|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Electronic Arts||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 12, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
NASCAR is, not surprisingly, a pretty niche sport (although frankly, I can't imagine why a sport involving amazingly fast cars zipping around a track at hundreds of miles an hour doesn't have more universal popularity). Electronic Arts has the rights to NASCAR, but rather than churning out a traditional racing game in the spirit of NASCAR, EA instead opted to create a more family-friendly racing game for the Wii in the form of NASCAR Kart Racing. While NASCAR fans will likely be disappointed, this is a surprisingly solid Mario Kart clone. Don't expect anything groundbreaking or innovative from the title, but at the very least it's a respectable game.
It goes without saying that when a kart racing game is released, there's a really good chance that it's going to be a Mario Kart clone. The problem with this, of course, is that even when your rip-off is done well, it's still just a rip-off. Ultimately, that's probably the biggest problem with NASCAR Kart Racing. If this game existed in a vacuum, it wouldn't be difficult to recommend. But, compared to the likes of Mario Kart Wii, it's difficult to justify spending money on this game.
Not surprisingly, NASCAR Kart Racer pretty much does away with what you would expect from a traditional NASCAR game. There's nothing about this game that works as a racing simulation, and instead it plays as a much more hectic, over-the-top racer. Much like Mario Kart, it features unrealistic gameplay mechanics like boosting, power-sliding, and items that affect the outcome of the race.
As you race, you'll pick up a variety of different items that can be used to the benefit of yourself or the detriment of your opponents. For example, you have rockets that you can fire at other racers or oil slicks that cause opponents to spin out. There's even a shameless Mario Kart rip-off that is essentially identical to the Lightning Bolt, which causes every other racer to shrink in size. Frankly, the items are one of the weakest components of the game, just because there's nothing there that you haven't already seen a million times.
One of the truly interesting things about NASCAR Kart Racing is how you'll go through each and every race with a partner, rather than taking down the competition on your own. You and your partner have combined stats, and more important is the fact that you'll be constantly working together throughout the race. You'll work with your partner to take down rival racers, which is neat. But, the coolest part of the partner system is that when you and your partner are close together, your boost meter will fill up quickly. When it's full and your partner is still around, you can launch the Slingshot technique which, true to the name, essentially flings you further up ahead. The cooperation aspect of the game has been well-developed and, even better, it's not a common implementation in racing games.
The tracks are also surprisingly well-done, ranging from a single traditional NASCAR circuit to much more interesting, varied tracks made specifically for this game. The tracks are actually a lot of fun to play, with lots of turns, jumps, and shortcuts. Admittedly, there are only 12 tracks in NASCAR Kart Racing (compared to Mario Kart Wii's 16 tracks). However, each of these 12 tracks can be played in both directions, which essentially doubles the number of tracks. The second half of the tracks aren't entirely new, because you have seen the environments before. But, for the most part, there's enough interesting driving to be had on each of the tracks that playing a course in the reverse direction feels like a new racing experience.
There's also a variety of control schemes, which not surprisingly are essentially identical to those offered in Mario Kart Wii. You can use tilt control with the Wii Remote and, of course, you can also use the Wii Wheel peripheral. The controls are intuitive and simple, which is certainly fitting for an accessible, family-friendly racing game.