Monday, January 9, 2012

The Top Ten Kart Racers (That Aren't Mario Kart)

Ever since Super Mario Kart hit the market 20 years ago, the racing genre has had a smaller sub-genre; the mascot-driven kart racer. Taking the arcade style racing game, throw in some crazy locations and power-ups and of course, some sort of licensed character seemed like instant cash for developers. It seems like every property out there has been involved in a Kart racing game at least one time or another, from Sonic to Pac-Man to South Park, the Smurfs and even Homies.

 However, it doesn’t always work out. Very few Kart racing games ever even come close to capturing half the magic of Mario Kart and even more of them are just flat out bad. Now, I love Kart racing games, especially Mario Kart, so I’ve played a lot over the years and I’d be lying if I didn’t say there have been quite a few that have stood out as more than just rip-offs. So, I’m counting down the top ten best Kart racing games, that are not Mario Kart. 
10. Lego Racers

Also it has pirates. Pirates are cool.
Before Lego became famous for taking popular franchises and turning them into awesome platforming games, they made a series of hit or miss titles for the PS1, N64 and PC based on their own sets. One of the hits was Lego Racers. Now, Lego Racers was not a perfect game, the controls were a little slippery and sometimes even bad and the tracks were nothing to get excited about but the coolest thing about Lego Racer was the ability to build your own karts and racers. Utilizing a property like Lego, you have to have some sort of element of customization in there and Lego Racer nailed it. There were tons of parts and pieces to choose from as well as plenty to unlock and it made designing your car just as fun as playing the game. However, it did suck pretty hard when you spent all that time working on a kart and it ended up being slow as dirt. They released a sequel for the PS2 in 2001 but I’ve never played it. It just didn’t appeal to me like the original. For all I know, it’s just as good though.

9. Muppet Racemania

This game is posolutely, most transparently awesome.
Alright, yes, I’m a huge Muppet fan so obviously I like this game for more reasons than one but it’s actually a pretty cool racing game. The items are appropriately silly, the controls are good, for the most part, and the tracks are all based on locations from the movies or show and I think that’s awesome. Not to mention, there’s 25 playable characters and that’s a lot, especially compared to Mario Kart which, at the time, didn’t have more than 8. However, how you unlock these characters can be a little cryptic. There’s an adventure mode but you have to go some ridiculous places just to find characters to race. Like in the Happiness Hotel level, there’s a random wall you have to smash through in the middle of a race to find Floyd. This room serves no purpose other than letting you find Floyd so you have to back your way out and on to the track to finish the race. It’s a little dumb but the rest of the game is good fun.

8. Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour

We ride off into the sunset against bears in cowboy hats.
Despite it’s ridiculous name, this one is pretty cool too. All of the tracks are based on locations and rides from Walt Disney World such as Space Mountain, the Jungle Cruise and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, although they obviously took a lot of creative liberties. I always thought it was so cool how if you were on one of the water-based ride racetracks, you drove a boat instead. Although I remember getting lost a lot on the Haunted Mansion level so that kind of sucks. However, my biggest problem with the game is the character selection. With the exception of Chip, Dale and Jiminy Cricket, all of the characters are just made up. Why? You’re telling me that in a game based on Walt Disney World, the best you can muster is Jiminy Cricket? Where’s Mickey? Or Minnie? Donald? Goofy? Pete? Anybody! I don’t want to play as Bruno Brissle or Astro Spacer. I mean, who are these people?! Aw well, despite the terrible roster, the game is pretty fun and I’d check it out if you like Disney World.

7. Chocobo Racing

I know next to nothing about Final Fantasy, I’ve played none of the main games and all my knowledge comes from Kingdom Hearts. I do, however, know that Chocobo Racing is awesome. This game is so completely ridiculous and unnecessary that I have to love it. When it comes to a series like Final Fantasy, the last thing you think of is a kart racing spin-off but Square went there. You race as a series of creatures or generic races from the games like Chocobo, Moogle, White Mage and Behemott, although you could also unlock Cloud and Squall who look ridiculous and out of place. The tracks are pretty fun and I assume based on the games, I honestly have no idea. The controls can be a little poor though and the difficulty is surprisingly steep in later stages but it’s still a fun experience just for the fact that you can play as a Chocobo on roller skates. Also, if you put in a code, you can play as the guy from 3D World Runner and that’s awesome.

6. Looney Tunes Racing

Also you can play as Lola and people like her now, apparently.
This was a game I rented from the local Blockbuster about six times and probably should have just bought instead for how much money I made my parents spend on it. What can I say? It was a lot of fun. Much like Muppets, there was a whole lot of Looney Tunes characters to unlock and play as ranging from your typical like Bugs and Marvin the Martian, to the obscure like Gossamer (!) and Rocky the Mobster. The tracks were all based on locations from the many different Looney Tunes shorts and they were all pretty great. They each had different short cuts and traps and it felt very much like a Mario Kart game. A very well developed game with a great sense of humor. Sure, it was a blatant rip-off and did nothing to set itself apart from the rest but it was still pretty great.

