September 5, 2001
Software Creations Limited
0 76930 99609
1 to 2 Players
Everyone – No Descriptors
Get ready…Get Set…Go!
- There are no known variants.
- There are no known misprints.
Mascot racing games found their groove during the 32-Bit era of gaming. While the trend and popularity can easily be traced back to the original Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo, the genre really didn’t have its over-saturation period until the PlayStation and Nintendo 64.
Our focus here is on Nicktoons Racing featuring a who’s who of characters from various Nickelodeon cartoon shows.
A very rough cartoon intro provides what little story line there is. The characters are gathered to compete and prove their skills at kart racing. Each character has their own unique vehicle, and each cartoon is represented by a stage or two. What’s nice is that the characters are all the same skill wise – the only difference are their visuals. So anyone who wants to main one character for the rest of the game won’t be punished or gain an advantage over another.
The roster includes characters from Rugrats, Spongebob Squarepants, Catdog, The Wild Thornberrys, Hey Arnold!, Aahh!! Real Monsters, The Angry Beavers, and then just Stimpy from The Ren & Stimpy show. A final character known only as the Mystery Rider waits for you at the finish line. If you successfully gain all gold medals in the Easy Cup, you unlock him and the next difficulty setting.
One of the first things that jumps out at the player are the visuals. In having a diverse cast of characters, the developers did an admirable job of trying to convey the differences in the varying art styles. Spongebob levels are bright and crisp, Rugrats stages are subdued in colors so the racers stand out more, and so forth. It’s not perfect, but it’s easily picked up after a few races.Characters are bright, bold, and have a wonderful compliment in their kart designs. Patrick has his sandbox, Stimpy his kitty litter, and Tommy with his Reptar themed kart. Little touches like how the swimming creatures and bubble effects in Spongebob’s stage are supposed to mean you’re underwater add to the cuteness of it all. The racers also have some nice little animation touches to them. If one of your attacks is successful they’ll raise their arm in triumph. Go to back-up, and they’ll physically turn around to see where they’re going.
Sound however is a mixed bag. Voice samples are fine, if a tiny bit scratchy. But in the game’s menu system, the designers added the most annoying boingy-boingy sound I’ve ever heard, and it’s on permanent repeat until you choose something. Audio tracks are all inspired from the cartoons, so it is what it is there.
Game play and control are standard procedure for the genre, with an exception I’ll save for later. Gas, break, reverse, jump, and power-slide are instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever picked up Super Mario Kart. Where Nicktoons Racing takes a hard left into crazy town are its power-ups and risk vs. reward system.
Power-ups are based on actual items from the various cartoons, but a few of them are rooted in by-the-book practices. The slime and kitty litter are just banana peels; Spongebob’s bubble is just a red shell, while Darwin’s coconuts are the green shell. The truly unique items are found in the Angry Beavers’ Time machine, which warps you ahead one spot, and The Thornberry’s Totem Magic, which steals the power-up from a nearby racer before they can use it.
Of concern however is The Thornberry’s camera flash pick-up. Activating it causes a very jarring instant white flash to pop-up on screen, blocking the player’s view for a second. I’m not epileptic in any way, but it really caught me off guard the first time. I would probably offer a very concerned warning for folks who might suffer from it to check out videos before diving in.
To round out this side of the discussion, special attention must be brought Nicktoons Racing’s final two stages. First up is a very long, curvy city locale. Littered with the most obstructions found in the game along with a gap that can be fallen into, it spikes the difficulty a bit. Younger folks, even if they made it this far, might give up on some of the intense combat that goes on between them and the AI opponents.
It’s the last stage that’s the kiss of death though. Besides the already mentioned issues, the final volcano stage requires 90° or tighter turns. Two particular turns if not taken properly will send players flying into a wall. Easy difficulty is one thing, but playing the stage on Hard will either piss off players or test their mettle. In going back to the game one last time, issues with these stages combined with the weird ‘Race For Fun’ shortcomings make it feel like the game was shipped before it was really ready.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about where Nicktoons really shines; its risk vs. reward system. Removing power-ups from the equation, stages are equipped with three angles of attack; alternate paths, speed-boosts, and – I kid you not, calculated decisions. Let’s start with the Speed Burst Orbs.
