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Cartoon Network Racing Review

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Developer: The Game Factory Publisher: The Game Factory
Release Date: November 30, 2006 Also On: PlayStation 2

In November 2005, the Internet age finally came to Nintendo with the release of Mario Kart DS. In a few months, Diddy Kong Racing will continue the kart racing tradition on the DS. But what is the fan of kart racing who has played his fill of Mario Kart DS supposed to do until then? Game Factory has sought to answer that question by releasing Cartoon Network Racing. But is Cartoon Network Racing a worthy successor to Mario Kart DS, or does it belong on the junk heap alongside many other licensed games that have been released over the years?

Graphically, I’ll be quite blunt. Cartoon Network Racing is nowhere near as graphically polished or impressive as Mario Kart DS. And yet, the graphics in this game are certainly competent. I’m not an avid fan of Cartoon Network, but I can look at the characters in this game and recognize them quite easily as they are all very accurate manifestations of thier Cartoon Network selves. The environments are all appropriate to what they should be given the stage and which character’s cartoon they are based on, and there were no noticeable glitches in the graphics to speak of.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any issues with these graphics. For example, in some of the dark areas, the game went so far to portray the idea of darkness that it would occasionally be difficult to see where the next turn was. However, for the most part, the presentation does everything it needs to, and does it much of it well, even if the game does lack that extra layer of polish that Mario Kart DS had.

On the sound front, everything seems to be done very well. The sound effect set is generic, but usable, and contains nothing that is overly out of place in a kart racer. The one-liners from the characters in the game all seem appropriate to the voices and personalities of the different characters, from the high-pitched overfriendliness of a Powerpuff girl to the Elvis-impersonatorish semi-arrogance of Johnny Bravo, and every other character in between those two extremes.

And what is there to say about the music? It is quite good. Granted, most of the melodies probably are actually borrowed from Cartoon Network cartoons, but even if that is the case, the programmers picked very good ones to borrow. This music is, in the writer’s opinion, almost as good as the music in Mario Kart DS, possibly even as good, in terms of memorableness, and the sound quality of the music isn’t bad either. So overall, the sound in this game was done very well.

In terms of gameplay, the easy way to say it would be to say that this is a Mario Kart clone, and, saying just that, I’d cover much of the gameplay in this game, but it would not quite be a sufficient statement. On the off chance that you haven’t played a Mario Kart game, the concept is simple. Cartoon Network Racing is a racing game (I bet you’d never have figured that out if I hadn’t told you). But, instead of racing in realistic cars, you are racing in karts. And, unlike most racing games, it isn’t purely a matter of speed and driving skill, but a combination of that and the use of items that are acquired.

The sixteen courses in the game are grouped in sets of four, with each set of four having a diffferent name, as well as a different trophy that can be acquired for winning. To win, you must accumulate more points based on your ending position in each of the four courses than your opponents. This isn’t always easy, since there are usually eight people participating in these races.

Now, most of what I’ve just said to describe how this game works I could just as easily have typed in a review of Mario Kart DS. But there are differences between that game and this one. First of all, each character has his own toon power. To use these, you need to fill up a toon power bar. You fill up this bar by collecting star icons in the stages or by hitting opponents with items, and you cannot use it until the bar is completely full. The button that deployed items in Mario Kart DS deploys toon powers in this game, with item deployment set to the L button. Other than that, the controls match Mario Kart DS.

Other minor differences include the fact that the item set is somewhat different, but you will get used to the new items quickly, as most of them are fairly self-explanatory. Also, the drifting with the R button doesn’t work the same as in Mario Kart DS, but rather is more of a very quick turn, meaning that you will need to use it in short bursts, but once again, this is something you will get used to rather quickly.

In terms of difficulty, this is where my biggest shock when playing this game occurred. I had expected that Cartoon Network Racing would be a walk in the park since, in my mind, it was aimed at little kids. It isn’t. For one thing, the courses in this game seem to be longer than the ones in Mario Kart. It isn’t just that the karts go slower. Indeed, the sense of speed in this game is at least as good as that in Mario Kart DS, if not slightly better. It is that literally the courses are longer, almost too long in some cases, which means all that much more time to make a mistake, although it also means that much more time to catch up if you make one early on.

In addition to that, the computer AI seems to actually be smarter than in Mario Kart DS from the very beginning. Even in the lowest skill level, the computers used quite a few items on me. In addition to that, each stage has at least one shortcut, many of them having more than one, and the computer, even in the lowest skill level, seems to know many of them, making it a necessity that you know them also. This could pose a problem for the youngest members of the potential audience for this game, but for the typical kart racer fan, these things actually serve to give the game more depth.

There are two other things I should mention about the gameplay. First, bumping into the back of an opponent’s kart propels them forward and brings you to a dead stop. Obviously, doing this too often doesn’t help your chances of winning much. This, sadly, makes it somewhat more difficult to gain any advantage from gaining a boost through driving in another player’s backdraft (or whatever it’s called), although that maneuver can be done in this game. Second, I should mention that, although it’s usually fine, there are occasions where the camera angle will end up being something other than what you would prefer.

In terms of length, there are four different championships, each of which has four of these longer stages that I mentioned. Multiply this by four (not three like in Mario Kart DS) skill levels and you’ve got yourself a lot of winning to do. Add to that the fact that, since this game is more difficult, as I mentioned, you won’t be winning each championship on your first try in all likelihood, and you’ve got a game that’s going to last a while in single player.

As if that isn’t enough, there are a ton of unlockables in this game, and you unlock all of them through a two-step process that includes first earning the right to buy them by meeting in-game requirements and then earning enough toon coins to buy them. Many things are pretty cheap, but some can be quite pricy. Alongside the possibility of buying new characters, you will also have to buy upgrades to each character to use them in any of the skill settings other than the first one. In addition to character-based purchases, there are two mini-games that can be bought and three cartoon episodes. These things are nice to
have, but likely won’t add much playtime to the overall game.

Earning coins is a fairly simple to understand thing, as you can win them by winning races or championships, or you find toon coin icons in the courses, or you can beat the record times for each course in the time trial mode. And yet, you will almost definitely have to do more than just win each championship once in each skill level to buy everything, which adds some replay value to the single player.

And that is just all single player stuff. Cartoon Network Racing has a decent multiplayer offering as well, consisting of both single-card and multi-card play. In single-card play, you and your opponents can choose from a limited set of characters, which is better than the downloaders having only one option as in Mario Kart DS. However, only one stage can be raced in over single-card play. This is probably Game Factory’s way of allowing non-buyers to see a demo of the game, but not too much, and the stage they picked for this is one of the better ones in many ways. In multi-card play, though, the host system chooses a championship, and the players all play through that entire championship.

You may notice something missing in the above paragraph about multiplayer: online play. That’s right. For some reason, The Game Factory released this game a year after Mario Kart DS and left out what, quite frankly, was one of the most important parts of that game. While the lack of online play doesn’t kill the quality level of this game, the presence of it would certainly have added much to an already quite good package.

In conclusion, this is probably the best Game Factory game I have played to date. So if you are a kart racing fan who’s looking for something to hold you over until Diddy Kong Racing is released, or even if you are just a fan of the shows on Cartoon Network, there is little logical reason for you to pass on this game. Even without online play, it has enough to keep you occupied for quite some time.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 7.5
Final: 7.6
Written by Martin Review Guide