When Super Mario Kart debuted on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992, it delighted players with sharp graphics, catchy tunes, addictive gameplay and a cool cast of video game veterans. In the sequels that followed, the game used improving technology to build on a winning formula of Mushroom Kingdom charm, selling tens of millions of units in the process. Intrigued and desperate to cash in on the “licensed characters in go-karts” concept, competing video game studios started shoving every entertainment property available into cartoony conveyances. While many kart games are harmless and even entertaining diversions for racing fans, these ten Mario Kart rip-offs show that imitation is not always the most sincere form of flattery.
10) Konami Krazy Racers
Even though 90 percent of the playable drivers from Konami’s kart game come off as B-listers, the concept of playing as Goemon from the Legend of the Mystical Ninja Series along with Ninja from Metal Gear is fairly appealing. As inexpensive Game Boy Advance titles go, KKR is actually a pretty fun game. Problem is, the reason it’s fun is because it’s EXACTLY like Mario Kart. Almost every aspect of the game is analogous to MK to the point of distraction. “I just got a missile, um?that’s like a green shell, right?” Worst of all, the features this game doesn’t steal, it drops entirely. For example, rather than listing the differences between each playable kart, KKR leaves driver differences up to the player to discover. Is KKR worth the price of admission? Perhaps. It just doesn’t bring anything new or different to the table.
9) Sonic Drift 1 and 2
Forget for a moment that Sonic can tirelessly run at mind-boggling speeds and imagine the blue hedgehog having fun behind the wheel of a novelty racecar. Then imagine an Emerald Hills Zone paved over with Robotropolis’ finest asphalt. Throw in some of Mobius’ most colorful characters and that’s the premise behind Sonic Drift 1 and 2, both on Sega’s doomed handheld, the Game Gear. 1994’s Sonic Drift was never released in the US, instead it was repackaged with other Sonic titles throughout the years. Sonic Drift 2 hit stateside in 1995, with the name change to Sonic Drift Racing (as not to send die-hard Sonic fans into a state of panic for somehow missing the first game). This game incorporates amassing rings into the racing aspect of the game and has appropriate power-ups from Sonic lore. This game made the list because 1) The Game Gear, despite being the only color handheld gaming console at the time, could only be viewed at a perfect 180-degree angle, and 2) the incredibly low horizon line in each game negates any sense of depth and diminishes gameplay. At a time when Sega was a credible threat to Nintendo’s US supremacy, it wouldn’t have killed Sega to try a little harder and release a better version of these games on the more powerful Genesis.
8) Pac-Man World Rally
In Pac-Man World Rally, the characters from the Pac-Man World series of 3-D adventure games hop into wacky racing vehicles and vie for first place. This PlayStation game borrows from Pac-Man’s classic, orb-munching origins to give drivers something to swerve into while lapping 15 or so obstacle-laden tracks. The game comes off as uninspired in its MK borrowings, but the game gets some credit for logically throwing Pac-Man and family into yet another course full of power pellets. But to what end is Pac-Man racing? He and his female counterpart already competed with Mario and friends in the far superior Namco offering, the Mario Kart arcade game. Perhaps renewed passion for sweet, yellow loving blossomed between the two parties behind the wheel, and PWR is just a married couple’s attempt to stoke the embers of a waning romance?
7) Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour
If there’s one thing working against this game, it isn’t a lack of profitable source material?it’s Disney, for cripes sake! That said, one would think this game would be a slam-dunk for Eidos Interactive, especially considering the bevy of platforms it hit, including the PlayStation. This just isn’t the case, though. The list of tracks is impressive, consisting of many of Disney World’s best rides as racing courses?it’s the driver list that leaves a gaping wound in the hearts of gamers. There are 13 drivers to choose from, but for some reason only three of them are anybody anyone’s ever heard of. Chip and Dale are okay choices, especially when donned in their Rescue Rangers garb, but eternal guilt-tripper/buzzkill Jiminy Cricket isn’t exactly the spokesperson for daring driving exploits. In fact, ol’ Jiminy seems more likely to nag other racers to buckle up than he does to haul-ass for speed supremacy. This game could have had it all, but it stuck players with character names like “Ned Shredbetter.” Such a waste.
