We’re all accustomed to the annual arrival of a glut of AAA games as we head into the holiday season. But along with those high-end titles, another wave of games quietly arrives on the market. Gotta fill those stockings, so a bunch of licensed kids’ games appears this time of year like clockwork. It was just a week ago that I was angrily mashing on my mechanical keyboard, enthusiastically excoriating DreamWorks and GameMill Entertainment for their substandard Trolls platformer. Since then, I’ve been whiling away my precious spare time playing another DreamWorks/GameMill collaboration, DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing. And how, you wonder, does this week’s game aimed squarely at children hold up when compared to last week’s game aimed squarely at children?
It's better. It ain’t the greatest game of all time, but it’s better.
The difference here is that DreamWorks Kart-Racing actually works, and it feels like something a child could play and enjoy. The camera is stable. The racing – while not exactly fast-paced – is varied and somewhat enjoyable. The characters represent a nice mix of favorites from DreamWorks animated films, both classics and more current fare. But more importantly, the game doesn’t crash. The camera doesn’t zoom in so close that you can’t see what’s going on. No karts get stuck on the environment. Nothing in this game is going to make kids cry.
DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing is exactly what you think it is. The game starts with maybe ten characters unlocked. The game has 20-or-so nicely designed tracks, each themed around a different DreamWorks film. You play single-player cups and challenges to unlock all of the characters, karts, and customization pieces, and then you take all of that stuff into multiplayer and race your friends.
The kart racing is pretty fun, if nothing revolutionary. Tracks are themed around the various franchises the game choses to represent, and they contain some nice short cuts and surprise alternate routes. Players can pick up and use various DreamWorks-themed weapons and power-ups against each other, which essentially equate to the usual red turtle shells and bananas.
There are two fun mechanics that set DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing a bit apart from the rest of the pack. The first is the presence of the “mystery lyre”, a fun pick-up that opens a series of rainbow-themed shortcuts above the rest of the track, with another lyre at the end of the road. Keep grabbing the next lyre, and the track extends a bit further. It’s a neat way to break free from the pack when things get a bit tight.
Another bit of fun comes from the way DreamWorks’ Trolls are implemented in the game. Musical notes are scattered around the track; pick up enough of them and the Trolls appear on your cart, gripping the sides for dear life. As you pick up more musical notes, a meter fills, resulting in the Trolls granting you various power-ups. It’s essentially the same mechanic as the slime used in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3, but with a fun DreamWorks twist.
In fact, in a lot of ways DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing feels like a reskinned copy of developer Bamtang Games’ Nickelodeon Kart Racers games, just without all of that series’ bells and whistles. You can recognize the bare bones of Nick’s somewhat superior game series under the gristly skin of Dreamworks’ characters, but many of the Nick games’ additional modes and features are missing, leaving this new title feeling a little bare-bones.
Graphically, there is something weird going on here, too. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’ve played Dreamworks All-Star Kart Racing on both Series S and Series X, and in both cases the game feels a little low-resolution and grainy. The color palate seems a bit off as well, leaving all of the characters looking a bit like seedy nightmare uncanny valley versions of themselves. While the tracks and characters are colorful, those colors almost seem muted, or too dark. I don’t know, it’s something you have to see in action to understand, but look at the in-game model of How to Train Your Dragon’s Hiccup, or check out the mottling on Shrek’s skin, and you’ll see what I mean.
Character-wise, we have a pretty good mix here, though some personal favorites are missing in action. I enjoyed seeing Megamind make an appearance, and the way the game utilizes the Trolls is pretty clever and fun. Still though, did we need four characters from Kung-Fu Panda, and zero from Monsters vs. Aliens? No Susan Murphy? No B.O.B. the Blob? No Steven Colbert-fueled President Hathaway? I also wouldn’t have minded seeing Ruby Gillman make an appearance, but that film might have been a bit too recent for the folks at Bamtang to have squeezed her in. Maybe in some future DLC.
The sound-mix, like the visuals, is a bit nutty. Music is very muted (and sorry, Smash Mouth fans, there are no licensed tracks here), but the sound-alike voices are screaming on the top of their lungs. Do yourself a favor and drop into the settings as soon as you start the game and make some adjustments. That said, even though the actors voicing the characters vary in quality, I did enjoy the way the game fired off situational one-liners. It’s impressive when Puss in Boots screams “Not today, Master Shifu!” as he drifts past Po's trainer on an outside turn.
DreamWorks All-Star Kart Racing is a passable, non-offensive kart racer that kids will likely enjoy. While it doesn’t reach the height of its competition (some of which was developed by the same company), kids will likely have a good time playing for a weekend or two. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but there’s also nothing game-breaking, so we’ll call this one a win.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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