When it comes to karting games, you can either try something new in an attempt (and likely failure) to reinvent the genre, or you can play it safe and just take notes from Mario Kart.
Smurfs Kart has absolutely no smokes about going with the latter option, with barely a shred of originality to be found in its game design. But you know something? That isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, this decision to borrow heavily from the best — coupled with developer Eden Games’ (Test Drive Unlimited) form in the racing genre — means Smurfs Kart is a decent little racer.
There’s no need to be sitting down while you read this, because nothing we’re going to tell you about Smurfs Kart’s structure is going to stun you in your boots. You already know the drill. It’s a karting game starring characters from everyone’s favorite blue Belgians (with apologies to fans of football team Club Brugge, or a drowned Tintin).
The roster consists of 12 of the navy numpties, from well-established favorites like Papa Smurf, Jokey, and Smurfette to others that old farts like us admittedly aren’t as familiar with, such as Blossom, Astro Smurf, and the mechanical Clockwork Smurf . Each has their own voice acting and their own personality, meaning they each feel about as unique as a dozen completely blue characters can possibly feel. Each also has their own unique kart, which can’t really be customized in any way but at least fits the personality of the Smurf driving it.
There are two speed settings to choose from – Fun and Hyperspeed – which work exactly like the ‘cc’ ratings in Mario Kart, not only increasing each kart’s top speed but also upping the AI difficult level significantly.
Once you’re on the track, anyone who’s played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (which is practically everyone, according to sales figures) will feel immediately at home with the handling, which isn’t an exact facsimile but is close enough that you’ll have adjusted by the first race. That is, assuming you haven’t accidentally turned on the driving aids by mistake like we did. Much like Mario Kart, it’s possible to turn on assists for younger players – these stop you going off the track, keep you accelerating, and let you steer with motion controls. It’s possible to accidentally turn these on during the pause or character select screens but they’re just as easily turned off again.
Power sliding is your typical hop-and-slide method you see in Nintendo’s game, and you get your typical three-stage sparks when sliding which determine how fast your speed boost is when you come out of the turn. It charges a bit faster here than in Mario Kart but otherwise it’s the same thing.
Same deal with power-ups. Coins are replaced by Smurfberries and most of the typical Mario Kart weapons are in here too under a different guise. Green shells are acorns, red shells are bees, bananas are clumps of dirt, that sort of stuff. It’s all straightforward, it’s all Mario Kart, it’s all easy to learn.
This would all be for naught if the game ran like absolute Smurf but that’s actually one of the few genuine surprises we had while playing Smurfs Kart – this is quite a pretty game when all’s said and done. The frame rate isn’t 60 frames per second like Mario Kart is, but while it’s 30fps it’s at least an extremely solid 30, unlike some other karting games on the Switch (we’re looking at you, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3). And that drop to 30 has clearly been made to ensure the game looks as detailed as possible.
And to be honest, it really does look lovely at times. If it isn’t running at native 1080p resolution while docked, it must be really close to it, and there are some really lovely lighting effects there coupled with detailed characters and tracks. Unless you vomit at anything less than 60fps, you’ll be surprised at how impressive it looks whether docked or handheld.
It isn’t without its negatives, mind you, and the most notable of these is in the number of tracks available. Each track is well designed and a joy to race around, and they aren’t just lazily arranged flat surfaces: there’s been clear effort here to make them fun, with pretty much each of them offering some sort of shortcut and some even featuring different routes altogether.
They even manage to feel diverse when the setting is the same. A few of the tracks take place in the Smurfs’ village, and while the initial flyovers for each of them look worryingly similar, once the races start there’s a clear variety between, for example, the course that winds in between their houses and the one set in their huge cornfields.
The main problem is that there are only 12 courses to choose from, split into three cups. While it’s possible to unlock mirror versions of these, that’s still not a hell of a lot of variety for a $40 / £45 game. Multiplayer is local split-screen-only, too, with no online play to keep you occupied. It really won’t be long until you’ve thoroughly played each track inside-out, and while this may not be a massive issue for younger players, older fans will get a bit smurfed off after a while.
That said, there’s also a Sticker Album in the game which awards players for performing certain achievements, including winning certain numbers of races with specific characters. This should add a bit of longevity and give players a reason to take on each track for the umpteenth time. Ultimately, though, this lack of content is the only main issue – albeit a pretty big one – in a surprisingly well-made karting game.
On the track, Smurfs Kart pulls off a surprisingly solid imitation of Mario Kart, with satisfying handling and some wonderful visuals (albeit at 30fps). In the grand leaderboard of Switch karting games, it’s not quite going to trouble the podium places, but it’s certainly lingering just behind the front-runners and definitely delivers an entertaining time, even if it’s as short as its subject matter. A lack of courses is what keeps it from being one of the very best karting games on the Switch, but they certainly haven’t smurfed this one up.