Everything about VR Karts wants to scream Mario Kart, yet in reality, delivers little more than a whisper in terms of long-term entertainment.
VR Karts, from Viewpoint Games, is colourful and cutesy with upbeat music and cartoony sound effects – but it’s all delivered in such mediocre and bland ways it feels more like a tech demo for 1992’s Super Mario Kart than a 2018 title for virtual reality. The first few moments are exhilarating – you’re in Mario Kart. But that “wow” feeling doesn’t last for long.
VR Karts offers several games modes, though nothing you’ve haven’t seen before. A tutorial helps new players adjust to the controls and slowly introduce game elements such as items and A.I. controlled karts. In a traditional game, this would be considered unnecessary handholding but here it helps the player become accustomed to their new world. The game also offers up Quick Play mode featuring a Single Race, Time Trials and the Tutorial mode; a Single Player option with three cups to race through and Online Multiplayer are also available.
Before heading out into the online world I thought it best to work my way through the solo campaign consisting of three cups / four tracks – of barely-noticeable increasing difficulty. The tracks are repetitive and most seemingly inspired by Mario Kart’s ‘Mario Circuit’. Some are carbon copies of each other with the only difference being a shift from day to night. A cheap trick which is immediately noticeable to anyone with eyes. This could have been forgiven if the tracks were compelling in the first place but, unfortunately, they’re mostly forgettable.
The last and final ‘Pro’ cup is where the more interesting tracks and challenging A.I. begins to appear but the karts still move far too slowly with every track bar one being insanely flat. I realise this was probably done to negate any complaints of nausea before they arose but they’ve been overly cautious this time around. It’s great to ease the player in but after more than a year of PSVR (at time of release), it’s time for hills, drops and boosts that actually feel exhilarating. I must stress that if you are new to VR you may get feel nauseated while playing this title. If you have your “VR legs” you’ll be fine.
I’ll admit that when I first slapped on the headset and entered a race I was wowed. It’s happened with a lot of VR titles but in this case, it wasn’t so much that I was awed by this game but rather the immediate realisation of what a real Mario Kart title would be like. This is what happens when you so closely imitate another franchise; comparison is inevitable.
If you’re a long-time Mario Kart fan like myself you’ll have no issues whizzing through the single-player in under an hour. I didn’t win every race but I did score gold on all three cups – on the first attempt. I’m not trying to show off here but rather highlight just how little challenge there is. The A.I. difficulty and track complexity did increase but by the time there felt like there was any real challenge I’d won gold in the final cup.
The worlds are colourful and reminiscent of the Mushroom Kingdom, albeit sparser and less lively. The immersion level here is high and at first, you’ll enjoy gazing around at your vibrant surroundings. Your kart is equipped with wing-mirrors allowing you to see the competition coming up behind – if you don’t fancy turning your actual head to see what’s coming. After living in the world for a short time you’ll realise you’re no longer charmed by it and you’ll have noticed just how plain it all is.
There is a slender selection of items/weapons on offer, spread out over the tracks, that aid in fending off the competition. Just like everything else in VR Karts the items are poor substitutes for those any Mario Kart title has to offer. You have a land-mine or bear-trap in place of bananas; a beehive that when targeted towards a player in front will obstruct their view and a missile that will mess with an opponents controls. If you’re a fair way behind you may pick up the ‘warp’ item which opens up a personal portal. If you successfully drive through it, it will teleport you part-way along the track, hopefully well ahead of the pack. This was the most original pick-up and the most fun to use.
Controls are one thing this game does well. Drifting can be executed by pushing circle when turning. It can be tricky to get right at first but rewarding when pulled off correctly. If you’re not turning a corner you can use circle to boost, assuming you’ve got enough blue energy left in your meter. Fear not, if your gauge has emptied you can pick-up a blue ‘boost’ pick-up, interspersed throughout the tracks with weapon pickups. The boost – like the kart’s normal top speed – just isn’t fast enough. Every level, no matter the difficulty, feels 50cc.
After completing the single player cups I ventured into the Quick Play mode where, under the Single Race option, I did indeed find a ‘Boost’ mode which was much faster than any other mode by far. It made racing more enjoyable but the novelty soon wore off, as the blandness of the tracks soon overwhelmed the mild thrill of the speed increase.
There are kart and character customisation options which are an appreciated addition, however basic they are. A game like this is crying out for Mario-esque wacky characters but alas, they’re featureless drivers devoid of any real personality. You can add extras onto the helmets, such as bunny ears, but it doesn’t feel all that personal or creative. Considering Mario Kart has included a number of wacky karts for years, you’d have thought that’d be one of the first things you’d emulate.
The music and sound effects are much the same. They’re alright but forgettable. You won’t be humming any of these tunes after you switch off the headset.
I was not able to find any players when attempting to play an online game so will be unable to review that mode. The game has been available for a year now and players may have moved on to other titles. Being unable to play online has significantly reduced the replayability factor.
VR Karts has solid – albeit basic – game mechanics but is let down by being bland in almost every other regard and with little chance of successfully finding online matches, there is little reason to return after an initial playthrough. VR Karts only saving grace is that it’s in VR.
VERDICT 5/10 – AN AVERAGE KART RACER DEVOID OF ANY REAL CREATIVITY.