Justin Towell enjoys the most frantic kart racer in years, in what turns out to be one of the most surprisingly fully-featured and enjoyable games of the year. Provided you play on a PS5…
They’re both essentially offering the same service, only one is gentle and nice, and the other is an all-out assault on your senses. But while Nickelodeon Kart Racers may be less easy to love and probably not as good for your health as the Smurfs, there’s no denying the superiority of the sugar rush.
But before we go further, we must stress that this review concerns the PS5 version, which is wonderful. Having seen pretty shocking footage of the Nintendo Switch version, it may as well be a different game. Even the Xbox Series X version appears to have frame rate issues. So be warned, this review is all about the PS5 version, which totally rocks.
It’s yet another kart racer trying to claim Mario Kart’s crown by copying its every move and then trying to one-up it wherever it can.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3 mostly attempts this by being bigger and crazier. But unlike Smurfs Kart which generally falls just shy of Nintendo’s best, there’s an extra layer of depth here that genuinely offers something more. There are exciting, exhilarating waterslide sections for the daring, customisation goes further, and there are extra layers of specials and support buffs that you can set up prior to the race.
The now-obligatory ‘10 coins’ top speed boost is present, but collecting these tokens also fills your slime gauge (more on this shortly). Drift boost has more stages to it than Mario, with the ultimate ‘blue boost’ requiring a super-long slide. Such drifts are sometimes requested by the pre-race ‘double dares’, which are optional side challenges you can complete for extra tokens.
It’s also worth noting that your kart countersteers smartly out of drift boosts so you can properly play chicken with the wall as you hold out for that spark of blue.
The handling is solid and simple for beginners, while also offering deeper play for those wanting to get the most out of the game. This even extends to the customisation options, which all offer stat boosts like Mario Kart, and allow newbies to focus on speed and turning, while veterans can opt for a drift-and boost-centric loadout. Very cool.
Despite having many systems on the go at once, it’s simple and dazzling if you just set it to auto-accelerate and enjoy the wild courses, with loads to learn at your own pace as and when you feel ready.
PS5’s version runs at a pretty steady 60fps, with attractive visuals and special effects everywhere. There are jump ramps, water sections (complete with rudimentary 3D waves to ride up), boost hoops to travel through and funny special hazards like 20ft gnomes to avoid or bowling pins to knock down. There’s always something to do or see, with never a dull moment.
Your time is nonetheless often spent trying to fill your slime bar. You do this by running your kart (or bike if you fancy a change) through pools or fountains of slime, picking up slime tokens or even just collecting blobs of pure slime. Every time you do, you get to use your primary special weapon, which ranges from a red shell equivalent heat-seeking projectile to a hockey stick smacking your kart’s ass to give it a speed boost. Simultaneously, you’ll be on the lookout for item boxes, which offer a vast array of weapons with which to attack your foes.
Underneath this outer layer of combat, there’s a return for the second game’s support buffs from secondary and tertiary ‘crew members’. These recharge over time and can make you invulnerable to the slime slides’ barriers, or give you a boost after successfully landing a hit on another kart – just two examples of a great many more. It all adds to your tactical arsenal and, with new crew members unlocking as you play, means that the game will keep evolving for a long while.
The longevity is also bolstered by the need to unlock quite a lot of the character roster, and it can take an hour to pick up enough tokens just to buy one more character or a couple of decals. At least that character could be the legendary CatDog. Yep, the lineup here gets pretty vintage at times, though Rugrats’ Angelica isn’t playable this time around. We’ll likely get over that… though she may not.
It must be said that while Nickelodeon is certainly popular (SpongeBob practically owns the internet, after all), not all of these characters are likeable. Jimmy Neutron’s voice clips are among the most annoying, though at least the characters do actually speak this time, which makes a huge difference to your emotional investment in the action.
It’s a pity the lines aren’t all lip-synced (some startline ones look alright), as this would remove the last of the budget feel from the series, and truly make it feel like you’re playing a cartoon.
But even if you don’t like the characters, the core game here on PS5 is clearly excellent.
It takes about 20 minutes to really get going, but when it does hit its stride, it is comparable to genre classics like Crash Team Racing. And yes, that really is saying something.
And it’s full-featured too, with four-player split-screen local play (which mostly runs well but does drop some frames in busy scenes) and online multiplayer too, plus single-player challenges and time attack, and an arena battle mode.
Factor in Mario Kart-esque stars to win on each of the 10 cups to prove total mastery across the four speed levels, and you’ve got an absolutely massive game.
The series has gone from abysmal to exemplary in just two sequels, which is damn cool. It’s one for the ADD generation, no question, but it’s full-featured and a blast to play. Tangfastic indeed.
|Developer||Bamtang Games, published by GameMill Entertainment|
|Release date||14th October 2022|
|Available platforms||PS5, PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC|
|Best played with||DualSense gamepad|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.