These little sparks float around the track and come in two flavors – blue and red. The blue will add one tick of speed to your Speed Meter, while the red will fill up half the meter. Pressing R1 will activate the stored up speed power. What makes these part of the risk vs. reward system is that you can’t store them indefinitely. After a few seconds the meter will begin to drain, forcing players to use them or lose them. That strategy then becomes trying to figure out how far it is till the next stash.
Opposite the orbs are the Speed Arrow panels. These show up in three varieties of green, orange, and red. Red provides the shortest burst of speed, orange an average amount, and then green will launch players well across the stage. The arrow panels play a much larger part in an overall strategy of plotting the perfect path.
Speaking of paths, let’s talk alternate ones. These can be split up into short-cuts and actual alternate paths. Short-cuts are small, hiding-in-plain-sight land advantages that grant players a few tenths of second savings. These are often hiding behind their own entry frame, or a rock wall to make them more interesting. My particular favorite is a small waterfall path hidden off the side of a kart-width path next to a bridge.
Actual alternate paths are where the track will split into two or three different longer options, with each choice providing a particular reward. My personal favorite is found in the Race Madness track. Right out of the starting gate, the track splits into three lanes. The farthest left provides speed burst orbs to stash or use. The middle lane offers the easiest turn and a power-up. The third is littered with speed panels but the hardest of turns.
Each path is a calculated decision, and within that choice comes its own risk and reward. Do players forgo the power-up and just hope to speed-panel ahead, or do they take the left path and hope they can keep the boosts long enough to make it to the next stash? Or they might come across a speed-panel, a power-up, and a speed orb – but they can only have one.
It’s these moments – where the player has opponents barreling down on them, making split-moment decisions yet calculating how to approach it on the next lap that absolutely provides reason enough to play Nicktoons Racing.
At least until you explore the other menu options.
If we forgive the menu audio, Nicktoons Racing’s biggest crime is that several design choices almost completely unravel all the goodwill that’s been built up to this point. Of the smaller crimes is the track menu. Rather than using still images to convey the tracks, short video clips are used. The PlayStation must quickly load each video clip as you move about the choices. If you toggle between cups, it’s even more loading times.
Furthermore is the bizarre and often-times uneven opponent abilities. Sometimes everything is a fair fight, other times you’ll be nailed by three separate racers in the same moment, one right after the other. Underscore that with what is a lack of rubber-banding in the game. Unless something extreme happens, the other 5 racers are typically always near each other. This allows for some very fast catching up, but spells disaster if you’re near the finish line and get dinged.
But the ultimate crime, the one that keeps Nicktoons Racing from being a truly must own game is the “Race For Fun” mode. First and foremost, this mode isn’t fun – because it’s the racing equivalent of a survival mode. According to the manual, every time you race you earn a trophy. These trophies are objects found with the cartoons themselves like a cheese wheel or a giant sombrero. So if you win 5 races in a row, you would earn 5 trophies – and you do. But – if you lose once, it’s all trashed and you start at zero trophies.
So…players lose everything in a game that can decimate them in 3 seconds. In a kids game, no less? If there were only 5 trophies to worry about, this would be a fun challenge, but there’s at least 24 or more trophies to unlock. Worse, the game isn’t clear on how to unlock them. After a bit of trial and error, I can tell you even after acquiring all the trophies, I’m not not 100% sure what it is. What worked for me is once I was being awarded a trophy on one track, I moved to the next one. Prizes are unevenly distributed across stages, so ding the Trivia tab to see what worked for me.
Thankfully there is an annoying way to game the system. After a successful run and trophy reveal, players can escape all the way out to the title screen, then go into Options and save their game. This way if the next race is a loss, a simple reload will get you back into the chase. It’s super annoying, but it’s the only thing keeping that mode alive.
There are more easily accessed unlockables in Nicktoons Racing to chase though. Snagging all 3 gold cups on Medium will unlock the Big City Clean Up for single players. Here you must collect all the prizes within a city neighborhood before time runs out. Unlocking all 3 Hard gold cups opens up the Beach Soccer multiplayer game. It’s essentially just a really simple version of Rocket League if one was keen on the description. Use the kart to bop a beach ball between two cones on the opponent’s side.
For players looking to enjoy a kart racing title that doesn’t involve Mario, they could do much worse. Nicktoons Racing has enough going for it to be casually enjoyed. But those looking for a 100% completion run will be met with frustration along with the enjoyment. The risk / reward system is worth a once through, and the hidden areas are well thought out – but only if one is willing to forgive the last two stages and poor menu decisions.
