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May 23, 2014

Cartoon Network Racing DS (Part 1)

Raise your hand if you grew up with Cartoon Network.

Sorry, I don't see you. If you could see me, though, you'd have noticed I didn't raise my hand. Thing is, I didn't technically grow up with Cartoon Network as a kid; I grew up with its Canadian counterpart, Teletoon, which aired a lot of Cartoon Network series back in the day. So yeah, it was very similar. Since then, Teletoon started making its own series and exporting them... to Cartoon Network. There's a bit of irony here, don't you think?

Anyway, the game I'm reviewing today is for those who feel nostalgia for the early cartoons of this channel. Cartoon Network, not Teletoon.

Cartoon Network Racing DS should remind you of another series. I mean, it's obvious that I'll have to compare Cartoon Network Racing to Mario Kart. And I'll go a step further. I'll use Mario Kart DS to make this comparison. Same portable console, that should be fair. Many reviews say that the resemblances are really obvious; that's what we'll see today.

First off, I gotta point out that since there's not really a plot in any of the two games, I shouldn't judge them on the plot. Okay, Mario Kart DS has a Mission Mode while Cartoon Network Racing doesn't, but Mission Mode isn't a Story Mode.

How does this racing game work? Well, first you select a racing speed, then a cup, and then your character. In Mario Kart, you first select a cup, then a racing speed... then a character. Yeah... Maybe a little too similar, isn't it? Whatever. Everyone knows the speeds in Mario Kart: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc. Gotta be professional to stand out from the slew of copies that would try to emulate the series, right? So what are the speeds in CNR ("Cartoon Network Racing", in case you hadn't guessed)? Let's see... “Normal” with one red pepper, “Souped-Up” with two red peppers, “Soupered-Up” with three red peppers? That's kinda funny. Kinda creative, too. The idea that pimentos give more speed to the characters. Doesn't make any sense, but do mushrooms also make sense in this regard? Not really, huh? Of note, you can also unlock a Mirror Mode, renamed Flipped-Out here. It's represented by three green peppers.

Now, for the Cups. In Mario Kart, you should know them well: Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Star Cup and Special Cup. It's always been that way, so why would it change now? Hard to think of four major items in the early Cartoon Network shows that could make good titles for the Cups. What do we have here? The first one is called Cowardly. Funny; I suppose you have to use Courage the dog to do those. Second one is Booger. The trophy is a hand with something on the raised index finger. Not kidding. Cup 3 is titled Pork Butt, and the trophy is shaped like a ham's bottom? No, like a pig's crack. The final cup is titled Chemical X, and it's the only one (to my knowledge) that clearly references a CN show; namely, the Powerpuff Girls. Also interesting to note is that out of all six series represented here, the Powerpuff Girls show is the one with the most characters.

So, after picking a speed and a Cup, you get to the Character selection screen and OHMYGOSH! Nine characters are available from the start, which is pretty good in its own right, but there's 11 unlockable characters, bringing the total to 20! Holy wow, that's really impressive for a racing game. Let's compare to Mario Kart DS, which has technically 13 playable characters, but 8 are available from the start, 4 are unlockables and 1 is solely available in multiplayer. Ha! You win that round, CNR.

Not that CNR.

Anyway, here's the list of characters:
-From Courage the Cowardly Dog: Courage, Muriel and Eugene.
-From Cow and Chicken: Cow, Chicken, Red Guy.
-From I Am Weasel: I. M. Weasel, I. R. Baboon.
-From Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter, Dee Dee, Mandark.
-From Johnny Bravo: Johnny Bravo, Bunny Bravo, Suzy.
-From The Powerpuff Girls: Blossom, Bubbles, Buttercup, Professor Utonium, Mojo Jojo and Him.


That's a pretty good roster. Admit it, if you're old enough you probably had a sudden burst of nostalgia while reading some of those names. As I said moments ago, that's 20 characters pulled straight out of many a kid's childhood memories. What? Mario is also a great icon of childhood to those who were gamers at an early age? Well, yeah, but.... 20 is better than 13, okay?

Muriel is literally driving her armchair. Must be comfy.
It makes no sense, but it must be fun.
Another interesting thing is that each racer in CNR has his/her own race car. It's usually a reference to the series the character came from. Other times, it's just a representation of an aspect of the character. As an example, the three Powerpuff Girls are using small cars identical in appearance with only the color being changed between red, green and blue, but the three karts' stats are different. (Now that I mention it, I should also point out that all of the kart's stats are shown on the character selection screen for top speed, acceleration, handling and weight.) Yeah, yeah, the newer Mario Kart games do that too, but the karts in the MK series are based on aspects of the Mario series, while this game really seems to be using elements of each character's traits for the karts. As an example, Johnny Bravo is driving a macho car, Dexter rides in a robot, Muriel drives her own armchair on wheels (totally not making that up), Dee Dee rides a toy pony, Bunny Bravo drives a shopping cart, and Him rides a giant ducky with purple flames on the sides (again, not making that up). And yes, Mario Kart DS has 2 karts for each character, while there's only one for each character in Cartoon Network Racing.

