As a brand, I don’t think I quite realised how much I loved Nickelodeon. Rugrats, Angry Beavers Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocko’s Modern Life, Catdog and the Wild Thornberries were some of my favourite shows to watch after school. So you’d imagine how excited I’d be when Nickelodeon Kart Racers was announced a few months ago. Now imagine how I’d feel given that only one of my favourite Nickelodeon properties I just mentioned was represented in the final product. This is just the beginning of Nickelodeon Kart Racers many disappointments and it unfortunately doesn’t stop there.
From the beginning it’s clear that Nickelodeon Kart Racers is rough around the edges and is only doing the bare minimum to get by. I was excited and eager to jump into the game an feel a wave of nostalgia wash over me as familiar tunes played. Instead, what I got was a very subdued humdrum interface with few options to explore. The standard modes are all here; you’ll have the option to carry out single races, grand prix style events, time trials and other mode arcade-like modes too.These are all modes you’d expect to see in a kart racer, but it’s how Nickelodeon Kart Racers is put together that feels especially disappointing. The actual racing is passable, but not anywhere near as responsive as games like Mario Kart. I hate to bring Mario Kart into things, but the game borrows so liberally from it that it’s hard not to notice. Everything about the way Nickelodeon Kart Racers plays is so familiar – from the zany power-ups to the way drifting and cornering works. It’s a good model to take inspiration from, for sure, but it also is just about the only thing the game gets right.
In terms of the track selection, there’s a pretty generous offering of 24 tracks, though this feels like an instance of quantity over quality. Some of the locales you’ll race on are instantly recognisable, though a lot of them feel like generic places that are inspired by the properties they’re based on. Toy Store Flash Sale, for example, doesn’t feel like any specific location from Rugrats but it seems to be from that world. School Hijinks is apparently the school Arnold and Helga attend from Hey Arnold! too. They’re not bad levels per se, they just feel devoid of the fun and character you’d expect to see in a game based on Nickelodeon properties.Without a doubt the biggest misstep is the rather limited roster of characters you’ll have to play around with. There’s twelve playable characters in the game. Four of them are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, three are from Rugrats, three are from Spongebob and two are from Hey Arnold. Having a third of the roster be turtles is slightly disappointing and having zero representatives from most of Nickelodeon’s legacy franchises from the 90s and early 2000s seems like a huge missed opportunity. To make matters worse, these characters that are included are quiet and soulless – there’s no voice work and only gestures for one.
This all dovetails to a major issue – I have trouble reconciling just which audience Nickelodeon Kart Racers is meant to be appealing to. Rugrats and Hey Arnold were both more or less finished so I’d argue younger audiences wouldn’t care about these properties as much. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a new addition to the Nickelodeon line-up, and ostensibly for younger fans. Spongebob Squarepants is almost universally adored, or at least has become enough of a meme source today to be instantly recognisable by anybody who uses social media.But where are all the other properties? Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Catdog, Rocko’s Modern Life, Angry Beavers, The Wild Thornberries; even Avatar, Dora, Diego or Jimmy Neutron. It just feels like a very bare bones celebration of a brand that has so many franchises under its belt. This could be a game that appeals to everyone, especially for those on a platform where Mario Kart doesn’t exist, but instead explicitly appeals to nobody with its half-baked representations.
The icing on this already bitter cake is the fact that the game is presented so poorly. The game itself is average looking, which is disappointing given the simplistic art style. Character models look authentic enough but the actual tracks themselves are empty and lacking life, lacking presence. As mentioned previously, the characters also never speak, which leads to some quiet races, but the music is similarly as uninspired and hollow. It’s almost as if Nickelodeon didn’t want to go all-in with a licensing commitment and provide any recognisable tracks to race to. The result is something dull and flat, that lacks personality and any air of authenticity.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A PHYSICAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PURCHASED BY THE AUTHOR.
As far as kart racers go, Nickelodeon Kart Racers is a disappointing case of missed opportunity. Nickelodeon, as a brand, is rich with properties though barely any are appropriately handled here too, with a roster that's quite frankly anemic. Instead, Nickelodeon Kart Racers offers some serviceable kart racing that's ultimately devoid of any personality. Some kids who don't know any better will find some enjoyment here, but most probably won't.