Kart racers have been a staple for several decades, with most platforms over the years offering titles for casual gamers- even the shambolic Nokia N-Gage saw Crash Nitro Kart 3D nestled amongst its limited collection of utter garbage, most of which was unworthy of even the scummiest of scrapheaps. The nineties were probably the golden era for the genre, as Super Mario Kart opened the door for every franchise imaginable to stick their logo on a racing game, with the likes of Sega, LEGO, Volkswagen and even Star Wars joining the party- I'm honestly surprised there isn't a cross-franchise Bandwagon Jumper currently gracing a second-hand bargain bin somewhere.
Thankfully, the trend died out eventually in the mid-noughties, and Mario Kart was left to quietly dominate the market and popular culture. Yet it appears the genre is witnessing somewhat of a renaissance, as titles like GRIP, Team Sonic Racing and Nickelodeon Kart Racers are all set to grace home consoles in the near future. It's a type of game appealing to both major game developers and indie studios alike, since the prospective gameplay is usually centred wholly around one thing alone- racing. This can prove hazardous though, as such games will invite scrutiny over its mechanics, presentation and most importantly, uniquity- you could make the smoothest-running kart racer imaginable, but if there's absolutely nothing novel about it then "Mario Kart clone" will be the first line of every review.
And that's where All-Star Fruit Racer enters the vehicular fray, promising an offbeat but strangely alluring alternative to its competitors. 3DClouds.it's debut work exited Steam Early Access in July, and console releases have followed this month. The question is, does Fruit Racer stand up on its own four wheels, or is it destined to join the ranks of the Galactic Republic's army of clones?
A storyline in an arcade racer is about as relevant and expected as an electric toothbrush in a Stone Age community- unless that community is The Flintstones. Yet I'm in the unprecedented position of actually wanting some form of context, because the game makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and nothing I've found does anything to enlighten me.
The game begins with the typical action-packed introductory cutscene present in literally every racing game since the dawn of time itself, accompanied by an EDM track which right from the first note makes my ears want to detach themselves from my head and emigrate to Canada.
One of the racers, Anny, seems to wake up from a daydream on the beach with the genius idea of organising a racing competition, and we subsequently witness a medley of different kart racers partaking in this seemingly inane exercise, using dangerous driving and an array of fruit-based weapons in an attempt to win a similarly fruit-based trophy, all the while being cheered on by living nuts. It's easy to see from this cutscene alone where the name Fruit Racing comes from.
Except that it's not as clear as it seems- who are these people? Why do they each have fruit fetishes? Why are the spectators nuts and seeds, and no males in sight? None of these questions are really answered, but I'm not sure they're supposed to be either. The racers are given names like "Anny" and "Cora", but their personality doesn't extend beyond which type of fruit they favour. While the "Fruit Racer" part of the title may have been validated, there's certainly nothing pointing to the "all-star" nature of these people- are they this world's equivalent of Formula 1 champions, or simply a fruity Kardashian family who have decided to resolve their petty squabbles through the medium of kart racing?
I get the feeling these are not the sort of thoughts that the developer expected me to have, and that instead, I should be focussing on the colourful world, challenging tracks and variety of fruity powerups. But dammit, I just want to know why these nuts have a giant pet snake and live in houses made of their own kind, in some form of twisted and macabre architecture.
All-Star Fruit Racing is lucky in a way, as I've never really played Mario Kart, so I didn't enter into the experience with any pro-plumber agenda. Unfortunately, though, just as everybody in life knows a Dave, so too do they know someone who has played Mario Kart– and it wasn't possible to test the multiplayer capabilities alone. Additionally, I have spent most of my childhood and adolescence playing Rollcage, Crash Team Racing, and LEGO Racers, three games which essentially cover everything that Fruit Racer offers, especially to a solo player. My past experiences have hence resulted in both a severe melanin deficiency and, more importantly, a jaded predisposition to kart racers.
