Developer: Bamtang Games
Publisher: Game Mill
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Racing, Action, Arcade, Multiplayer
No. of Players: up to 8 players
Release Date: Oct. 6th, 2020 (EU & NA)
Price: $39.99 USD
Nickelodeon Kart Racers released in 2018 to less than favorable reviews, being criticized for its lack of content and lackluster gameplay. Two years later, Nickelodeon has treated players with a sequel that is set to expand and improve on the first title’s failures. Releasing on all major platforms in October of 2020, is this new entry in the franchise the enhancement the original so desperately needed? Or will Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 Grand Prix fall again to the issues of underdeveloped ideas?
Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 doesn’t have a story to it, much like most Kart Racing Games. Like the other games of this genre, it is a culmination of Nickelodeon fan favorites that have come together for a racingly good time. The Character list is made up of representatives from hit cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rocko’s Modern Life, The Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, and Hey Arnold!
I’ll address the elephant in the room right away. Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 Grand Prix (referred to simply as Racers 2 for the rest of this review) is… well, a Mario Kart clone. Pretty much a by-the-book copy I might add. Tracks are all stylized around a certain show in the Nickelodeon catalog, with up to eight racers running three laps around the track to the finish line. As far as similarities in gameplay, you can drift and get up to three boost levels, perform jump stunts on ramps to get more boost and get some speed at the start of the race by timing the traffic lights’ start prompt.
Items are identical in function to those of Mario Kart; you have the Lawn Gnome which serves as this game’s Banana item, the Toy Ball as the Green Shell, the Yahoo Soda as the Mushroom powerup, just to name a few. These re-skins are quite inventive, I must admit. The Queen Jellyfish works as Mario Kart’s Blue Shell, Appa from Avatar is the Bullet Bill.
Tracks are thematically appropriate to the featured shows’ worlds, though I’ll admit I’m quite disappointed by the linearity of the layouts. Shortcuts are minimal and don’t reward the player too much for taking them. There’s obstacles layered throughout, as well as various ramps and boost-pads to keep the speed from slowing down.
Unique to Racers 2, a mechanic I’ve yet to see in any other racing game in the genre is the iconic Nickelodeon slime. This green goo serves a huge role in the gameplay and its uses are needed to come out on top. Slime can be obtained in various ways; scattered in the track floors, obtained via slime coins (which can be collected up to 10), as well as a few unique methods, like jumping off a slime geyser or driving down a slime waterfall. On the top right corner, you can find three character icons and a slime bar. Fill up the bar and you can use your Chief skill (more on this topic in the next segment). Using your Chief skill at the right moment is key to victory.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Before going in-depth with the various modes, I’d like to talk about Chief and Crew Member cards. Chief cards can be used once you obtain enough slime, each having a different ability. For example, once the “Mr. Krabs” Chief skill is activated, he’ll pull any surrounding slime coin towards you. Crew Member skills work differently, as you can’t manually activate them. They trigger automatically and have a reload time in which they can’t be used. These are less powerful skills but used with the right Chief skills, can create powerful combinations.
Like the aforementioned Mr. Krabs skill, for example, combined with both Leni’s skill (who gives you free slime coins throughout the match) and the Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy skill (which gives you a boost for every slime coin you collect), you have a combination that constantly rewards you with a boost every few seconds. Finding the right pair of Chief and Crew Member skill gives you an incentive to unlock all of these, as well as explore with each and every one. It’s a nice, refreshing layer of strategy that makes Racers 2 a lot of fun to play.
Additionally, there’s a lot of customization and options for your Kart. Thirty racers and over eighty kart parts, split into your engine, wheels, exhaust pipes, and paint jobs. Each part of the vehicle, as well as the racer, affects your vehicle stats (top speed, turbo, steering, and drift).
Roughly one-third of all customization parts -including racers, kart parts, Chief and Crew Members- are locked behind certain challenge gates. You can unlock these by completing all Cups, Challenge mode and Time Trials. Although you obtain Racers and Skill cards right away, after unlocking vehicle parts you have to purchase them in the shop using the in-game currency, slime coins. It’s an incentive for replayability, though my only major issue was slime coin drops after each race was far too little and the shop sells these at a far too high value. It’s more than likely that you’ll have to grind for 100% completion.
Now, onto the modes. The three main ones are Single Player, Multiplayer and Online. Both Single and Multiplayer share “Slime Grand Prix”, “Free Race” and “Arena”. Exclusive to the former is “Challenges” and “Time Trial”. There’s a total of 28 unique tracks.
Slime Grand Prix is where you can race. There are three difficulty settings, ranked by speed (slow, medium, and fast). There are eight cups, each with four established tracks. Cups are named after one of the featured Nickelodeon shows. What’s odd here is that there are eight cups with four tracks each, which should add up to 32 tracks in total. But in actuality, there are only 28 tracks. This is because the final cup, the Super Slime cup, features four repeated maps, none of which alter from their original cup. So… why have the Super Slime cup anyways? It’s an odd addition and I’m not quite sure why it exists, to begin with. Anyways, you can obtain up to three stars in each cup depending on overall performance.
