Watch me on Twitch!

Streaming whenever I can.
(Sorry, that's the reality of working at night. Subscribe to my channel to get notifications!)

May 26, 2014

Cartoon Network Racing DS (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Whoa! I never thought I'd need two parts for this review! Well, it happens sometimes. I have so much to say that I get carried away, I put more details, I put in an analysis or my two cents... and before I know it, the review isn't 2,000 words long, it's 4,000. Well, gotta live with that. Where was I now... Oh, right! I was now at describing how the gameplay goes!

For starters, there's two things added to Cartoon Network Racing that are NOT in Mario Kart: Coins and Stars.

No, not those. And yes, technically there IS a Star in Mario Kart and there used to be coins, but... it's not the same things.

Nope, not like the ones in the skies either.

There is one Coin hidden on each of the 16 tracks in CNR; its value increases with the speed of the Cup you're currently playing. Those are sometimes well-hidden or put in places where you would have problems getting to them without getting a few places back in the race. However, they prove to be a very good source of income for the game's shop. I'll discuss this a little later. The other change is the Stars. Under the number of laps you've completed, there's bar that is empty at the beginning of each race. When you collect a Star (there's 5 on every racetrack; some are well-hidden), the bar fills up a bit. If an opponent hits a trap you've set up or you attack an opponent successfully, it also fills up a bit, less than with a Star. When it's full, you gain access to that character's ability! Each character has a special ability, and it's named differently for each one, though the effects are often similar. Some will gain a constant speed boost until the bar is empty again; others will be able to attack the other racers around them a few times. Most of the time, the superpower is a reference to the series the character came from. As an example, Bubbles of PPG fame can use a sonic scream to hit her surrounding opponents. Now that's a pretty damn cool idea. What's more, the CPU racers cannot use those abilities, so you have an advantage. Those two gameplay mechanics are very cool, and I'm happy that they're in the game.

So, after you've completed three laps in a course, your performance is given a score, 10 if you arrived in first place. And it goes on for four courses, on a maximum of 40 points. At the end, if your character arrived in first, second or third place, he appears on a podium, and the next Cup is unlocked. But if you ever played a racing game, you knew all that. Also, after you've completed a cup, you unlock its four courses in a Time Trial Mode, in the speed that you've beaten the Cup in (Normal, Souped-Up, Soupered-Up, Flipped-Out). You also have to beat the best time on every course, meaning you have to do each course four times, with progressively faster karts, and with a time that becomes a little harder to beat for each one.

What Cartoon Network Racing lacks, however, is a complete mode for those who want to play with others who don't own the cartridge. It's possible for those who have the cartridge to pick their character and pick a course to play on; but if you play over wireless communication with other players who don't have the game, there is only one race track to play on, Dexter's Laboratory to be precise. Also, I should mention that there's no Battle Mode at all in this, which means you can race against your friends, but there's no additional mini-games like the balloons thing from Mario Kart.

A little race down Dexter's lab, anyone?
But what's fun with this game is that it's filled with nostalgia. It represents each one of the six series, and you can try to guess which series each course comes from, and sometimes what the reference might be (since the courses are filled with hazards that may reference the cartoon series the course is based on). Again... *sigh* like Mario Kart DS. Dammit!

However, this game works a little different once you unlock the Souped-Up speed. You see, there's a Shop in the game, and when you finish a course, you get an amount of coins. If you want to use one of the game's racers in the Souped-Up speed, you have to buy an Upgrade for it in the shop. This means you have to spend a bit of in-game money if you want to get access to that character on the harder difficulty settings. That's kind of an innovative idea, as I don't remember any other racing game that did this. The cost is not very high, so you can access the racers in the next difficulty fairly easily. You need to do the same once you unlock the Soupered-Up difficulty; but again, the cost isn't too high and you'll be able to pay that upgrade for almost all the unlocked characters.

Of course, they are but distractions from the
racing games and your aching thumbs.
Also in the shop, you can unlock alternate themes for the main menu (instead of being stuck with a yellow-orange-ish theme, you can also have a blue and a purple one), as well as two mini-games and three cartoons. Wait, what? Mini-games in this racing game? Eeyup! The first one you unlock is also my favorite: Sketchbook. It's a mini-game in which you have to re-draw over the black lines of the characters, using the stylus. Each time you fill 75% of the grey zones, you beat that “sketch” and you get a score based on the remaining time. Do that until you finally lose, which could be never if you get realy good at it. I love this mini-game, it really got me hooked the first time I played this game. It's an awesome game. The only problem is that there's only 20 different sketches, one for each playable character, all from the start. Which means that it spoils all the characters that can be unlocked in the game. Whoops. The second mini-game is, sadly, nowhere as good; it's curling with the original nine karts. Yeah, just that. Still, the Sketchbook one is great and it's a nice addition to the game.