And to absolutely nobody's amazement, All-Star Fruit Racing shares many of the same traits as its predecessors; drift boosting, powerups and kart customisation are all present tropes. Whilst the latter isn't included in many racers, it certainly isn't particularly novel; it's a nice cosmetic touch, but changing the tyres doesn't seem to affect handling or grip, nor does changing the nose cone make the kart noticeably more aerodynamic. The highlight of this feature is most definitely choosing which sound will emerge from your kart when you angrily hit the horn button following what is referred to in professional racing as "a dick move" by your opponents.
There is also a level of complexity in character selection which goes beyond the difficulty of handling the car; each racer has a special fruity ability which can make all the difference in a race; Giselle's AvocadoBite and Anny's Pineazooka focus on opponents in front of you, while Marion's Roller Peach acts as an obstacle to those behind. If you're constantly in last place, the abilities of characters like Marion and Cora have very little value, whereas always being in pole renders Pineazooka and SharkMelon's homing abilities useless.
The powerups are by far the highlight of All-Star Fruit Racing; true to its theme, collecting the different fruits scattered around the course adds to the "juicer", with four colours and fruits representing the four seasons, each with its own ability that can fuse together to create new combinations and effects. It's an interesting mechanic reminiscent of LEGO Racers and the nonplussing fusion mechanics of the early-naughties Yu-Gi-Oh! video games; providing you are normal and don't read the tutorial, it takes a race or two to learn which combinations are most fruitful (pun definitely intended), and while filling each segment of the juicer simultaneously unlocks your special ability, sometimes it's wiser to hold back on that and use a fused combination involving the boosting capabilities of spring or the snowball hazards of winter.
Thankfully, the game allows you to do just that, by separating each section of the juicer using the face buttons; whilst the controls aren't instinctively intuitive (who presses L1 for horns or R3 for powerups?), once you get the hang of it the game becomes much easier, and you don't rely on dumb luck and aimless button mashing to activate any old powerup like a monkey having a conniption fit.
The are six different race types which you'll encounter while playing the game; juicer, random juicer, dragster, elimination, random elimination and time attack. The first three follow a typical race format, with dragster being point-to-point or single lap events, rather than the circuitous juicers. The elimination modes are arguably the most fun, as during the race a timer will begin, and the person in last place when the countdown reaches zero is- you guessed it- eliminated. This can be rather enjoyable and competitive providing the pack stays together, as positions can change rapidly depending on the powerups, track obstacles and general driving ability- which in my case is nonexistent.
While juicer is essentially a standard race with the basic game mechanics, random juicer replaces the fruit collecting element and makes every pickup one random powerup- thereby removing the only truly unique aspect of the game and rendering it as banal and randomised as Mario or CTR. Finally, time attack is a one-lap time trial with no opposition to worry about- but getting gold is easier said than done, and the number of times giant letters appeared on my screen telling me I'm sub-par was depressing.
All-Star Fruit Racer's solo experience comes in the form of a career mode which pits you against AI racers who can be just as annoying as real humans, in fruit-themed cups consisting of combinations of the aforementioned race types, with three different degrees of difficulty which unlock as you progress. It is a somewhat rewarding experience for an hour or so, as while your skills steadily improve, so too do you unlock more tracks, characters, customisation options, blah blah. The real question, though, is how much you'll unlock before getting too bored and moving on to something else entirely.
The game can also be played online with up to eight people. I can't really complain that games like Rollcage or ReVolt did this better, as they didn't do that at all. What I will say, however, is that to me the true essence of a kart racer is borne of a group of friends gathered around the same TV inexplicably attempting to ruin relationships and start petty feuds over results and dirty manoeuvres, something which doesn't quite translate for me into online multiplayer- even if the seven others you are racing against are people you know and actively dislike enough to warrant playing the game with.