Free Mode lets you select any track you want to play individually and customize the ruleset. Time Trial has you competing on your own or versus a ghost for the best time. Arena is similar to Mario Kart’s Battle Mode, with the two game modes being Free-for-All Battle (Balloon Battle, if you want the comparison) and Control the Golden Spatula (Shine Thief). There are two maps to play on, specifically made for this game mode.
Finally, we have Challenges. There are forty-two in total, divided into six segments. You play the first six sets of challenges, then do the seventh against a character that, once completed, you unlock to the roster. Then move on to the next batch of challenges until you complete them all. These range from destroying the targets, avoiding hits from opponents, getting first place before time runs out, performing “x” action a set number of times, the list goes on. It’s a nice incentive to obtain unlockables and never goes on for too long that it becomes repetitive or frustrating. As for difficulty, I’d say it’s mostly balanced, with a small few being somewhat challenging, forcing me to retry a few times. Completing this mode lets you watch the credits, which is why I’d consider it to be the game’s “Campaign”.
The other few bits of content worth mentioning is the Records menu, which gives you a detailed list of actions you’ve performed, like jump boosts, total coins collected, and even game completion percentage. As for control options, while you can’t remap buttons, there’s an auto-accelerate and a motion-control option, as well as a mini-map toggle.
In terms of sound effects, it’s alright, nothing remarkable. Most sound like the average SFX you can find online; it serves its purpose but isn’t special (to make it clear, a good racing SFX is Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled’s sound design for example, where every sound feels powerful and realistic).
What’s worth mentioning, however, is the lack of voice acting, which is quite confusing. The absence of dialogue or even grunts from these iconic characters is odd and makes the game feel “empty” a lot of the time. Music is also quite simple, being your typical fast-paced racing beats with nothing that stands out, aside from the occasional track or two here and there. I would’ve loved having remixed tracks from these shows’ themes but instead, we’re treated with an average, uninspired soundtrack.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 Grand Prix’s visuals are not all that great on its own… until you compare it to the first game’s visuals. This one has a much improved visual design; from more detailed tracks to more expressive character models, to the show-inspired kart parts being distinctly unique. Each racer itself has its own kart model on top of all the parts you can further add. Menus are good-looking too, with appealing fonts and visual pop-ups. There’s also some really good background menu renders to keep navigating through these feel alive. A minor aspect I quite enjoyed was the loading screens, which had many hints and tips, alongside character renders, that helped pass the time it takes to load in the race.
Speaking of time, load times are alright, it never takes too long to load up a race. The restart option is fast, so you can retry quickly if you need it. Frame rate is great when in single-player, though I noticed frame drops with multiplayer.
I didn’t mention much of the Online previously because, although I’ve attempted to play on various occasions at different times of the day, this mode seems to be completely empty. Not sure how big the player base is, but as of now, I couldn’t find a match to play against an opponent. Which is a shame since I think Online is a great feature that keeps a racing game strong for replayability. I’m not certain of this, but cross-platform online would be a great integration as that’d likely improve matchmaking.
Controls are fine for the most part (although I’d prefer an option to change the button layout, as holding “R” to accelerate, while “A” is used as the back-rear view, was hard to adapt to at first), but I never fully grasped the movement of the drifting. It functions more like Crash CTR’s drifting, but a tad-bit stiffer. Though I eventually got the drift down, for the most part, I’d still occasionally crash into a wall because of how this works.
And finally, representation. I’m quite content with the thirty-character roster, featuring some well-known classics like Spongebob, Rugrats, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as some older show representation like Rocko’s Modern Life and CatDog. But there’s also some absence shows, like The Fairly OddParents and Jimmy Neutron. We also have the oddball picks, like… JoJo Siwa? I haven’t seen Nickelodeon in a few years, but seeing a YouTuber Dancer here seems stranger than seeing an alien named Zim drive a car. I would’ve preferred a bigger roster for certain characters, like having the Avatar cast be more than just Aang and Korra, while the rest are left as Chief or Crew cards. Though I suppose this simply boils down to preference.
On a final note, while I had a lot of fun playing Racers 2, it’s hard to recommend at its current $40 price tag. Unless you’re looking for a Mario Kart refresher while you wait for the inevitable next entry in the franchise, you might want to wait for a sale here.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 Grand Prix may look like a blatant Mario Kart Clone but it still has plenty enough charm and interesting new mechanics here to make it stand out on its own. Here you are a fan of Nickelodeon Cartoons and looking for an enjoyable racer that features some of your favourite characters, this could be a game for you.
THE VERDICT: 7/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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Tags: Bamtang Games, Game Mill, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon Kart Racers, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 Grand Prix, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 Review, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch
This post was written by Lucas Sierra