Tuesday, February 10, 2009

M&M's Kart Racing

My defense: M&M's Kart Racing was a gift. Sometimes games are bad because they just aren't worth the money you pay for them. I would have been a lot harder on Go, Diego, Go! Safari Rescue and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz if I'd paid full price for them. Other games are bad because they are a waste of time. This poorly implemented racing game falls into the later category.

Looking at the menus, you might think the game offers a lot of play modes and options. "Quick Race" is a single player race. "Training" is the same thing, but with no other karts. "Arcade" is a race for points rather than strictly time. "Tournament" is a single player race just like "Quick Race". "Tournament" is the only mode that makes any sense to play since winning a race opens up new tracks for the other modes. And you'll want to open up more tracks since the three you start off with are boring. Finally there is a "Multiplayer" option, which is just a two-player, split-screen mode. It has two modes: "Quick Race" and "Full Throttle". The difference is that first is one lap with no extra karts and the other is three laps with opponents. "Options" sounds promising, but just allows you to adjust the music and sound effect volumes. (Hint: it doesn't matter since the game should always be played on mute.) "High Score" is pointless since you can't enter your own name.

Lack of modes is forgivable in a racing game, if the tracks are fun. We begin our circuit with the "Chocolate Factory". You might expect bright colors and wide-open spaces. Maybe the track would feature tricky conveyor belt and packing machine obstacles. Sadly, the track is a series of boxy rooms with drab, factory-like decor. Racing consists mostly of getting through the doors between rooms before your opponent and being careful not to run into anything. Turns pop up around each corner, so you have to keep on your toes (or memorize them). There are usually signs pointing the next turn, but they sit on immovable posts that will bring your kart to a dead stop that will force you to reverse away from the post. Annoying.

Next up is "The Streets", which ought to have been called "The Dark Alleys". Most of the course is a series of narrow alleys with protruding door steps designed to slow karts down. Part of the course is a wide boulevard with a giant truck (not moving) and you start to wonder what the game would be like with wide-open courses. Then you take a big left turn into a dead end with a small opening back into the alley. If you can find it. To be successful, you need to memorize the awkward layout of each track, which does nothing to add to interest in the game.

Each course has two types of power-ups that are placed in fixed locations. First are chocolate coins that can be used to purchase new carts. Sadly, the new carts aren't that interesting or beneficial. Once you've bought them all, the coins are best avoided as collecting them blocks your view of the track ahead with an update of the number you have. The other power-up is a cup of coffee that give your kart a speed boost. Invariably, the coffee is at the end of a long straightaway so picking up the coffee will boost your speed into tight, twisty turns. It's the last thing you want.

The House level is more or less the same idea a The Chocolate Factory: boxy rooms with narrow doorways. The Farm actually turns out to be interesting. It's more open than the other courses and it has a difficult hay bail maze section. After running through the course several times, I discovered there is a shortcut through the maze. After three mindless, unrewarding tracks, the first unlockable gave me a glimmer of hope the rest of the game was going to be better. Like, maybe the initial tracks are sort of tutorials.

This tiny nod to rewarding gameplay got me excited to play the next level: The Forest. Here was another chance for a wide-open track with shortcuts and maybe less drab visuals. Sadly the forest the designers seem to have had in mind is Mirkwood. There are no shortcuts, no brightness, no escape. If you stray even for a moment from the path, you are likely to be caught by, well, monstrously large blades of grass or stuck behind huge mushrooms with the M&M logo. In addition, you can't see very far. Or rather, trees pop into existence when you get close enough to them. Initially, I thought this was an issue with objects being loaded into memory when beginning a level. But no, each time around the trees suddenly appear.
M&M's Kart Racing Screenshot

I don't have the heart to continue racing in the horrid forest level, so if there are more surprises like the farm, I'll never find them. And to be completely clear, the farm is only a good course relative to the very poor alternatives found in the rest of the game. No matter how cheap the game, it's too expensive. It's just not worth your time.