On the Game-Rave review scale, it’s a “Good” game at a 6 out of 10.
Oddly enough, our story doesn’t end here! A few years later in 2003 a local based company called Chicago Gaming Company purchased the arcade rights for the game and converted it to a dedicated sit-down arcade cabinet. While relatively unchanged, several aspects were adjusted to better fit the arcade model. Option screens were removed or repurposed into credit scenes. The Easy, Medium, and Hard Difficulties were rebranded as Beginner, Intermediate, and Difficult. Several power-ups received visual tweaks, while the rest of the game got a complete overhaul in texture resolution and frame rates. Game play modes were stripped down to just the Cup series. It’s one of the few times a PlayStation game was ported to the arcades rather than from.
If one is curious, you can check out more on the arcade version at the company’s web-site here.
- Great selection of characters
- Stages are well thought out
- Excellent risk vs. reward system
- Last two stages have a difficulty spike
- There’s no way to view trophies collected in Race For Fun mode.
- Slightly poor design choices in sound and bonus features
Final Score: NA – 6 / 10 Good
Nicktoons Racing hides a brilliant risk vs. reward and short-cut system under a children’s game veneer and license. Forgive the faults and enjoy a really good game that could have used one last tune-up before shipping.
Clicking will have a pop-gallery appear.
Nicktoons Racing had its GameRaveTV review spotlight.
- Nicktoons Racing’s “Race for Fun” mode features a possible 24 total trophies to earn as you race. To prevent any unnecessary racing, the trophies and where to earn them are cataloged below. Once you hit the last trophy of a stage, go right to the next sequential stage.
- Cup 1 Reptar Raceway – Sombrero, rocket. pair of Snoz Glasses, a wheel of cheese, and a fez
- Cup 1 Dam Prix – a toilet, glitterball, Lava Lamp
- Cup 1 Rancid Raceway – the United States of America, purple underwear, a toadstool, one atom
- Cup 1 Bikini Bottom Blowout – A Big ol Box of Bubbles, Today’s Mystery Prize
- Cup 2 Race Madness – A Can of Worms, some Rainbow Paint
- Cup 2 Beaver Fever – a Rope on a Soap, Pair o’ Pixels
- Cup 2 Nearburg Rally – a big spoon, a Kipper Tie, The Moon on a Stick
Cup 2 Safari Speedway – some Sliced Bread, the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, a brand new brain
- In the “Race For Fun” mode, you lose all your trophies if you don’t come in 1st place every race. To secure your place in the Trophy Hunt, simply exit out all the way to the title screen, go Save the game, and then head back to where you left off. It’s annoying, but it works!
- You can speed boost off the starting line. As soon as the number 2 appears on screen, press and hold gas. If you see white smoke appear behind your tires right before “Go” is spoken, you did it correctly.
- The various hidden short-cuts are well placed and can be extremely well hidden in some cases. The easiest way to find them is actually driving the track backwards – you’ll find the exit area and can take it back to its origin.
- You can unlock the Mystery Rider by getting all gold trophies in the Easy Level Cup race.
- If your stored Power-Up disappears it means an opponent used the Totem Magic.
- Not all Power-Ups used by the opponents give off the Exclamation Point (” ! “) early warning.
- Play on a CRT using S-Video cables to fully enjoy the minute detail changes between the stages’ various cartoon styles.
- If your placed Power-Up is hit by an opponent, your character will raise their arms in triumph.
- There are two cameos in the opening cartoon. Ren is seen talking to Stimpy, and the Aahh!! Real Monster Oblina can be seen popping out of Tommy’s car in the camera pan. Neither character is featured in the game.
- The “Race For Fun” mode’s Trophy wall can not be accessed outside of the event – once you snag the final trophy, you’ll never see that screen again. Make sure you get a picture of it before you press the cross button!
- As the difficulty increases, the number and types of Speed Burst tokens drops significantly.
- There are two types of Speed Burst Orbs – blue and red. The blue provide one tick of speed while the red provide half-a-meter’s worth.
- There’s no end result of the Time Trials other than the new lowest time you set. Once achieved, simply back out and head to the next track. In this mode there are no Speed Burst orbs, but there are still Speed Arrow panels. You can view your times in the Options menu’s Hall of Fame.
- Nicktoons Racing was later ported to a sit-down arcade cabinet with minor changes to the UI, Menus, and visuals.