Cartoon Network Racing (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
The GBA and DS are hardly short of racing games, indeed since their introduction just about every character has been funneled into a Racing or Kart framework. Obviously this has achieved varying degrees of success but given the fact that Nintendo's own Mario Kart is such a polished product, it's hard to imagine anything coming close. The latest contender is not one, but rather the best of Cartoon Network's family of animated characters. Like Disney, there's no doubting their universal appeal but will this please fans of racers and the cartoons?
It must be difficult, when designing handheld racers, to come up with something new. This Cartoon Network take on the genre starts with you picking a character to control although be warned, the more powerful options don't seem to handle so well. Once you've done this it's off to the races. These are pretty standard affairs and are played against another seven racers however unlike other similar titles, make a few mistakes and you'll find yourself well behind the pack. There are a few ways of catching up though. The simplest of these is to locate and use the various shortcuts which are located on the map, although not always where you think they are, Next is to pick up one of the many collectables, which range from bombs and rackets to speed boosts, smoke and oil. Elsewhere there's your Cartoon Boost Meter and while this is different for every racer, filling it allows you to fly around the course at great speed whilst avoiding all competitors along the way. Remember though, if you can do this, so can everyone else.
There are other ways to tackle the action and whilst the Time Trail should be an easy option it's almost impossible to actually beat any of the times until you've unlocked some of the more powerful cars. The Versus (or Multiplayer) is much more rewarding and, while you can play it from a single copy of the game, it is rather limiting so to enjoy the full experience, you are probably best splashing out for another copy.
Unusually for a game of this nature there are genuine differences in the characters and vehicles you select; for instance they almost all differ in speed and weight. While the power issue can be an obvious advantage or disadvantage, the weight is a little more complicated. Lighter vehicles not only jump higher and bounce around much more but they also come off worse in any collisions: i.e. you'll be bounced back. In addition there's the powerslide, which is essential in some of the more 'man-made' courses like the city and athletics track.
The visuals are probably just about as good as can be expected when you consider the size of the tracks and while some have argued that the lack of detail makes some of the environments appear bland and lack atmosphere, they are very close to those featured in the cartoons themselves. Elsewhere the majority of the characters have been well-designed and rendered and the unlockable cartoons are almost perfect thanks, once again, to Act Imagine compression software.
The soundtrack's not too bad at all, with each race accompanied by a suitable soundtrack. This does become problematic though after you've heard it for the tenth or twentieth time. Elsewhere you are also treated to a few mutterings from the drivers themselves, which while very welcome, do appear to be at the expense of other sound effects.
As far as the actual racing is concerned, other than the usual overhead map there's absolutely nothing. Apart from this you can purchase two touch screen games. The first of these is Kart Curling which has you sliding miniature cars on ice in order to land as close as possible to the bulls eye at the end of the run and Sketchbook which challenges you to trace over a whole host of Cartoon Network characters as quickly as possible.
As we mentioned earlier, every racer or kart title is likely to be compared to the mighty Mario Kart and while this is one of the better ones, it's not without its problems. For starters some of the levels are very difficult especially as you progress through the game, meaning you'll probably play some levels far more than you want to. This is generally a result of having a less powerful car than you need. Better models can be unlocked but this does take considerable effort and success. On the plus side this is one of the few games which features 'real' rewards for success and fans of Cartoon Network will be delighted with the unlockable cartoons not to mention the opportunity to play as their favorite character.
Pro: Loads of Tracks, Unlockable Cartoons.
Con: Some Courses are Very Tricky, Not Very Original.
Final score: 6.9