Graphics and sound
It is no understatement to say that All-Star Fruit Racing is very bright and colourful, sometimes to an overly garish extent- Fruit Racing's equivalent of Rainbow Road takes place on the body of a multicoloured snake which genuinely gave me a headache after no more than a minute.
The loading screens are similarly colourful and well detailed, with the addition of fruit-based trivia which may well serve as decent icebreakers at vegetarian parties. It is when the race begins that things go slightly downhill. In some places, the textures seemed a bit choppy, as if they hadn't rendered properly, and occasionally karts would clip through seemingly invisible walls- this was more noticeable in split-screen, however, when the engine has to deal with more than one maniac pressing buttons on a controller at the same time. To give the game credit, there is a lot of detail on the tracks' ambient scenery- unfortunately, most of it goes unnoticed as you're trying to stay on the track and avoid obstacles and other racers.
In addition, the GUI is indeed rather gooey- white on pink isn't exactly the best colour combination when the text on the main menu is smaller than a raisin, and the giant graphic which obscures the screen frequently in elimination mode is offputting, to say the least- my "friend" actually drove off the track in split screen because they couldn't see where they were going. There's also no map in local multiplayer, just a graphic showing who is in the lead; tricky turns and perilous pathways thus remain elusive to those who haven't memorised the tracks beforehand. It's irksome features like this that prevent Fruit Racing from offering the streamlined experience you hope for in a casual game like this.
The audio isn't one of the game's shining features, either. EDM aside, there is a mix of soundtracks present in the races, some of which seem slightly out of place- a dinosaur-themed level had classical music playing in what I can only assume was an after-school Jurassic Park knock-off. It isn't long before the loading and victory screen music gets repetitive and annoying, though, and the only sound bites of note are an overly twee "let's fruit!" and "let's win!", both of which sound like catchphrases ripped from the front of tacky children's' T-shirts.
The racers' characterisations are exhibited solely through sight, without any unique musical themes or voices; deaf people wouldn't miss anything, and are actually probably better off not having to listen to the same looping track every three minutes. The only memorably decent part of the audio comes from the horn noises- be it a cow, chicken or that annoying novelty horn that everybody knows but can't name (you know the one, "duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh-duh-duh-duh!"). Even as I'm writing, I'm trying to figure out what exactly it is.
All-Star Fruit Racing is certainly unique in some ways; its surreal niche aesthetic is unparalleled amongst anything short of Fruit Ninja, and its kart customisation offers a level of depth sadly missing from many of its contemporaries; not to mention genuinely interesting fruit trivia during the loading screens.
Yet it does not offer anything particularly revolutionary or finely polished enough to warrant its £34.99 console retail price. While there is a career mode, online multiplayer and time attack, each of these has been done better in preceding titles as far back as the nineties, and All-Star Fruit Racing does not provide anything sufficiently magical which makes you want to play for a prolonged period of time, be it alone, with friends, or complete strangers- the fact that the trophy awarded for five hours of playtime is called "Are you still here?" is a testament to its lack of longevity.
The game's saving grace is that there doesn't appear to be any decent competition on Xbox or PlayStation at present, so, for now, it is certainly the best title to get a fix on current gen consoles, if you don't have access to Mario Kart. Considering the bigger name releases like Sonic and Nickelodeon heading to consoles in the near future with similar price tags, however, All-Star Fruit Racing is likely to be left by the wayside and quickly forgotten, just like the countless New Year's resolutions to eat more fruit that we've all made and subsequently disregarded.
If your heart is truly set on purchasing this fruit-based racer, I recommend going for the significantly cheaper Steam version- but personally, if you're a one-person band without friends to play with and have a computer manufactured after 1998, I advise you find yourself a copy of LEGO Racers instead and have a similar level of fun for significantly less money.
|+ Unique theme||– Gets repetitive quickly|
|+ Interesting powerup mechanic||– Issues with split screen|
|+ Kart customisation||– Nothing particularly new or revolutionary|
|+ Decent kart racer for PS4/Xbox users||– Comparably pricey|