Consisting of characters from beloved franchises such as Hey Arnold!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rugrats, and SpongeBob SquarePants, Nickelodeon Kart Racers aims to pull on heartstrings with a genre that’s hard to get wrong. While a truly quality kart racer is rare to come by, acceptably mediocre is pretty common. Enter, Nickelodeon Kart Racers.
It’s a game with a surprising amount of redeeming qualities but it ultimately falters in its repetitive track design, washed out environments, graphically underwhelming assets, and flawed battle mode. For a game that’s available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, Nickelodeon Kart Racers looks and feels last gen.
Steering into the Skid
This game’s appeal is directly connected to its use of 90s and early 2000s cartoon icons. I was happy to find that this set of source material made for inspired, creative power-ups on the race track. For example, you can blind your foes by tossing pizza on their screen, thus weaponizing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ go-to meal. And I couldn’t help but laugh as I pummeled my opponents with several stones using the Patrick’s pet rock item. From Angelica’s speed boosting cookies to Sandy Cheeks’ acorn bombs, this game is full of clever callbacks.
Pimped Out Rides
There are two underlying challenges in Nickelodeon Kart Racers: unlock the three bonus cups and get all the customization items. Much like the weapons you can pick up during a race, these customization options are charmingly specific to their respective franchises, such as Hey Arnold’s potato alarm clock engine and the flying Dutchman’s ship paint job. The nostalgia is strong but it manages to be endearing rather than eye-roll inducing.
These items can be purchased with in-game coins that you pick up directly on the race track. Trying to weave through obstacles and other racers while grabbing coins before your opponents do adds an extra layer of challenge and incentive to each race. At the same time, it doesn’t take long to unlock some of the game’s best items. The only drawback here is that some items are so clearly superior to others that it forces you to choose between practicality and aesthetics. Additionally, items seem sorted by theme rather than type making it hard to compare, say, one wheel to another.
A Muted Blur
The concepts behind the 24 tracks were promising. Driving past Mrs. Puff’s boating school may be a fun reference to SpongeBob SquarePants, but it doesn’t take me long to forget that I’m in Bikini Bottom at all because everything is so washed out. Graphics certainly aren’t everything, but it’s particularly important in Nickelodeon Kart Racers where the nostalgic joy is directly related to the worlds the game is referencing.
The locations the team chose were good, but too often they drew upon the same basic concept. For instance, there are three tracks based on Dimension X. Tracks feel even more repetitive because of how dull everything looks on screen. Muted colors are the exact opposite of the Saturday morning cartoon vibe the game attempts to capture, thus detracting from the game’s overall personality. In the end, this flaw has the biggest negative impact on the experience.
Some Sleeper Car Features
This title subverted my expectations with its twist on a few races. Rather than simply race, some tracks tossed extra challenges into the mix. One race type involved following a specific route, requiring players to weave between buoys while making sure they were on the side the arrow was pointing to. If you missed too many of these turns you were eliminated from the race. Other tracks had a countdown timer pop-up, indicating that the person in last place would be booted out of the race each time the counter hit zero.
Personally, I really enjoyed the change of pace but can see some players being annoyed by this surprise when trying to unlock additional cups. In that sense, these variations might’ve been better suited as a mode of their own that players could opt into.
In terms of how the cars handle, the first thing that came to mind is slow. I always felt I had good control over the vehicle but the speed felt more residential that racing. However, as the cups went on and the hours added up I quickly grew accustomed to the speed and didn’t feel like it was a detriment to the game. There’s plenty of traction, even as you glide through slime. In fact, the drift mechanic in Nickelodeon Kart Racers is the easiest I’ve ever encountered. Hitting turns is simple and, in true kart racer fashion, doing so gives you a nice speed boost.
Filling your slime meter is intuitive and keeps you focused intently on the race. Once it’s full you can use it as a boost. Whether or not you want to fill all three meters first or use it as soon as you get it is entirely up to you are your own strategy. And with the constant fear of getting hit by an item, even a seasoned player will face challenges against the A.I. Unfortunately, unlocking new cups doesn’t actually give you new tracks just “remixed” old ones which was an anti-climatic end to placing first in each of the six cups.
Somewhat Better Together
Local co-op provides the same experience as solo races or cup races but with the option of teaming up or competing against each other. Multiplayer can have up to four players plus A.I. Oddly enough this doesn’t apply to Battle Mode.Instead, battles are done without any A.I. This makes their Capture the Flag and Free for All mode an awkward experience. I played alongside my brother and having one person chase the other around the circular map, hoping to capture that flag, made for some extremely one-sided matches. Likewise, Free for All was a 1-v-1 manhunt using difficult to aim weapons while laying easily avoidable traps.
In contrast, the Battle Mode that really shines is Tag. In this mode, one player leaves behind a trail of coins while the others try to collect as many coins as possible. Each player gets a chance to take on both roles. Even with only two players, this mode makes for some exciting moments and requires strategy amidst the chaos. Since the coins vanish after a short period of time, you’ll find yourself struggling to make a comeback if you lose track of your opponent’s trail.
The Finish Line
While Nickelodeon Kart Racers’ provides plenty of content and has smart references that integrate well with some very solid racing, the poor visuals and botched battle mode leave plenty to be desired. If you accept the game for what it is there’s definitely some fun to be had but its shortcomings are jarring enough to require some substantial blinders.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.