Over the last few years, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the frequency of licensed Kart Racers, with brands ranging from Garfield to Ryan’s Toy Reviews trying to get in on the action. Most of these games stand as nothing more than a quick cash grab, with little effort and care going into the design, but Smurfs Kart stands out in this sea of sub-mediocrity as an incredibly derivative, but well-built racing game.
The secret to both the successes and failures in the game come from its developer Eden Games’ storied history with the genre. The France-based studio has exclusively built simulation racers for well over a decade, but in their latest foray, they instead looked to the behemoth that is Mario Kart for inspiration.
Smurfs Kart is now available on Nintendo Switch
Story: Little More Than Nothing
For fans of the kart racing genre, it won’t come as a surprise when I say there is little to no story to be seen here. The main draw for Smurfs Kart is unsurprisingly the lovable cast of iconic little blue people, the Smurfs. The game’s primary mode, grand prix, is divided up into three cups with their own unique themes. Over the course of the game’s short run of 12 tracks, players explore everything from towering canyons to dark, dank interiors.
The one striking issue with this mode is the lack of diversity within the cups themselves. The Village cup, as an example, features 3 tracks that take place within the hidden forest village, and one track that takes you to the beaches far outside the town square. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the locations it focuses on were interesting to explore on their own, but for the most part they just simply aren’t. Many of the courses fall a little too squarely into their cups, leading to one environment feeling almost exactly the same as the next.
However, what the courses lack in creativity, they more than make up for in playability. Eden Games generally took great care in making the 3 cups as accessible and fun to play as possible. There were very few moments in my time playing that I wasn’t fully invested in the race going on in front of me, and I believe much of that comes down to the course layouts themselves, and the unique focus on verticality and scale offered by the small size of the racers.
The titular Smurfs suffer from the same issues as the tracks, unfortunately, with one showing little more personality than another. Other than their character models, the only difference between the racers is their kart design and signature items.
Limited customization options for players should, theoretically, be a massive detriment to this game. In action though, I’m glad each character has their own distinct kart and item, as it’s just about the only thing separating them from blending into one big blue blur.
Gameplay: Familiar Fun
Where the game truly shines is the racing mechanics themselves. Smurfs Kart is aware that it’s living in Mario Kart’s shadow, and it embraces that fact fully. The moment-to-moment gameplay is ripped almost directly from the aforementioned series, down to the items. Though they may look different, items like the red shell and speed mushrooms are here and are functionally the same.
Does it take this imitation too far at times? Absolutely, but when the game you’re shamelessly replicating is as fun as Mario Kart, it almost doesn’t matter.
The game manages to copy these controls from Nintendo to a nearly flawless degree. Handling is super precise even at top speeds, and with an abundance of shortcuts, the routes offered on each course are varied enough that grinding away at first-place victories is more fulfilling than it has any right to be. There are two speeds, “Fun” which promises a balanced race for the whole family, and “Hyperspeed.” The latter not only increases vehicle speed but AI difficulty as well, giving a more thrilling experience to genre veterans.
The game has three modes to choose from; Grand Prix, Time Challenge, and Free Race. These are all pretty standard fare for this type of game, with Grand Prix and Free Race allowing players to play through the traditional 4-race cups, and Time Challenge, which pits players looking for a challenge against ghostly apparitions of varying skill levels to try and get the fastest time possible on any single course.
Instead of collecting coins to unlock car parts, this game has you unlocking stickers simply by playing. These aren’t used for anything but are fun to collect, and I’m sure the completionists out there will adore them.
It wouldn’t be a kart racer without multiplayer, and this game delivers on that in (almost) every way. Smurfs Kart features multiplayer for up to four players, and the experience is buttery smooth. I noticed very few frame drops even with all four players on screen, which is rare for a racer on Nintendo Switch.
As of writing this review, there is no option for online multiplayer. Eden Games is clearly hoping to reach to an audience of families looking for something to play together on their couch, and while I’m sure that target audience will find no issues with this, it’s a glaring omission given how much fun the game’s multiplayer mode is.
Graphics and Sound: Surprising Beauty
I won’t lie, I went into Smurfs Kart expecting nothing more than a visually bland mess. Licensed games these days tend to be churned out for a quick buck, why expect anything different here? Against all odds, I found it to be one of the most visually impressive games I’d played on the switch.
Smurfs Kart aims to replicate the style of the most recent TV series, and it nails it in every way. Eden Games accomplishes something mighty here, with gorgeous cartoony environments and perfect lighting to boot. The game is locked at 30fps, but it uses this limit well, with almost no stuttering to be seen.
The visuals in this game make most tracks easy to read and fun to watch. That is, with the exception of one course in the final cup, foggy and dark enough that it’s easy to miss certain turns and obstacles. That’s a very small gripe though, given just how much Eden Games tries to pull off here.
This game is accompanied by a frenetic big-band soundtrack, providing the game with that little extra boost of energy it needs to make the slower-speed races that much more fun. Each circuit has its own theme, giving them their own distinct sonic identities.
Smurfs Kart was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with key provided by Microids.