Kart racing games are so infuriating. You can boost down straights with the speed of Lewis Hamilton, drift around corners with the skills of Colin McRae and take all the right shortcuts to get ahead of the pack and deliver a flawless lap, but there’ll always be someone hot on your tail ready to shove a turtle shell up your ass and ruin your moment of glory.
When that spinning turtle shell, or any other race-wrecking power-up for that matter, is in your hands however, then there’s nothing more satisfying than knocking someone off track just as they’ve zoomed around the final corner with that finishing line in sight. True to the spirit of the karting genre, LittleBigPlanet Karting is both those things; frustrating almost to the point of throwing your controller at the screen, yet completely empowering when you manage to nab first place when the odds seemed so stacked against you.
LBP Karting, which is essentially a mash-up of ModNation Racers and the LBP franchise, hits all the right buttons in terms of delivering an entertaining and competitive kart racing game. On the one hand it builds on the solid karting mechanics that United Front Games laid down in ModNation Racers, but then it combines those smooth controls with the colourful world of LittleBigPlanet and some of the themes and features that have made the SackBoy-fronted franchise so popular.
The striking visual style that we’ve become accustomed to in LBP is present in full effect, with impressive animation and colourfully themed tracks inspired directly by the LBP Universe and worlds such as Victoria’s Lab. No two tracks are the same so there’s a lot variety and as you’d expect there’s shortcuts, jumps, boost pads, power-ups and collectible prize bubbles that house items that can be used to customise racers, karts and entire tracks.
Both the audio and overall production is typical of the LBP franchise with vibrant colours, an array of weird and wacky objects and the pop-up book-style scenery providing a pleasant backdrop to the racing. The satisfying "popping" sound from collecting bubbles makes a return along with a host of impressive sound effects, while the soundtrack lives up to the quality of previous LBP games with a feel-good mix of original and licensed music.<
Among the power-ups available, there are heat-seeking missiles, grenades, EMPs and even the chance to ride on the top of an auto-piloted boxing glove to boost through the pack. There’s plenty of variation from the power-ups on offer that improve your performance, or destroy the hopes of others, and there’s a few items that we’ve never seen before in a karting game, such as the Lethaliser which enables you to turn large objects into hazards. It’s also nice to see some innovations with the inclusion of items such as the grappling hook which adds a platforming element to some races, allowing you to navigate across huge jumps with a well-timed press of a button to help you get ahead of your competitors.
On the track, the karts handle well though the speed of the races can feel a little sluggish if you’ve ever enjoyed the thrills of Mario Kart, while the long loading times do get a bit tedious. Nonetheless, as you’d expect from a karting game, races are ultra-competitive and exciting, and there’s strategy involved as you need to pick and choose when to use power-ups and when to hold back. The addition of collectible prize bubbles also gives you something else to aim for during each race and those who enjoy the thrill of “acing” a level will find plenty of replay value throughout the game.
Away from the ‘A’ to ‘B’ races against A.I. and human opponents, there’s a selection of entertaining mini-games and game modes. Among these are objective-based missions such as having to navigate a dinosaur egg into a scoring zone while the dinosaur mother (we presume) blasts fireballs at you. And there’s lots of fun to be had with the likes of the arena battles where eight players whizz around a compact area attempting to take out their opponents with a range of power-ups as the clock ticks down. What really sets LBP Karting apart from other games in this sub-genre however is the extent of the customisation options.
From within the LBP Karting pod, which is designed very much like the world hub in all LBP games, players can access the ‘Create’ options and change everything. If you’ve ever tried customisation in an LBP game before the set-up will be familiar, though may be daunting for newcomers. There’s a host of video tutorials though that explain the mass of options at your finger-tips extremely well before you embark on weapon cutomisation, choosing any object in the game and giving it a set of attributes, or creating an assortment of crazy looking SackBoy characters.
As you unlock more and more items, there’s an incredible amount of materials and objects that can be used to create your own tracks and these can be uploaded and shared with the LBP community. All the features of previous LBP games are present too, so you can vote on user-created tracks and not waste too much effort downloading some of the hundreds of tracks that just won’t be worth your time.
Overall, LBP Karting plays pretty much like any other decent kart racing game we’ve played. However, the addition of collectible bubbles and platforming elements delivers a fresh impetus, while the LBP style gives it an aesthetically pleasing appeal. What makes this karting game extra special though is the customisation options. Everyone should really try to create a track because there’s a brilliant tool-set on offer allowing you to be creative and let your imagination run free. LBP Karting is a lot of fun to play and with every race playing out differently there’s an infinite amount of competitive kart racing shenanigans to enjoy.