6) Woody Woodpecker Racing
To be even remotely fun, racing games require proper controls to simulate performance steering on all kinds of terrain. This kart incarnation of the smart-ass Woodpecker’s animated adventures just flat-out doesn’t have it, leaving painfully jerky gameplay to instigate as much rage as Woody’s maddening guffaw. Adding injury to insult, the characters are animated in the rich spirit of gross overcompensation. Each driver’s head warbles dramatically from side to side through turns, resulting in vicarious player whiplash. The graphics are also second rate (even for a rushed 2001 PC game), resulting in a sad experience for everyone involved, much like a woodpecker hitting a nail.
5) Digimon Racing
One creative aspect of this Game Boy Advance game is the chance for the Digimon drivers to “digivolve” into faster, better racers by driving through “data.” Even then, though, the controls are stiff and the drivable terrain is slim. Players get a good look at the course from a wide viewing angle, but there’s not much to look at other than patronizing turn indicators that annoyingly blink at every turn. When it comes to eating polite Japanese kids out of house and home, killing one another and speaking human languages (unlike their lazier Pok?mon competitors) Digimon are the champions. Their monstrous mitts just aren’t meant to hold a steering wheel.
4) Muppet Race Mania
Muppets with legs are kind of a godless sight. As much as we all love ’em, the fact is that dozens of sweaty, muscular arms are shoved up inside Kermit, Gonzo and the rest for our whimsical entertainment. It’s just the way nature intended. So when confronted with a cast of Muppet racers, legs and other off-camera appendages hanging out in plain view, it’s a damn unwelcome sight. That’s really the whole problem with this PlayStation game. If anything, it’s guilty of being too “Muppety.” There’s cut scenes from Muppet movies before each track, there are relentless out-of-character quips during races, a general sense-shattering saturation of wacky graphics and an almost inaudible Statler and Waldorf exchange after crossing the finish line. All of these elements just don’t mesh the way they should. The game comes off as awkward and disjointed as Miss Piggy singing with the Jonas Bros. (which actually happens on the Disney Channel). Perhaps a Muppet Babies racing game would have been a more straightforward gaming experience? Yes Nanny!
3) Smurf Racer
Socialism may be more en vogue today than when the Smurfs cartoon was on the air, what with the recent nationalization of the American banking system and all, but years ago when the Smurfs’ racing game hit the PlayStation, gamers were still wary of the blue boys and girl. Socialists competing in a race where there’s an individualized winner? There’s a heretical mixed message to children born during the Reagan era. The gameplay does little to console virtuous, red-blooded Americans what with two phallic-symbols twirling at the top of the screen at all times. If Gargamel weren’t so busy sampling the products of his (meth?) lab, maybe he could’ve squashed this entire game.
2) Chocobo Racing, PlayStation
Even die-hard fans of the beloved Final Fantasy series can sit this game out. RPG and tactics aficionados have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by playing a game that stains Square’s reputation. Honestly, once the novelty of seeing a few popular FF characters zoom through lackluster racetracks wears off, gamers are left with a shallow PlayStation disc. Characters are sized disproportionately to the tracks they race on, power-ups succeed only in choking the frame rate and the music is more goofy than epic. The game also lacks the subtle gravitas found in most other racing games. Unlike the adrenaline-igniting sound of a roaring engine, the delicate tap of Chocobo talons on soft dirt proves insipid rather than rousing. Players agreed and thankfully, this was the first and final Fantasy racing game.
1) Pocket Bike Racing
A self-deprecating ad campaign, a get-what-you-pay-for $3.99 (with the purchase of any artery-clogging value meal) price point and the world’s stupidest motorized conveyance all add up to a truly bizarre Xbox game. Starring Brooke Burke (huh?), The Burger King, The Subservient Chicken and others, BK’s pocket bike racing game is a hedonistic mess that even the most bored Xboxer should resent and avoid. Advertising junkies might appreciate the novelty of the game as a marketing tool or a collector’s item, but the racing itself is too frustrating to laugh off. Wonky controls and nebulous in-game physics result in the kind of blind rage reserved for only the most frustrating games. Worst of all, anyone who plays this game will have to live with the knowledge that they have been tricked into becoming pocket bike racing douchebags by a fast food chain. Nintendo would never do that.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.