Nickelodeon was a cornerstone of TV viewing for kids in the ’90s with many classics such as Hey Arnold!, Spongebob Squarepants and Rugrats. Even the TMNT (2012) series waves the same Nickelodeon flag, appealing to fans young and old. As such, I was excited to see all four of these classic licenses appearing side-by-side in one game, Nickelodeon Kart Racers (NKR). To see these iconic characters together in one package, I was anticipating something along the lines of an entertaining Mario Kart clone coated with quirky Nickelodeon charm.
NKR pits iconic names against each other in go-kart races across various Nicktoons-themed locations. The game features 12 characters, which include all four ninja turtles, three characters from Rugrats, three from Spongebob, and lastly two from Hey Arnold! What bothered me was the small roster to choose from and the many fantastic shows that are absent from this game. Nicktoons Racing in 2001 had a more diverse roster of characters spanning twice as many series than NKR. There isn’t much variety in the game modes either, which includes a single-player Grand Prix, Free Race, Time Attack, and local multiplayer.
With the sole focus on these four major Nickelodeon shows, I would have thought the characters would be oozing with personality and littered with voice tracks. I was wrong. None of the characters in the game have any voice work at all; they don’t even make a peep when bumping into other characters on the road! It’s disappointing not to hear any voice acting because it would have been a lot of fun to listen to the likes of Patrick and Michelangelo taunting each other and trading quips on wheels.
There are an assortment of themed tracks, but these are not without issues. In some race tracks, you are forced to race in one of three ways: by wheels, by gliding through the air, or by boat in a sea of slime (because it’s Nickelodeon). The boat handling while in slime is unnecessarily frustrating as your vehicle constantly sways left and right making it difficult to control.
On a positive note, the racing aspect of the game is responsive and functional as intended. While on the road you can perform drifts and the car handling is serviceable, as you would expect in any racing game. Just don’t assume a nuanced kart-racing experience like Mario Kart, as the team behind this game choose to keep the controls plain and simple. They have made an effort uniting the game with plenty of pick-ups that are inspired by each show. Tommy’s baby bottle works as a rocket attack, a TMNT pizza can be launched to briefly blind opponents, and SpongeBob’s karate glove shields you from attacks.
Each race has slime over parts of the track for players to suck up and fill their fuel gauge to activate speed boosts. Hitboxes are also available to get items to obstruct opponents and help you get to first place. While it’s all quite familiar and doesn’t take too long to learn for experienced or older casual players, there isn’t any explanation on how the game works which would easily confuse younger players. The first time you start the game, the menu presents you with only three options – single-player, multiplayer and shop. The main menu also feels underwhelming, with no dazzling introduction video to build up any sense of excitement.
While on the track you can pick up coins which can be used to buy mods from the shop like a new engine, wheels, paint jobs and wings. All mods include statistic points which can improve your acceleration, speed and a few other enhancements.
Grand Prix is the campaign mode with three difficulties where you enter a series of races to gain the most wins and points to be awarded the prized cup. If you are in the mood for a casual drive, then there is Free Race and Time Attack to choose from. There is also a campaign multiplayer with the option to race against each other or as a team. Also for local-play, there is Battle Arena modes which have three familiar games: the first-to-10-points Free for All, Capture the Flag and Tag. I was disappointed not to see online multiplayer as it would have given the game some much-needed replay value and is standard in modern day multiplayer gaming.
There are 24 tracks that take on familiar locations from each TV shows, and some feature side characters in the background. One of the sewer stages had Shedder and Splinter battling it out above the track which I thought was pretty cool. Nickelodeon fans will also get joy in seeing places like Bikini Bottom, NYC sewers, Tommy Pickle’s house and Arnold’s school recreated in racetrack form.
While the music suits the game, it’s not at all memorable. None of the TV show themes made it into the soundtrack, which is a huge disappointment. I thought a remix of their tunes would be at least be possible for the game. The overuse of green is also likely to come across as over-the-top for some. Sure it helps with the boost mechanic in the game, but I felt it overshadowed the brightly coloured characters and locations. If the team invested more time in adding voice acting and a better soundtrack, it would have given this game some actual personality. It’s a pity seeing the characters buzz around the tracks with nothing to say which overall creates a mostly hollow experience.
There’s little reason to play Nickelodeon Kart Racers as it nowhere near delivers the same polish and enjoyment as the likes of Mario Kart and Team Sonic Racing. In truth, it mostly just comes across as a quick cash-grab for parents to buy their kids because the cover features family-friendly characters. Sure, young gamers will likely enjoy racing as some of their favourite Nicktoons characters, but overall NKR lacks content and replay value. Whether you’re a Nickelodeon fan or not, you’re better off giving this game a miss and simply taking some time to re-watch some of these classic series instead.