Since the launch of the Wii back in November of 2006, gaming companies around the world have been working overtime to produce creative, unique, and original title for our little white boxes. The best of these, most agree, have been Wii-specific titles that have been tailored to the Wii’s control system. EA has done a wonderful job of taking existing formulas and transferring them to the Wii in new ways. They’ve done it with skateboarding, with puzzle games, and now they’ve done it with the kart racing genre.
Don’t let the “NASCAR” in the title fool you. This is not at all a race-around-in-a-circle-with-pit-stops type of game. In fact, it’s a lot more like the genre leading Mario Kart than it is like a NASCAR game. It almost seems like EA thinks they’ve got a competitor for the famous plumber’s racer. I have to admit that when I saw the first information about this game a while back I was very skeptical, it looked to me liked a quick cash-in on a licensed game that would probably be an advertisement-filled disaster. It is indeed advertisement-filled, but it’s far from a disaster. What we have here is a very solid racer that borrows heavily from Nintendo’s leading racer, but does enough of its own to be a slick package in its own right.
About the only two things in this game that have any relation to the actual sport of NASCAR are the roster of drivers and the advertisements. The roster is solid, with all the favorites from Gordon to Lagano, and there are also a bunch of other fictional drivers, each with a clever name and back-story. It’s fun to choose your own real-world racer and hit the track.
As for the advertisements, this game has more of them than any game I have ever seen. It’s almost as if the game is blatantly mocking the advertisement-driven culture of the sport itself. They are everywhere; all over the track, all over the cars, and all over every screen. There is even a “Your Ad Here” attack item, by which you can make your driver’s sponsor company’s logo float over your opponents’ screen, obstructing their view while simultaneously and subconsciously making them wonder if they need anything at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or GameStop. Believe it or not, however, a few hours into the game you won’t even notice the ads anymore; you begin to accept it as part of the whole over-the-top experience.
If you’re going to put out a game that is so similar to the greatest racer in Nintendo history, it had better play like a great racer. I have to say this one plays extremely well. The tilt steering controls are tight, and you’ll feel in control the whole time. There is no denying the influences from Mario Kart. For virtually every feature in Mario Kart, there is a comparable feature in NASCAR Kart Racing. From the turbo start, to the drifting, to the power-ups, to the dramatic rubber banding, it’s all here. You’ll run over the familiar surprise boxes, which will give you different power-ups, such as a heat-seeker rocket (like the red shell), a stick of dynamite that you throw (like the green shell), an oil slick (like the banana peel), the aforementioned “Your Ad Here” weapon (like the ink blot), and an earthquake item similar to the POW block.
The most notable and unique aspect of the gameplay is that throughout the game, you’ll be playing as a team. If by yourself, you’ll choose a computer player to be your teammate. And using teamwork will definitely pay off as you fly around the track. Whenever you are drifting behind your teammate, or vice versa, your team will build up boost. You’ll know you are close enough by the electric lightning bolt string between you and your teammate. Once you build up enough boost you and your teammate can begin to slingshot each other down the track, taking turns boosting one another. This is a really nice feature, and really the only one that is truly original to this game.
The controls throughout the game are very tight, and are relatively similar to Mario Kart in terms of buttons. You’ll feel in control of your racer the whole time, and the tilt controls never let you down. I sure wouldn’t ever want to go back to steering with an analog stick anytime soon. Overall, the controls, gameplay, and features feel very polished.
The game has 12 courses, with only one of them (Talladega) being a standard oval NASCAR course. The rest are very creative, well-designed, quirky tracks full of turbo strips, jumps, various surfaces, and twists and turns. Twelve may not seem like a lot, but each one also has a reverse version, so that does add a little bit of variety. Some are more fun than others, and some are more challenging than others. The number and variety of courses in this title are adequate.
Visually, EA made no attempt to push the power of the Wii to its limits with this game, but as in Mario Kart that’s not the goal here. The goal was smooth and engaging gameplay. The framerate stays solid the whole time without hiccups. The karts and drivers all look identical, with the only thing separating them being the colors and companies being advertised. The environments get the job done. There is no “wow” factor visually, but they are fun and cartoony, and will keep you engaged in the game.
The sound is a mixed bag. The sound effects, music, and most other noises in the game work very well. And then there are the voices. Oh, the voices. For whatever reason, any time anyone talks in the game, there are no actual words spoken. Seriously, you won’t actually hear a single audible English word in the game. It is all a strange form of gibberish that varies slightly among characters, with words on screen to let you know what is actually being said. I suppose it was meant to be cute, but it really is annoying. VERY annoying.
You’ll have plenty to do to keep you busy in this package. There is your standard quick race, and besides that you have a nice championship mode in which you’ll have to take on a couple of the game’s characters at a time on their “home turf”. Beat them and you’ll move on to the next series of races. It’s a pretty standard career type of mode. The multiplayer competition is a lot of fun, allowing you to race with up to four players at once, although it would have been great to be able to take your skills online; the most disappointing omission.
If you like Mario Kart, chances are you’re going to like NASCAR Kart Racing. The question is whether or not it’s worth buying a game that is so similar. If you are in fact big into the kart racing genre then I definitely recommend this game without hesitation. It’s a surprisingly polished, entertaining, and engaging title that does enough things right to command its own little spot in the genre alongside Nintendo’s giant.