Kart Racers (that aren’t Mario Kart!), Part 1

The original Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo was hugely influential and is largely responsible for an entire genre. However, it isn’t the only kart racer in town anymore. Many companies have tried to duplicate the golden formula and the results can be mixed, to say the least. In part one of this new series, I am taking a look at two kart racers and neither one is Mario Kart.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed

Sonic Racing Transformed isn’t Sega’s first attempt at dethroning Mario Kart but it’s easily the best one. Prepare yourself for a bold statement: I actually consider this game to be better than Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. Crazy, right? But bear with me for a minute.

Racing transformed takes to land...
Racing transformed takes to land…

Sonic Racing Transformed does many things right and very little wrong. The track design is impeccable, the graphics and sound are fantastic, and, most importantly, the racing feels goood! The track layouts are expertly done but the thing that really drives them home is the preservation of the classic franchise which the tracks are based on. Golden Axe, Panzer Dragoon, Nights Into Dreams, Sonic the Hedgehog – these are all represented here and in grand fashion. Racing through Jet Set Radio’s Tokyo-to feels as though it was ripped directly from Jet Set Radio Future. Flying through the canyons of Panzer Dragoon’s mystic world feels like an HD reimagining of the classic franchise. Imagine racing through a museum of classic Sega worlds and you’ll have a good idea of the joy to be found in Racing Transformed.


But what is a racing game without racing? Fortunately, the folks at Sumo Digital absolutely nail this aspect of the game. The racing is fast and frantic – not unlike that of Sega’s past arcade games. It’s simply a blast. The thing that makes Transformed stand above its’ predecessor is its variety. You see, in Racing Transformed, your kart will transform into other vehicles at various points in the race – usually to accommodate a change in the environment. An airship battle (Skies of Arcadia) might blast a bridge to bits forcing your kart to transform into a small plane. Or raging waters might overtake the track, causing your kart to become a watercraft. It’s all very exciting. And then there is the All-Star mode. When you manage to pick up certain items, you may be granted All-Star mode. This mode essentially allows you to plow your way through other racers and, hopefully, end up closer to the front of the line. This mode seems to be in place primarily for those who are falling behind in the race but that’s O.K. since it keeps the races competitive. These changes are what make the racing feel so exciting in this game.

...and water. And it's a blast!
…and water. And it’s a blast!

With a healthy roster of classic (and bizarre) Sega characters, excellent presentation and gameplay, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is a truly fantastic game and absolutely worthy of sitting on your shelf (or hard drive) alongside Mario Kart. Check it out if you get a chance!


Pac-Man: World Rally

Now here is a kart racer that you don’t hear about every day. This PS2, Gamecube, and PSP game borrows heavily from Mario Kart but, as I’ve seen with Sonic’s kart racers, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the characters and tracks in Pac-Man: World Rally feel rather generic, this is still a fun and competent kart racer with a few interesting twists.


Pac-Man: World Rally looks rather generic but is still a colorful and fun kart racer.
Pac-Man: World Rally looks rather generic but is still a colorful and fun kart racer.

The presentation here holds up surprisingly well with bright colors and catchy sounds throughout. One of my favorite things is the games use of classic sound effects and music from the original games. It is a real treat to hear the classic Pac-Man tunes remixed in so many ways. As for characters, you’ll find Pac-Man and his ghostly antagonists here in addition to lesser known (or possibly completely unknown) characters but they do even out the roster a bit so I didn’t really mind having them. The tracks are also the usual fare; ghost houses, volcanos, and even a Rainbow Road-esque track are present here. Fortunately, these elements all combine to make a decent kart racer and a worthy distraction after you’ve had your fill of Mario Kart and Sonic Racing.

Pretend that this isn't some Rainbow Road derivative. I dare you.
Pretend that this isn’t some Rainbow Road derivative. I dare you.

The power-ups are the usual variety but there are a few interesting twists that I want to focus on: first is the use of fruit. In practically every installment of Pac-Man, you’ll find fruit. In World Rally, fruit is your key to short-cut routes that remain closed off unless you possess one of these bits of juicy goodness. Now I’m well aware that other racers have secret routes that will open up depending on what you do during the race but I think this use of the iconic fruit was a wise decision on the developers part. Perhaps even more interesting is the use of the iconic Pac-Pellets. Interestingly enough, they work in much the same way here as they do in traditional Pac-Man games. As you race, you’ll find pellets. If you consume enough of these pellets, you turn into this large, mechanical Pac-Man and can consume other racers (the other racers turn into the electrified, edible ghosts of past games). This works much like the All-Star mode in the Sonic Racing titles; allowing you to plow your way to the front of the pack.

This ticking time bomb Pac-Man is essentially a "catch-up tool" but fun nonetheless.
This ticking time bomb Pac-Man is essentially a “catch-up tool” but fun nonetheless.

All in all, I found Pac-Man: World Rally to be a fun diversion and it’s worth a look if you can find it on the cheap.


What are some of your favorite kart racers that aren’t Mario Kart? Let me know in the comments! (Maybe your title will find its’ way into a future article!)