Nintendo’s staple title. Instead of turtle shells you have different colored rockets, instead of ink blots you have giant advertisements and instead of the lightning bolt you are given a yellow flag that essentially does the same thing as in the aforementioned title. The comparisons are unavoidable, but they always say that imitation is the finest form of flattery and in its defense; NASCAR pulls it off so well it is forgivable.
This isn’t to say that the game is completely sans any originality at all. The biggest differentiator is the partner system. Instead of tackling the pack alone you are constantly working with your AI buddy to take down other drivers and of course win the race. You will share stats with your partner and even be able to use his draft to slingshot yourself and build up boost. This addition alone makes this copy-cat feel separate from everything else like it because so few games actually employ the buddy system properly. Just like in the real sport this aspect can drastically change the outcome of the race so it is nice to see it implemented so well.
Taking a nod from the real sport as well is the abundance of advertisements scattered around the game. From giant billboards strewn across the tracks to the quintessential decals on the cars this game is packed with money-making propaganda. There is little more humorous than blasting past an opponent with the Aflac duck peering back at them right before you hurl an oil slick into their path. This can be attributed to the sheer amount of these types of things seen in the real sport, but you also have to wonder if they didn’t overdo it just a touch. You rarely have a scene in NASCAR Kart Racing without being blasted with an advertisement, which is even more evident considering there is a power-up that uses an ad to block your opponent’s perspective.
The next question you may be asking yourself is “how good can a kart racing game be with only left turns?” Thankfully Kart Racing features twelve solid venues (all available in mirror form of course) and only one of them is the conventional oval design. Each track is comprised of a theme and contains the same shortcuts and wacky obstacles that the genre is known for. There are also fourteen licensed drivers to choose from in addition to ten drivers unique to the game. Unfortunately you cannot use your Mii to rip around the track, but to be honest it wasn’t something that I missed as the abundance of available drivers is more than suffice.
You have to give credit where credit is due; NASCAR Kart Racing plays nearly as well as Nintendo’s perennial series. Regardless of which control scheme you prefer the handling is spot on. You can opt to use the plastic wheel harness that came bundled with Mario Kart, the dual action nunchuk and remote combo or even the traditional Gamecube controller configuration with great results. Once you accustom yourself to the way the game handles you will be powersliding around corners with little effort and enjoying every minute of it.
When it comes to this type of game Mario Kart has obviously set the bar in just about every category so when you realize that EA has decided to omit online altogether it is a bit disappointing. You can enjoy races with up to four players on the same screen, which is a blast, but without ghost data to download and online tournaments it does feel a bit shallow in the multiplayer department. Visually the game looks much like you would expect it to with out-of-proportioned characters and plenty of bright color palettes. The frame rate holds a steady 60 fps during single-player, but does drop to 30 when playing four players.
NASCAR Kart Racing is a perfect example of the way a series can make lemonade out of lemons. The Wii obviously appeals to a different audience and EA clearly knows this. Kart Racing may not be the most original title in the stable of franchises, but it sure is loads of fun, especially with four people. The lack of online does hinder the experience a bit, but if you don’t care about taking it to cyber space and enjoy NASCAR even a little, there is a ton of fun to be had with this peculiar title.