So, after the character is selected, you have to complete four courses on each Cup. The highest your position at the end of each race, the better your chances of getting the first place in the race. Each cup has four courses, for a grand total of 16. Which is little, compared to the 32 in Mario Kart DS... Yeah, only half the number of courses that Mario Kart DS has. But look at it another way: MKDS brings us 16 all-new race tracks, and 16 Retro tracks that were remade for the game. So, technically, there's only 16 “new” race tracks in MKDS as well. Guess those two are equal on this aspect, at least.

What it's probably not equal on is this: The graphics. Yeah, Mario Kart DS has put more care on the design of the characters, the karts and the courses. The 3D models in CNR are less polished, less detailed; the designers seem to have preferred drawing parts of the characters instead of making them fully three-dimensional. Maybe that's because some of those characters were drawn in 2D cartoons in a way that makes it very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to make them into 3D characters without having to cheat a little. Though that's for the characters. Are the race tracks' designs a little... simple? Again, yes. In some cases, it looks like there was a rough draft of the whole thing and then a texture was put over it to make it look more finished. So, this game is not as great graphically as MKDS. Should I say the same for the music? Um... No, the music in this game is fine. Not memorable, but not exactly forgettable. Some of the tracks use a modified version of a cartoon's theme song (as an example, a course based on Townsville has a remix of the PPGs' theme song). Some original tracks for the game are pretty cool, too.

Now that this is out of the way, let's get to the meat of any racing game: THE RACING! Yeah, now that the more technical aspects are covered, we can finally touch on the gameplay. Once the character is selected, we are treated to a nice overview of the course, and then the camera stops behind the selected character. The race starts! So, what can we do here? Oh cool, we can have a rocket start like in the Mario Kart series by pressing A before the race starts but after the countdown has begun. That's pretty cool. We can also use the same slipstreaming technique that is in the Mario Kart series. You see, that technique requires you to stay behind an opponent for a while, and if you do you will get a small speed boost that will make you get ahead of that opponent. It was in MKDS, I'm glad it's in CNR. But the thing I'm happiest with is this: NO POWERSLIDING! Awesome!

You hear right: I don't like this game.
Okay, I'm sorry, I have to bring this up immediately. I don't like Mario Kart DS. I'm very bad at hiding it, aren't I? Throw your tomatoes. Now let me explain: I kind of enjoy Mario Kart DS up to a certain point. After which most opponents will use a technique called Powersliding. What is “powersliding”, you may ask? You get your character's kart to drift by holding L and R, and then you alternate between pressing the Left and the Right buttons on the control pad. This causes an interesting reaction in the game; the wheels will catch fire and your character's kart will gain a sudden boost that will help you get ahead. It's a technique that is very difficult to master, because you need to be very quick to press Left and Right alternately. I never quite mastered it. Problem is, if you want to win the later cups, you HAVE to master it because all the opponents will be using it! So, if you can't do it fast, you're screwed. You can wave goodbye to the first place. You will never unlock the later stuff. If you can't beat the game unless you master that technique, it's really shitty. Yes, I said the S-word. That's how much it angers me. That's why I'm so relieved that there's no such thing in Cartoon Network Racing. You can beat the game because the opponents can't use that technique, it simply doesn't exist in there. Drifting does exist, it must be used to turn some corners in the courses, but powerdrifting isn't there. So yes, for this sole reason, I somehow prefer CNR, a game with lukewarm reviews, to MKDS, a game that has been praised countless times and is seen as one of the best racing games on the DS console. There, I said it. I like a lesser game that I can beat over one that requires you to master an extremely difficult technique in order to complete the harder cups.

"Oh no, you did not-a say that!"

I prefer having an unpopular opinion than lying to myself - and to my readers - pretending to agree with everyone else.

Stop throwing your tomatoes now.

Now that this is out of the way, let's get to other things you immediately notice as you play: Even if they're not as detailed as, say, the Mario Kart DS courses, the race tracks here are still enjoyable to look at. Their design is simpler, as I said before, but it looks nice nonetheless. Also, they often contain secret passageways that can help you getting ahead. The computer opponents will use them, so maybe you should too. Next thing you'll notice: The characters are voiced and animated in their karts. When you do something right or when an opponent steps on a trap you've set, the character you selected will be happy. If they hit a trap or an opponent takes their place, they'll be sad. The PPG tilt their heads, Johnny moves his arms when he gets ahead. That's fun. It also features many of the voices from the original series, which make it a little better.

Yep, blue rocket. No relation with the blue shell, we swear.
There are hazards on the racetrack, just like in Mario Kart. There are item boxes scattered around, just like in Mario Kart. Among those items, there are rockets that will only go forward, stronger rockets that will target the opponent in front of you, and even stronger rockets that will target only the character in first place. YES, I KNOW. LIKE THE SHELLS IN MARIO KART. Many of the items that can be used in CNR are based on items from the Mario Kart series.

However, there's two things added to- Wait, it's already been 2,000 words??? Uh oh, I've got to go for now! But no worries, the review will continue Monday! Sorry if this feels rushed, I can't think of any good way to end this part! I was sure one would be enough! I'm surprised. Unprepared. Maybe I could end with “Once again, the day is saved, by...”. The problem is that I have no idea how to end that line, so... Uh... Em... Er... Be back Monday. This review will end Monday.