The 90s were a colourful and unique time, bringing us strange fashion choices and some unforgettable TV shows. Back then, Nickelodeon was king of the (often suggestive) cartoon, while the invention of Super Mario Kart made kart racers an incredibly popular, and infinitely replayable, genre in the world of video games. The two finally combined in 2018, when GameMill Entertainment released a surprisingly fun and competent title called Nickelodeon Kart Racers. Now, fast forward two crazy years, and we’re talking about a sequel, which is fittingly called Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix.
Back in the fall and winter of 2018, I decided to borrow Nickelodeon Kart Racers from the library, in order to give it a shot. After all, I’m someone who enjoys beating many different games, and am often willing to give licensed/kids titles a chance that others may not. This particular gambit turned out well, though, because the first game in what would eventually become a series ended up being surprisingly good. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that Nickelodeon Kart Racers could’ve competed with the best in the genre, but I am saying that it was a fun, competent and solid game that impressed me. I may have gone in with low or tempered expectations, but I found myself enjoying what I played, and ended up borrowing it a few times in order to 100% it. Others placed holds on it, and I couldn’t play it as much as I wanted to due to school.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers wasn’t a barebones release, as it offered twelve drivers (from SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hey, Arnold!), twenty-four courses and eight arenas. There was also a co-op mode, although I never got to test it out because I played solo. I don’t often get to have friends over to game anymore, and I didn’t feel the need to bother trying to entice someone to come over to play that particular title.
Grand Prix takes all of the above and turns it up to 11. Hell, there’s so much content here that it feels as if the developers thought they’d cheated gamers the first time around. It’s honestly kind of overwhelming now.
As with any kart racer, this colourful and frenetic sequel features cups, time trials and single races. There’s also an arena, which you can play alone or with friends. This is often enough for most genre efforts, but I appreciate that Bamtang Games went the extra mile here. They did this by introducing challenges, of which there are around forty, and adding approximately seventy crew members to the fold.
The challenges are reminiscent of one of my all-time favourite kart racers, that being Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (which I feel is the best in the series, although most seem to like Transformed more). Not only did that game offer a lot of fun and polished racing, but it also had some great and difficult challenges, which I felt proud of finishing. Although I grew up on a strong diet of Diddy Kong Racing, and played a lot of the original Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, I’d never been incredible at these games. Decently above average? Sure. Some people I played against were incredible, though.
I finished all of the challenges in that game, but never received the achievement, so I couldn’t proudly show off. That pissed me off, but I got over it because achievements are meaningless overall. That mode made me want similar challenges to be added into every other kart racer I played, though, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed by other titles’ lack of them. While Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2‘s aren’t as good as the ones found in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, they’re still solid and better than expected from a licensed title that is mostly aimed at kids, and I appreciate that they exist. I’ve played some of this game’s competitors, and there’s not much in the way of quality to be found. I’m talking about you, Race With Ryan!
Of course, this additional content is completely optional, and some will only opt to play the eight cup championships or play with friends in the arena. That’s up to them. What isn’t optional, though, is the inclusion of crew members, because they’re forced upon the player. That isn’t a bad thing, however, because they add to the experience by providing perks of a sort. For instance, one may offer a boost every time you fill your slime meter, while another (the Rugrats twins) will let you throw multiple ‘mud pies’ all at once. These aren’t the only two options, either. All of the above changes things up quite nicely, because the first game only allowed you to get a boost when you filled the slime meter by driving over, through or under the green gunk, or by drifting. However, I must admit that I prefer that to any of the new options I’ve unlocked, meaning that I’ve mostly just stuck with crew chief Lynn and her hockey stick slap boost. That isn’t to say that I haven’t experimented with numerous others, though.
Crew members come in two different varieties: chiefs and pit crew. This is important to distinguish, because one impacts things a lot more than the other.
As mentioned, you can only select one chief, and that choice will dictate your driving style for the next race(s), because its ability overtakes the previous game’s basic, but fine, boost. On the other hand, one can choose two different pit members per race, time trial, challenge or cup. This opens up even more options for customization, because each one offers a small perk or ability. For instance, one might give you an automatic boost each time you’re hit by a projectile, while another will drop a hazardous item each time you pick another one up or fire one off. Like the chiefs, some are offensive and others are defensive, and you’ll want to make the best selections for your particular play style. Those who go after all of the achievements each game has to offer will need to try every one out, though, because there are a couple of achievements related to driving with every pit crew member and driving with every chief.
It is also important to note that one must unlock almost all of these familiar characters, whom longtime and devoted Nickelodeon fans will be happy to see make appearances this time around, even if they’re only really shown in the selection menu. You’ll do this by completing cups and challenges, and will find that this game is always giving you something. This is especially true when it comes to completed cups and tiers of challenges, all of which end with a one on one boss race.
Vehicle parts are another piece of this puzzle, and are also things that unlock over time. You’ll earn slime tokens as you play, and will get most of them by driving through them while out on the numerous courses. These can then be used to purchase engines, wheels and exhaust parts for all of the karts. It’s a one size fits all kind of thing, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many to unlock and purchase. As I said before, things are kind of overwhelming this time around, and when I said that I was referring to all of the purchasable parts and all of the unlockable crew members.
