Kart games can be divided into two categories: Mario Kart and everything else. The best of the non-plumber kart games are usually that way because they manage to justify their existence with features not found in Nintendo‘s cash cow franchise. The worst examples are new skins on an old model. Have a franchise that’s getting long in the tooth but still draws sales? Slap the characters in some karts, add some whacky music, let the level designers go crazy and BAM. One less game you owe the publisher.
F1 is not really the first franchise that comes to mind when it comes to needing a kart game. After all, F1 is a racing series – a popular one at that. The series is famous for being a little boring, actually, with lead changes occurring as often as ice ages the last time I really gave it any of my time. So when I first discovered the games existence I was a little puzzled. The game is developed by Codemasters, though, a company famous for solid racing games. So naturally they’ll know what to do, right?
At first glance the game appears to have all of the polish one expects from Codemasters. There are a healthy number of tracks and a huge number of championship cups you can vie for. Each cup series has between two and six races. With races that last at most five minutes, this makes for nice bite sized chunks of game play. I could see this game doing quite nicely on a Vita.
The races follow the standard kart rules, which were written in stone the moment Mario Kart established the genre. You’ve got tracks littered with power ups you can use to increase your speed or to hinder your opponents. The tracks are bright and colorful, and can be navigated in different ways to keep things somewhat fresh. There are environmental challenges to be dealt with as well. For example, the Abu Dhabi race has sections of track that are covered in sand while the Brazilian track has swamps. Navigating these hazards correctly will help you greatly in your quest to win the race.
The power ups you acquire don’t stray too far from the formula, but the developers do try to put an F1 spin on things when they can. You have your guided and unguided “shells”, the banana drop, a rain storm to slow you down, and a general all around slow down weapon. But here the banana drop is actually balloons filled with confetti that block your view for a short time, and the slow everyone down weapon is a pace car that would come onto the track during a caution in real life. None of the weapons will surprise a veteran of the genre.
In an attempt to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field, your vehicle will take damage if you are hit by a weapon. You won’t get killed or destroyed of course, but taking damage will slow you down. For this reason Codemasters have included pit stops. Unlike the real world where you must stop your car to get serviced, you need only enter pit lane and your damaged kart will be fixed while you drive at a mildly slower pace. It’s here that I take issue with the game. If you are going to take the time to include pit stops then make it mean something. As it stands right now there is very little reason not to pull into a pit stop. You don’t slow down very much and you are safe from some of the weapons that might be used against you. Why didn’t they just include a health power up to drive over?
The music swerves wildly between hokey and cornball, and the sooner you lower the volume the better. The rest of the audio fares far better. The karts sound appropriate, and the race tracks are littered with little flares of audio. In Britain, for example, you drive through an air base and you will hear jets streaking over your head, while in Japan you race on top of a speeding commuter train that’s just full of noises.
There are a number of different racing styles in the game. These include the standard Racing mode, Elimination, Pole Position, Slalom, and Sector Snatch. Each of these modes takes the game and puts a different spin on events. Elimination requires you to stay out of last place as drivers are removed from contenton. Pole Position gives you points for staying close to the leader, and more points for being that leader. At the end of the race the driver with the most points wins. Sector Snatch divides each race course into different portions and times the drivers as they go through them. The person who posts the fastest time in that sector wins it, but you can win a sector and then lose it the next time around the course if someone posts a faster time. The driver who holds the most sectors wins the race. Slalom has the drivers going through gates on the track to earn points. There are three colors on each gate and if you hit the same color on consecutive gates you win more points. And then there is Refuel mode. In this mode you must race to win while also keeping an eye on your fuel, which is constantly draining. You just have to pass over a fuel icon on the track, no need to go into the pit stop. Not that that would make any sense or anything.
The game can be played by up to four people locally and up to 12 players online. The online is smooth and works quite well. Finding games can be a bit annoying, as you may have to wait on others to finish their races first before joining them for the next race. Aside from that, though, I can’t really say a bad thing about the multiplayer.
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game
Short Attention Span Summary
Technically there’s not a whole lot wrong with this game. I just don’t really see the need for it. If you’re big into F1 and kart games then have at it, you won’t be disappointed.