The lights are on
There was a time when the kart racer was required bullet point on the resume of every mascot or franchise that happened to exist in the world of video games. You weren’t a true video game character unless you also spent some time racing around in a circle in a tiny car. Additionally, if there was a license to be purchased featuring a popular cartoon character or animated movie, it needed to be applied to a kart racer.
The genre has slowed down significantly in the last few years. They still pop up from time to time, but for the most part the only ones people get excited about are the ones starring Mario. As it turns out, the folks over at Nintendo know how to make a quality kart racer, but it isn’t the only one. Here are some other kart racers worth playing – even if Mario isn’t a playable character.
LittleBigPlanet Karting – GI review score: 8Released in 2012, LittleBigPlanet Karting did a great job bringing over Sackboy and his assorted creation mechanics into the world of racing. When it was announced, it seemed like most kart racing games – a simple tie-in to sell a game with recognizable characters. Sackboy certainly doesn’t hurt the game’s charm, but it’s a quality kart racer independent of his inclusion.
Blur – GI review score: 8.5Blur doesn’t look like a kart racing game. It looks like a traditional racer with real cars driving through real cities. Despite this though, it does have kart racing mechanics, and it was a lot of fun. Built by Bizarre Creations, the developer known for the Project Gotham Racing series, Blur added a healthy does of speed to the genre and even though it adopted the traditional power-up mechanics, it felt original.
Diddy Kong Racing – GI review score: 8.5We were barely over our Mario Kart 64 fever when Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing released, but it was enough to force us to take notice of what other kart racing games could be played on Nintendo’s console. With planes and boats alongside the traditional karts, Diddy Kong Racing offered a much different racing experience. The game also had bosses, and an overworld you could drive around in to explore the assorted race tracks. If Diddy Kong never gets a chance to star in a game again, it won’t be heartbreaking, because the one game with his name firmly in the main title will always recall fond racing memories.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed – GI review score: 8Transformed stands apart from its Sonic racing predecessors by taking a cue from Diddy Kong Racing’s multiple vehicle-type choices, but makes it a dynamic element of every race. You don’t pick a type of vehicle and race it – you race as multiple vehicles over the course of a single track. The game also offers an impressive cast of more than just Sonic characters, dipping deep into Sega’s roster of characters with racers like Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki and weird additions like Football Manager's Football Manager.
Crash Team Racing – GI review score: 9Many say the original Crash Team Racing from developer Naughty Dog easily stands wheel-to-wheel with Mario’s kart offerings. The game certainly borrowed mechanics from the genre-establishing Mario Kart, as all of these games did, but Crash’s first entry stands out in terms of quality and polish. Tight controls, great visuals, and power-ups gave PlayStation purists a fun multiplayer racer they could use to say, “We don’t need Mario!” Sequels to the original have released to less acclaim, and a canceled follow-up was recently revealed, but the original Crash Team Racing is the one fans will always hold the highest.
What are some of your favorite kart racing games that don't have the name Mario in the title?
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