We test Garfield Kart’s biggest rival, and aren’t left feeling blue. A full review of Smurfs Kart on Nintendo Switch.
You always know when you’re playing a Smurfs game because everything is replaced with the word ‘Smurf’. Loading? I think you mean Smurfing. But in this new, Switch-exclusive kart racer, it’s clear what the word means in the title. It really is just Mario Kart with ‘Mario’ replaced with ‘Smurf’.
And of course, that’s absolutely a good thing because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still hands-down the best kart racer around, even though it first appeared on Wii U in 2014. Yes, it’ll be retro soon. But for the Smurfs to even make it into the same ballpark as Nintendo’s behemoth series is a quite remarkable achievement. This is actually comparable.
Oh, but it’s so brazen in its mimicry. You can powerslide to build up different levels of boost charges, you can hold two items at once, collect up to 10 Smurfberries to increase your speed, there are shortcuts, a familiar weapon set complete with race position context distribution… it’s even got the exact same driver aids for less-experienced players, namely turning assist, tilt steering control and automatic acceleration. All optional, of course.
There is, however, noticeably less content even than vanilla MK8. There are only three cups of four races, totalling 12 circuits, and then there’s a mirror option too. There are also only two tiers of difficulty: ‘fun’ and ‘hyperspeed’. The AI poses a reasonable challenge but, even so, if you’re familiar with how these things work, single-player can be cleared in an hour or two.
There’s a decent roster of Smurfs (Clockwork Smurf is so endearing), and the handling varies between cars. Smurfette is pretty nifty at cornering compared to Papa Smurf, for example, though the characters only make noises in character rather than saying actual lines of dialogue, presumably to make the game understandable in whichever region or language you play in.
It’s still a missed opportunity. But if you don’t care about Smurfs, it won’t make much difference. Each character has their own trademark attack, however, and it is fun to try them all out. Tossing exploding presents into the hands of other players is a particular high point, as are Clockwork Smurf’s ‘helicopter arms’.
The game engine is very strong, with lovely solid environments, decent special effects, and all running at a solid 30fps in docked mode and handheld, though you can see the slight hit in resolution on the latter.
It’s still a very nice looking game. The characters are well animated, and the environments lush and colourful. The sound could be better – perhaps there aren’t enough environmental sound effects, but it does feel a little subdued. The music does at least speed up for the last lap, and there’s some fun banjo in there for the more agricultural levels. Cliched, maybe, but it works just fine.
The game even trumps Mario Kart 8 in a couple of areas. For instance, the occasions where the track cambers to nearly 90 degrees is arguably more exciting than Nintendo’s opus because the kart follows the camber, rather than the camera always following behind the kart, making the angle look enjoyably perilous, rather than the world revolving around you. It’s also got a startline boost gauge to let you see exactly where the engine revs are in order to get the best start. That’s pretty great.
There is no online multiplayer, but there are online leaderboards for Time Challenge mode. This mode has gold, silver and bronze times to beat for each track, and each with ghosts to race too, along with your personal best, and the three tiers for medals. Pretty cool.
A full-featured split screen mode for up to four players on one Switch is present and correct, and one of the biggest reasons to buy the game. This runs at close to the single-player’s 30fps frame rate, and maintains a significantly high level of detail. It’s also quite a lot of fun. Not riotous, but the catch-up mechanisms work well with special abilities being handed out to trailing players, making for a close and exciting race for everyone.
Tested with a 10y/o and a 13 y/o, both seemed to enjoy playing it, but it was the older of the two that appeared to like it more.
There are some minus points, however. Sometimes your Smurf gets knocked up into the air by a quirk of the physics, a crash meant the game had to be resmurfed, and it does lack some of the more advanced Mario Kart moves like tossing defensive weapons ahead of you or firing projectiles backwards.
Also you can’t hold a weapon before firing it, so there’s no long-term shield to stop incoming wasps, for example. The three cups offer themed races, but the four tracks within each theme look rather samey. There are also some pathfinding problems on later tracks, and one turn that looks for all the world like a ramp. Nothing that can’t be learned, but it’s very rare to get lost in Mario Kart, whereas you’re likely to get lost at least once here.
Overall, then, a surprisingly competent game, considering licenced kart games are often absolutely dire.
It’s got a nice feel about it, looks good, moves, well, raises a chuckle or two and provides a cheaper alternative to Mario Kart while essentially offering the same gameplay.
It’s less refined and it’s rougher around the edges, but also simpler fun and easier to play for beginners. It’s outrageously unoriginal (Nintendo might have grounds for a lawsuit to be Smurfing honest), and painfully generic, but fundamentally good, clean fun. Not bad at all.
|Release date||15th October 2022|
|Available platforms||Nintendo Switch|
|Versions tested||Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Nintendo Switch Pro Controller|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.