5. Crash Team Racing

Hey, remember him?
When it comes to Mario Kart clones, Crash Team Racing is likely the first one you think of due to it’s popularity back when it first came out and I have to say, that’s very well deserved, it’s a great game. While the Crash Bandicoot world and characters don’t have as much charm as the Mario universe, the controls and tracks felt like they were made by the same company. It was the rip-off at the time and it deserves any praise or cult following it currently has. It also had a story mode to set itself apart at least a little bit where you have to win each individual track and race bosses. It was a neat little distraction and a nice way to set itself apart from the otherwise superior Mario Kart games. It may not be as charming, but it’s almost just as good.

4. Toy Story Racer

RC is like, the most appropriate character.
Here’s a game you might not have even known existed. It came out at the very end of the PS1’s lifespan, right before the PS2 came out so it went overlooked by most audiences. Not me, however, I love Toy Story and I love kart racers so it seemed like a perfect match. And, well, yeah, it was. This is a really great game. The way it presents itself is very different than any other kart racing games. See, you start out with only four characters and each character has a set of objectives they have to complete before they can unlock more characters. These objectives could be anything from Win the race to knock the opponents out with items to even racing 8 laps until each character drops out. It was a lot of fun and surprisingly robust for a Kart racer. Though it can be a little jarring considering there’s really no way to just jump into a race and familiarize yourself with the game at the very start, you have to start a story. The locations are all places from the first Toy Story and all the characters are here too, even some obscure ones like Lenny and Babyface. Toy Story Racer is a great game that went overlooked for no real reason. You can likely find it for cheap and it’s also available on the Playstation Network as a PS1 classic. Check it out if you like Toy Story and a good kart racer.

3. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing

Reason enough to buy it.
Alright, let’s get this out of the way right now; yes, Sonic is in car and that’s weird. Okay, yes, duh, that’s a given but it isn’t the first time he’s been in a car or a hoverboard or whatever so quit complaining. Once you get past the fact that the fastest thing alive is driving a car, you’ll likely be quite surprised to find a really great kart racing game in there. Yeah, I love this game. The controls are great, the tracks are very well designed and the character selection is appropriate for this type of all-stars game (although why isn’t NiGHTs playable?) My biggest problem with the game is the lack of variety in stages. All the tracks are well designed, sure, but there’s what, 15 franchises represented on the playable roster and only six in track form? And even worse, most of the tracks are duplicates of the other’s. Did we really need more than one Casino Park track from Sonic Heroes? And why are all the Billy Hatcher stages based on the snow world? The track variety is very lame but the tracks themselves are well designed and my complaints are mostly nitpicking. If you’ve been living in 1994 and have been ignoring Mario Kart because it isn’t Sonic, definitely check this game out, it’s a lot of fun. Also you can play as Billy Hatcher and Ryo from Shenmue and that’s something.

2. Modnation Racers

More games should have killer ice cream truck clowns.
Hey look, it’s the reason I got a PS3! Modnation Racers is one of the best kart racing games for so many reasons. The controls are tight and responsive, the items are well implemented, the tracks are well designed but what really sets it apart is it’s absurd amount of customization. Not only can you customize your character and your kart but you can make your own tracks too. That’s unheard of in a game like this. The customization options alone are enough to make this game worth playing. Plus, with the inclusion of online, you can share all your tracks and characters with people from around the world and download stuff yourself so every time  you play, you could theoretically play on a different track you’ve never played every time. It’s a lot to take in and I really think Nintendo should consider track customization something for the next Mario Kart installment. It would take a lot of work but if can make out own Brawl stages why not our own Mario Kart tracks? Modnation Racer is an example of a game that rips-off another game and in many ways, actually improves on it. It may be lacking the license backing every other game on this list has (Which I personally think attributed to it’s less than stellar sales) but it definitely has a lot to offer that every other game doesn’t. Check it out if you haven’t yet. I know it’s cheap by now.

1. Diddy Kong Racing

You will believe a turtle can fly.
Could anything else really be number 1? I mean really? Diddy Kong Racing is the supreme rip-off of Mario Kart and it was published by the same company! Diddy Kong Racing took kart racing and made it an adventure. Exploring the overworld and racing in the different tracks and finding hidden balloons was just as much fun as actually racing. Not to mention, the boss races were awesome if not a lot unfair. Damn Octopus… The tracks were very well designed and being able to race in not just karts but planes and hovercrafts was something truly unique and made for some interesting choices in each race that allowed it. Although I always found planes to be annoying. I’m also a big fan of the item upgrade system. See, when you go through a colored balloon, you get an item, go through that same color again and that item upgrades, do it again and  you get the best item. Have 1 missile? Go through the same colored balloon 2 more times and you can have ten! It added a level of depth to the item system that Mario Kart still hasn’t managed to capture and I really enjoy it. My only problem is the lack of Donkey Kong characters. Yeah, Diddy’s in it and Conker and Banjo but where’s DK or Funky? Who the hell is Drumstick or Tip-Tup? Aw well, I grew to like the characters a lot and the DS version did end up adding Dixie Kong and Tiny Kong, so that’s something. Diddy Kong Racing is the best Mario Kart rip-off and it probably always will be. It’s just that good.

So there you have it. My top ten Kart racing games that aren’t Mario Kart. Do you agree? Disagree? Something I left out? Maybe you really like Nicktoons Racing or South Park Rally. Let me know in the comments!

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