As LittleBigPlanet Karting has recently emerged, finally providing a mascot-backed karter for the current generation of Sony fans, we thought it'd be nice to look back on another game that tried to deliver a Mario Kart rival for a platform not owned by Nintendo.
Released in 1994 by Beavis Soft and Apogee, Wacky Wheels was supposed to be the PC's answer to Super Mario Kart. Of course you don't go up against the champion without some serious firepower, so Beavis Soft brought a comprehensively packed karter to the table, combined with a shareware model that often proved too enticing to pass up.
Instead of stepping behind the wheel as a dungaree'd plumber, though, you were thrown into the roles of a variety of zoo animals. After all, racing humans always seems so redundant when you can play as a camel, or a tiger, or a shark! Naturally, there had to be weapons, and so every single track was littered with hedgehogs that could be amassed and then flung at rivals. Oil slicks acted like SMK's banana peels, there were fireballs you could fire individually or deploy all at once to span the width of the track, and you could even instruct a devil to obscure the view of your competitors by fluttering directly in front of their karts and waggling there hairy, red bums in the faces of fellow racers.
Of course, without a history of mascot-fronted quality, Beavis Soft were forced to create little vignettes of character and personality wherever they could. Your fellow racers would mock you as they overtook; the hedgehogs would all be doing different things - scuba diving, sweeping, or even reading a newspaper on the loo; there were even Giggle keys that allowed you to send messages to your friends mid-race such as "Learn to drive" and "Prepare to die!". I particularly enjoyed the way there were occasionally water hazards on a number of tracks that, if you ran too wide and triggered, would cause your kart to submerge, halving your speed, and replacing it with a periscope and a submarine klaxon.
The sheer amount of content on offer made Wacky Wheels an incredibly attractive proposition too. In the days before widespread internet, splitscreen PC multiplayer was still often a novelty, but Wacky Wheels allowed two-player, head-to-head modes via modem connection, serial link, or on the same computer. As well as a singleplayer component that served up three classes of difficulty across 21 tracks over two different speeds, you could race or battle with your friends, with six arenas serving up a frenetic Battle Mode, alongside a Duck Hunt mode that saw you competing across leaderboards to see who could hit the most ducks on wheels with their catapulted hedgerow-dwellers.
PETA probably wouldn't have been too happy about that.
But as our recent LBPK review has shown, you don't need much to create an addictive karting game. As genre, it's perfectly suited to consoles thanks to its pick up and play appeal. Yet here was a worthy pretender, not only packing more content than Super Mario Kart, but also offering a much fairer and more consistent level of artificial intelligence. No rubber banding for these zoo animals. Sure, it was never going to win any awards for graphical detail, and the framerate was average at best, but it meant that it could be played on virtually any system and, thanks to shareware, you could try it out extensively before you handed over any money.
In fact, you still can.