This unexplainable CGI movie crossover event comes from Bamtang, creators of Nickelodeon Kart Racers – a series that saw marked improvements across its three installments. The first wasn’t up to much, with Nickelodeon’s renowned characters mute throughout, effectively removing all life from the colourful cast. It seems Bamtang has access to more resources these days – every character here is fully voiced, even reacting to one another when colliding. Of course, that bigger budget didn’t extend to re-hiring the original voice actors – so if you’re expecting Mike Myers to reprise this role of Shrek, you’re in for disappointment of ‘Shrek the Third’ proportions.
Amazingly, or perhaps disappointingly, the impersonations aren’t comically awful. The Jack Black soundalike for Kung Fu Panda’s Po is surprisingly convincing, while the rest are passable. Someone at Bamtang was likely cursing DreamWorks for hiring so many celebrities for vocal work over the years – pulling off an Eddie Murphy impression can’t be easy.
True to its name, twenty characters from DreamWorks feature as racers, with only around half unlocked initially. Older characters are absent (sorry, Small Soldiers, Antz, and Shark Tale fans) which is understandable, with more recent characters taking center stage. That said, Shrek is the cover star even though the last Shrek film was thirteen years ago. Locked characters are blanked out on the select screen, dependent on beating certain challenges and cups to unlock. As they appear on the garage screen and show up in the backgrounds on the main menu, calling them ‘secret characters’ is off the mark; they’re merely locked. And, oddly, there are two wolves present – Mr. Wolf from The Bad Guys, and Wolf from Puss in Boots. See, there was room for Major Chip Hazard after all.
The third Trolls film is the latest DreamWorks movie to hit cinemas, coinciding with this game’s release, and so it ties in with the musical theme of the Trolls’ universe. Music notes litter the tracks, lyres unlock narrow floating rainbow track segments above the regular track, drift strips resemble piano keys (Tom Hanks would approve,) and the starting grid boost system involves a spot of rhythm action. The Trolls themselves are here too, hitching a ride with the other racers due to their small stature, with a random assortment clinging to your kart throughout a race.
Not only is this a pleasing touch, but their presence is worked into two of the mechanics. Each cup as a Troll Host that acts as a modifier, while collecting music notes unlocks a bonus ‘Troll Surprise’ item from a pool of eight, with the number of notes required dependent on your chosen character’s charisma. Some have more charisma than others by default, but there’s scope to lather on more by choosing kart parts carefully – like Mario Kart 8, each character has a unique assortment of engines, wheels, and spoilers to unlock. These adjust stats slightly, with weight being surprisingly important – when two karts collide, the heaviest takes the least impact. It’s also possible to perform tricks when leaping over gaps, gaining a small speed boost, so there are indeed a few nuances.
Further, the handling model is decent – the karts feel weighty, and staying on narrow platforms requires skill. Simply drifting around every corner won’t earn you an easy victory either, as you’ll need to make good use of the items too. This is where DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing stumbles. It features 16 standard items, in addition to the eight harder-to-acquire Troll Surprises. Simply, it’s confusing. Some can be thrown both backward and forward while others can’t, and a couple of items benefit everyone by either giving every racer a hook shot weapon or by adding more notes onto the track. The icons aren’t very clear either; Kai’s Swords resemble a pair of wings, and the Dragon Blast weapon looks like a flaming exhaust. The cliched ‘hot potato’ item? A poisoned apple. Obviously. It’s understandable the developers wanted to implement items from the DreamWorks universe, which is fine, but the icons ideally needed to be clearer.
The track design is able to pick up some of the slack. Again, they draw from the DreamWorks universe, with standouts including Po’s Panda Village, New Berk, New York City Zoo, Shrek’s Swamp, Far Far Away, Baby Corps, and Galactic Sky – the game’s take on Rainbow Road. I don’t think any hardened DreamWorks fan will be disappointed with the selection. Of course, these locations are mere trackside detailing – it’s the layouts that count. There’s a good variety of hazards and set-pieces, with one track having a straight that gradually crumbles away, and Shrek’s famous outhouse bursting open to reveal a shortcut. Forks are common, usually with one path giving notes, and the other an item. Baby Corps has large spinning discs to navigate, and while most tracks have shortcuts, the ability to create floating platforms adds a second way to race ahead.
When it comes to modes, it’s fully fledged. There are six cups to partake in, with the final – Moon Child Cup, with no unique tracks of its own – being locked initially. Four difficulties feature: Relaxed, Regular, Turbo, and Lightning, with the two lowest clearly intended for younger gamers. Lightning is deceptively tricky; the racers sprint ahead from the grid, forcing you to ‘trick ‘n boost’ your way through the pack. I quite often missed out on a podium finish. Free Race allows you to adjust speed and bot difficulty, while Time Trial has ghosts to beat.
The Challenge Mode should prove just as time-consuming as the main mode. Challenges are split into tiers and include ‘beat the clock’ missions, races where a certain number of tricks must be performed, and a good dozen other quest types. It’s here a handful of new characters can be unlocked, and each tier must be completed before the next opens. Then there’s the multiplayer aspect with local split screen – supporting up to four players – and an online mode with private matches and matchmaking. It uses a ranking system identical to Mario Kart 8 that grants a default of 1000 points, increasing and decreasing your total according to wins and defeats.
While I’d hesitate to call the presentation lavish, it’s more than sufficient. The menus are easy to navigate, records and progression are both tracked, and the extras menu has a collectibles viewer – with each track having a golden object to find. Character models are well animated and faithful to their sources, with their unique karts helping to extend their outlandish personalities. While I can’t vouch for the Switch version, on Xbox Series it’s easy on the eye – boosting emits vibrant electric blue flames, backdrops are detailed, textures are rich, and some tracks have reflective surfaces. I did find the reflections in one of the cave locations disorientating, however.
The concept of a DreamWorks kart racer may not inspire much confidence, with Shrek reduced to meme status nowadays, but by applying their kart racer know-how, Bamtang has created one of the better kids’ licensed games of recent times. While it’s a little light on ideas to call its own, those present are well implemented, allowing the developer to put their own stamp on the genre still. It seems reasonable to suggest that this is going to be a replacement for the Nickelodeon Kart Racers series, and if that’s the case, the inevitable sequel has a very sturdy foundation to build on.
GameMill’s DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing is out Nov 3rd on all formats. Developed by Bamtang.