Developer: Nordic Games
Publisher: Wired Productions
Nordic Games, the plucky Wii outfit best known for their We Sing and We Dance series, have decided to branch out from their traditional polished musical portfolio into the murky realms of Kart racing. There's certainly room in the once-crowded marketplace for another karting game - after all, it's difficult to beat the raw and engaging fun of arcade action against a few friends. And of course, that Nintendo franchise provides a perfect framework to clone without shame or pity.
Whoops. I'd hoped to get more than a single paragraph into this review before mentioning the C-word. 'Clone' has become a nasty and demeaning label throughout recent years, but it's worth noting that there are two very distinct species. Some developers take inspiration from good places while correcting flaws in the formula, adapting age-old clichés into new and exciting experiences or moulding them onto different platforms. Unfortunately, Jungle Kartz is the second kind: an under-developed cookie-cutter catastrophe that reminds us of exactly why the Karting genre has fallen from grace.
Interestingly, though, it does showcase a seriously neat peripheral. The Inflatakart.
Jungle Kartz harks back to the bad old days of karting games. There once was a time when studios could cobble together a few characters from a popular movie or videogame franchise, design a few tracks, make some go-karts and call it a day; safe in the knowledge that their derivative and lacklustre product would probably shift a few copies on the back of its license. This generation's focus on quality and value have started to squash this development philosophy and the decline of the genre, but Jungle Kartz inexplicably clings to the dark arts: shamelessly going through the motions without adding any personality, innovation or even quality of its own. Not to mention that it doesn't even have a license to fall back on.
Kid-friendly animal characters with no motivations beyond inexplicably being kart racers? Check. Adorable jungle setting and a range of different tracks? That's a big check. Shortcuts and unique track hazards? Nowhere near enough. Fun? Err... don't count on it. Though a couple of courses feature the occasional corner to cut, speed panel or jump, the vast majority are interchangeable barren wastelands with little to challenge you beyond wrestling with the cornering. The tilt-controlled racing itself is mechanically suspect, featuring floaty steering and automatic drifting that tends to result in an aggravating loss of speed. Collisions with other racers, touching the track walls or slightly clipping on scenery objects mid-jump lock you into painfully slow crawls (or flips, if you're especially unlucky). And, damningly, none of the limited selection of different cars offer a genuine sense of velocity despite markedly different handling characteristics.
Unlocking tracks and a small selection of new vehicles requires you to engage in some time trial events, which prove to be more trouble than they're worth. Without the meagre amusement provided by your emotionless fellow racers, your lonely journey throughout the spartan tracks highlights the sluggish pace of the action and the bland, uninspired course design. Multiplayer obviously fares much better, with a tournament mode allowing you to show down in a four-race fixture, but this is due to the fun of sharing any experience with friends as opposed to any genuine degree of racing competency.
Kart games need powerups. Obviously. With this in mind, Jungle Kartz manages to shoehorn in a standard selection of rockets, shields, ink splats and bombs. With the exception of a speed boost, these items typically offer no real gameplay benefit whatsoever as projectiles frequently clip through rivals or sail harmlessly over their heads for reasons best known to Newton. Critically, without any real way of evening the playing field, races soon descend into humiliating unwinnable slogs behind perpetually-distant opponents or unassailable, unchallenged leads depending on whether your kart happens to favour the track geometry.
Eight blocky anthropomorphic characters (including a tigress, ant, gorilla and what appears to be some sort of jaundiced lizard) ought to provide very different racing experiences, but I'm willing to admit that I don't actually know whether they boast different stats. There's no indication in the game's interface or instruction manual, and in practice, there's very little differentiation between them. Without any expressive animations or even sound effects of any kind, your choice of racer boils down to the fact that each character receives a small speed advantage on a certain selection of tracks. Which, bizarrely, is nowhere near as unbalanced as it sounds. Scoring well in time trials usually comes down to choosing the right racer for the course, though in multiplayer, hard-fought wins can become hollow victories as your fellows contemptuously dismiss your gruelling efforts as home field advantage.
Jungle Kartz is graphically horrendous even when solely compared to other Wii games. Shockingly poor texture work and jaggy modelling conspire to deliver primitive visuals that, embarrassingly and without hyperbole, would not have looked out of place two console generations ago. But looks alone aren't necessarily that important, and I've personally championed many Wii games that overcome the platform's limitations with imaginative and vibrant artistic flair. In contrast, Jungle Kartz' major flaw is that it simply has no personality whatsoever. The aforementioned spartan track design is compounded by featureless backdrops and some breathtakingly barren environments that squander the potentially colourful setting. The animals don't speak, roar, squeak or assert their own unique character in any way. A low-resolution soundtrack is more twee than tween. There's raw value to be found here - over thirty different tracks in fact - but quantity is nothing without soul to keep you plowing through it.
What ultimately places Jungle Kartz beyond all recommendation is a lack of attention to detail and willingness to provide contemporary features. The GUI and menus are simplistic and ugly to the extreme, and for the life of me, I can't work out why player names aren't displayed on scoreboards even though you have to enter them when creating new accounts. Online scoreboards and ghosts are completely absent - and even last year's Hot Wheels tie-in managed to throw a track editor together. It's a fine example of what happens when teams set out to deliver on a checklist of tropes rather than passionately developing an idea from inception, in effect, doing as little as possible in order to fulfil an age-old template. Some might argue that it's just a kid's game, but as far as I'm concerned, everyone deserves good games regardless of their age.
The Inflatakart Effect
There's a caveat to this review - and it's a big, bouncy rubberised one at that. Jungle Kartz acts as the debut for the Inflatakart: an inflatable gaming chair shaped like a go-kart with a plastic steering wheel to house a WiiMote. It's tough, well-machined and surprisingly comfortable, and even though teenagers/ adults will find it difficult to squeeze inside (it's designed for 7-11 year olds, sorry), the raw sillyness factor does actually make the game much more fun.
Since the Inflatakart is compatible with any Wii racing title (and can be bought solus), we're going to review it separately as a standalone product. To be blunt, it deserves better than this.
- Lots of tracks
- You can get it bundled with an Inflatakart
- Kids will love the Inflatakart, because it's awesome
- Suspect karting mechanics
- Soulless and bereft of personality
- Under-featured, under-developed and outgunned by even ancient competitors
The Short Version: Jungle Kartz is a redundant, hopeless throwback that fails to realise its already-meagre potential.