Of course, each different vehicle part has its own pros and cons. Some will increase your driver’s speed and turbo skills, while taking points away from your steering and drifting. Meanwhile, others will do the exact opposite, or something in-between. The goal is to pick the driver who suits you best, then adorn his or her kart with the parts that suit your playing style most, while paying attention to how they affect your stats. Then, you can pick the three different crew members that you feel will be the most helpful.
Reminder: This is a kids game. Phew.
This time around, the list of available drivers has been expanded from twelve to thirty. As such, fans of the Nickelodeon brand will get to play as, and play against, many more familiar characters who’ve been borrowed from even more popular cartoons. There’s Ren & Stimpy, Ang from Avatar, Korra from The Legend of Korra, Lincoln Loud from The Loud House, Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life and Invader Zim. A human being also appears for the first time, with that being JoJo Siwa. This creates a really robust offering of racers, which also includes the ones from the original game, of which I believe Leonardo is the best. Rocko quickly took over as my favourite, though, because his kart was less bulky, and his stats were better. I found a really good set-up, but deviated from time to time to test out new crew members and vehicle parts.
The racing itself is pretty fast, very colourful and can be a little challenging from time to time. It’s pretty traditional kart racing, with crazy courses, ‘hidden’ shortcuts, and lots of items flying from one driver to another, or bouncing off of the walls in an attempt to hit someone that way. Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2‘s courses are also fun, rather well designed, and offer a lot of variety in terms of locales, cover palettes, and overall design, which is nice. They’ll send you all throughout 25 years’ worth of Nickelodeon history, and have been designed after every single show whose cartoon characters are featured within this game.
For the most part, all of my racing was problem free, apart from the odd time where the game would hang for a second before resuming. This didn’t happen much, but it did occur during one of my first couple of cup races and again later. Other than that, I have yet to experience any crashes or major bugs. I must say, though, that things can be a bit annoying if you’re constantly in first place, which I tended to be when I did all of the cups on slow before moving on to moderate. I’ll eventually do them all on fast, but I did try the speed out before writing this review. The problem is that, if you’re in first place, someone behind you will often get a pick-up that is similar to Mario Kart’s blue shell in that it locks on to the person who’s in the lead and doesn’t let up until it hits them. It’s nearly impossible to avoid these things, unless you use a well timed defensive ability, and being hit by one at the wrong time can mean the difference between a clear win and a last minute loss.
Of course, the backbone of all of these games is driving. If the mechanics aren’t at least solid, the game will never be fun. Here, the driving is pretty good, although it won’t compete with the fluidity of the best in the genre. That said, it’s quite good for a licensed game aimed at kids. You can drive with right trigger or shoulder button, and can drift with the left trigger or shoulder button. The latter also allows for a short jump, and can be used to pull off tricks whenever you go over a slime jump. This will help you fill your slime meter faster, and will also assist with earning achievements or trophies if you’re into that kind of thing.
The controls aren’t always perfect, nor is the drifting, but it’s good for what it is. Shortcuts can also be a bit of a pain to get to at times because of this, but you’ll eventually get used to how things work and get better at making the jumps to hidden platforms or avoiding traps that block those quicker pathways.
If I recall correctly, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix features eight different cup races, which are made up of 4 tracks each. If you end up going for the achievement and trophy that asks you to complete every cup on every speed (slow, moderate and fast), this will take you some time. It may also become frustrating, because the achievement specifies that you need to unlock three stars in each one. I came in second in one race and ended up only receiving two stars once I won that cup, which gives you an indication as to why it can be maddening.
On top of all of the single player modes, you’ll also be happy to hear that both local and online multiplayer factor in here. This is good news for those who have multiple kids who like to game together, especially since there are both regular races and a battle arena to be found here. It might not be so great for those who play online, however, because I get the impression that this title doesn’t have the biggest or most consistent online community. I say this because I tried to connect to online games twice, but could not find anything.
Lastly, there’s presentation to talk about. This is where a lot of licensed games have failed in the past, because of their rushed development times and far too early release dates, both of which often resulted in a massive lack of polish. With this particular game, though, things are pretty good. While it’s not the best looking game ever made, it looks pretty good and has visuals that are definitely better than they needed to be, not to mention leagues ahead of how Race With Ryan looked last year. The character models are good, the tracks have lots of different visual styles and colour palettes, and things generally run well. The music is also very fitting, and the sound effects add to the chaotic, cartoon feel that the developers were going for.
With all that having been said, I must reiterate that it’s tough to go wrong with Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix, so long as you temper your expectations a bit by not expecting the next Mario Kart. This is, after all, a budget title (at $39.99 US), although it marks a big improvement over what was a very solid and enjoyable original game. It’ll simply never compete with the best in the genre, which target a wider audience and feature more polish. That’s okay, though, because this is a well above average kids game, and one that will impress adults too.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we were provided with. We reviewed it using our Xbox One X.
- Loads of content for a budget price
- Tons of familiar characters
- Good, clean and fun racing
- It hangs a little bit
- Not as polished or as smooth as the big guys, but that's okay
- The online community seems to be very lacking or almost nonexistent