The other thing you can unlock is three six-minute cartoons taken from those old Cartoon Network shows. The first one is “Dexter's Rival”, the one where Dexter meets Mandark for the first time and realizes he's better than him in every way; Mandark's only weakness being his crush on Dee Dee... The second one, “Telephonies”, is about the Gangreen Gang getting a hold of the Mayor's PPG-phone and sending the Powerpuff Girls on lots of quests and attacks on villains who were doing nothing wrong at the time. It's pretty darn funny. The last one, “Black Sheep of the Family”-

No, not this one. This one is a cartoon from Cow and Chicken, and it involves the two main characters welcoming their odd long-lost cousin, the black sheep of the family, into their house. He saves them from a crazy Red Guy by knitting him some pants out of his own wool, so I guess that makes him a friend. Whatever. Those three cartoons are pretty fun, a nice thing to unlock in this. However, the sound might be a little low, even with earphones. It often makes the dialogue a little hard to hear. That's a little downside.

Eternal protection? Sign me in!
Last novelty in CNR: Cheat codes. Yep, if you look for this DS game on Internet, you can find a few cheat codes that will be activated when you input them in place of your player name in the Options menu. The codes range from “unlocking everything” to “seeing the races at bird's view” (which, by the way, make it a little harder); one grants the player unlimited superpower energy, which means you can use it to see every character's superpower. However, each one of these codes also disables the game's saving feature, so you cannot do any progress as long as the code is working. It can help you at first, but you have to remove the code if you want the save feature to work again.

Yep, some calm courses. Like in that other series
of racing games. The more popular one.
Last thing, here's the sixteen courses. See if some of them remind you of a show or another; some are obvious, others aren't as much. Just try, for the Hell of it: Aron City Speedway, Death Rally, Desert Island Dash, Cow and Chicken's Track and Field (this one should be obvious), Natural Parkway, Dexter's Laboratory (obvious too), Snow Sunday Drive, Townsville Raceway, Middle of Nowhere, Wild West Backlot, Evil Glade, Strange Alien Race, Cross Townsville Traffic, Mount Rush Much More, Outer Space Chase (that one is a rip-off of the Rainbow Roads, BTW), and Mandark's Laboratory.

Aaaand... that's finally all I had to say about this. A long review, wasn't it? I didn't think it would be that long myself. Maybe I had a lot to say... and maybe it's the comparison with Mario Kart that made it so long. Well, at least I'm gonna spend less time talking about Mario Kart next time! Yeah...

Anyway, my verdict is that YES, this game took a lot of inspiration from the Mario Kart series. I can't hide it, the signs are obvious. Cups with funny names, each with four courses; three speeds and a mirror mode; a time trial mode; a multiplayer option; Items that are partly based on those from Mario Kart; special karts for each character; the ability to use a Rocket Start and to slipstream from behind an opponent racer; tons of references; a dynamic trophy handover. It's like this game was too heavily based on the series, the similarities are too obvious. That's a shame, because the creative stuff is also cool. I mean, nothing to make it an awesome game, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. But some people will immediately go for the resemblances with Mario Kart, calling it a cheap knock-off, a parody, a weak attempt at copying it.

Mandark's Lab is a mix of
Hell and technology. Badass.
But I think there's enough differences to make this game worth giving a try, even if only a little. I mean, for starters, it's very cool that you can control twenty different characters. Among the 16 race tracks, many are not quite as detailed as the ones in Mario Kart DS, but some are very creative. I DARE you to race in Mandark's Laboratory” and not feel awesome. It's like a technological Hell with black and orange colors everywhere, and then spinning parts and electric zappers... Holy wow, this is pretty cool stuff right there.

I think adding the two mini-games was a good idea (or, the Sketchbook one, at least), and it's also fun to have access to three cartoons. Though, to tell the truth, I think the three cartoons may be partly to blame for having less stuff in the game. I'm not a file size expert, but about 22 minutes of cartoons take a lot of data space, so maybe that's why the game isn't as filled as we could have had.

A cow in a baby-buggy becomes Super
by putting on pajamas and keeping the
same vehicle. ...I've learned never to
question superhero origins.
Other than that, the stylized karts are cool, and I'd even dare say that some are creative, compared to all the karts in Mario Kart DS that at least make an effort to all look like cars. I mean, Muriel is driving her freaking armchair. How cool is that? It's that sense of over-the-top silly that seems to be missing from Mario Kart. I also like the changes to the formula that were made in CNR: Having to pay to gain access to your character in the later speeds of the game, the Star and superpower system, and the collectible coins. You'll usually be able to completely fill a character's superpower bar only once during a race, but it's awesome enough and can really help you get ahead. The superpowers themselves are often good references to the series; Cow from Cow and Chicken temporarily goes into Supercow Mode, as an example. It's also very cool that you can use cheat codes, even if they disable the save feature.

Sure, Cartoon Network Racing feels like a Mario Kart clone that didn't get everything right, but what it added is just good enough to make it worth trying. I totally understand all the complaints that go that way: I mean, I discussed each and every one of them in this article. Yet, by the end, I can't help but get enjoyment from this game, more than I've ever had with Mario Kart DS. (And before you ask, YES, the powersliding played a part in this decision.)

There. I hope you enjoyed this review of Cartoon Network Racing, and... seriously, I hope I will not have to review any Mario Kart game in the near future. Give me a year, okay? I might be able to do that in about twelve months. Tune in this Friday for another review, as usual!

...And hopefully I won't have to make any comparisons this time around!