DreamWorks Super Star Kartz
3DS | Activision / Virtuos | 1 Player | Out Now
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13th December 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
Super Star Kartz features a host of characters from various DreamWorks properties including Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, with King Julien from the Madagascar movies being the host of the races. Aside from the playable characters you can unlock from each of these properties, characters like Pinocchio and Gloria make appearances in the respective film-centered levels. The premise of a themed kart racer has been explored time and time again with varying degrees of success. Still, you don't really need much in the way of preliminaries to get things going. Just get a good cast of characters together, mix in some good tracks for good measure and you'll be more or less set. What does involve more effort, though, is making sure the game turns out to be more than just a Mario Kart knock-off and is able to hold its own. Let me tell you, I was in for a shock when I pried this game open.
As with any standard kart racer, you have three main classes that make up the Circuit Mode, with an unlockable Mirror Mode for added challenge. Quick Race allows you to select one of the 12 tracks you've already unlocked with a simple competition in mind, while Time Trial will apply more goal-oriented principles to the mix. Lastly, six different kinds of missions await you in Challenge mode, including Pure Races where you need to win without the use of items, or duel-based Superstar Races where you face more challenging rivals.
So that's that for modes. How about gameplay? Well, basic driving mechanics are present here, with the A Button used for forward acceleration, B for braking and reversing, and the Circle Pad to control movement. Pressing Up or Down on the +Control Pad while in mid-air will perform a short or long stunt respectively, best executed when you go off ramps. Pressing the R Button on the back of the handheld will execute a small hop, followed by a drift when the button is held down. Also, driving closely behind other rivals will allow you to automatically draft off their speed. All the racing is viewed on the 3D Screen, with the Touch Screen being used to host a simple map of the track you're playing on. In case you're wondering, the use of 3D is somewhat evident in a few places (like when you have an incoming item on your tail), but it's hardly noteworthy.
With respect to item use, there are bouncy Pumpkin Bombs that replace Koopa Shells, Viking Shields that you can chuck at other opponents or use as a shield around your kart, shield potions, and more. You can hold two items at once, with the X Button allowing you to switch the item order and the L Button to actually use it. Aside from the invincibility-granting Quantonium item, everything here has been seen before in one form or another across the many kart racers you've likely played over the years. Character-specific attacks known as Star Moves are also present in the game, enabled once you collect six Stars on the track. The abilities I saw weren't exciting at all, and some of them weren't even executed well from a technical standpoint.
Keeping with the theme of this being a generic racer, the level design is mediocre at best. However, with the exception of one level where the boost pads led you towards a wall, I didn't find any of the tracks to be abysmal. More surprising is the length of some of the later tracks where doing three laps becomes boring, like with the Africa level. Not necessarily because of the duration, but because of what takes place during that time. Additionally, whenever they are present, shortcuts are usually obscure and somewhat infrequent, usually sticking to branching pathways instead. Although I am thankful the track layouts slightly surpassed my low expectations, this is the part of the review where I'm going to switch gears and reveal to you just how messy and problematic the actual game design is.
Just in keeping on the subject of track design, there were multiple occasions where my character would go up walls, or worse, bounce off walls like a ball instead of coming to a halt. What may appear average suddenly seems flawed in certain respects, something that's compounded even further when you try to get used to the drifting system. Because of the curving effect that takes place after the fact, the drifting mechanics are not conducive to players performing multiple drifts one after the other. Even just ignoring the fact that the control isn't all there, some of the tracks clearly didn't have drifting in mind when they were designed as you'll find yourself bouncing off walls while trying to enjoy a burst of speed from a successful drift. Yet another reason why the level designs are prone to critical inspection. There are other aspects that don't work very well in terms of gameplay, like the fact that there's a pointless seven-second delay after getting hit by an attack. But what takes the cake is the truly awful presentation.
I was honestly flabbergasted at all the mistakes they made here, to the point that I didn't know where to begin when I was writing this review. First and foremost, the visuals. The environment "art" (if you can call it that) is underwhelming, uses unattractive colours, and just looks universally in need of a therapy session. Anytime a level featured background elements like lava or water, it would practically be represented as a solid colour! Surely they can do better than that! At times, bubbles or splashes of mud would appear behind your kart as you crossed different terrain, but this always looked poor. Moreover, you'll see that many of the environments look unstable with elements that blink on and off like a light switch. There were even times when Star pick-ups on the track would look fine as you saw them ahead of you, but as you got close to them they would disappear then reappear when you passed over them. Clearly, the game engine used to develop this game is in serious need of an overhaul! And that's not all...
The framerate in this game is also awful. Even when it can seem to sit still in a level, the regular pace is not even close to being 60 FPS. Frankly, the map on the Touch Screen is more fluid than the actual game! As a result of the unforgivably bad framerate, the speed fluctuates on a regular basis, causing some levels to appear as though they're running at a faster rate than others.
All of this has a direct bearing on other aspects of the game's presentation. For example, the camera, while not as terrible as the aforementioned flaws, sometimes has a bit of trouble when reversing in some areas. Also, due to the sloppy engine, animations of fellow racers are totally cringe-worthy. They look as though they're running at half the FPS the game is, and that's unacceptable. When they get hit by an item, it looks like a jumpy stop motion video is taking place on-screen. This is also reflected in the dragons that appear at the sides of certain levels, as well as the abrupt and extremely weak-looking aura that pops up at the front of your kart when attempting to draft. The programming is seriously flawed to the point that it reflects really badly on both the developer and the publisher.
Continuing with the list of offenses, there was one point during my initial session when the game froze...or so I thought. Trying to figure out what went wrong, I happened to look down on the Touch Screen where I saw a blue box that looked like it came from an older Windows OS! The text inside the box read, "You now have been playing for 20 minutes. Would you like to take a break?" Even if it was just for a few seconds, I think anyone who saw it would agree with me when I say it was poorly implemented. Is there anything redeeming about the audio at all? A bit, yes. While it is odd that there are no sound effects to be heard on menus and one of the intro tunes sounded like generic TV material, voice actors did lend their voices to each person on the character roster. Phew! Okay, I think I'm done now.
In spite of everything I just said, the game isn't broken. While the poor presentation may suck the life out of an otherwise okay title, the stunt system does help counter the sloppy framerate...slightly. With lots of item boxes to be found and AI that usually goes easy on you, you shouldn't find it difficult to reach first place and maintain that position. As I said before, the game only contains 12 different tracks, three of which are just nighttime variations of pre-existing levels. But to encourage replay value of what really is a small game, there are 76 special collectibles in the shape of the DreamWorks logo hidden somewhere on each track. It does help encourage players to explore a bit, but it's all for naught when the game itself isn't fun to play.
After being subjected to the unmistakable flaws of the game's presentation and everything included in that, you'll see no reason to stick it out -- especially when there are better racing games available on this platform. The game engine is plain bad, resulting in a low-grade experience altogether. The fact that there are no multiplayer components whatsoever really seals the deal. DreamWorks Super Star Kartz is a completely worthless kart racer. Without a doubt, this is the worst game I've played on the 3DS thus far. Truly shameful work.
10/30 - Simply Awful
Gameplay 5/10 - Mediocre level design, a copycat formula with no originality, stunt system, controls work fine, minor flaws including the delay in item use
Presentation 2/10 - Sloppy programming affects every area of the game, abundant flaws, bland aesthetics, the fact that it's still playable is a saving grace
Enjoyment 1/5 - Poor presentation sucks the life out of it, the fun factor is nearly non-existent especially because of the copycat formula, boring tracks
Extra Content 2/5 - Collectible items in the shape of the DreamWorks logo, low value, only 12 tracks, no multiplayer component, Mirror races, challenges
Equivalent to a score of 33% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System