Rated 4 out of
A competent, Dreamworks-themed Mario Kart wannabe
Dreamworks Superstar Kartz is a competent Mario Kart wannabe that features characters and locations from Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek, and Monsters vs. Aliens. You race around the movie-themed tracks, trying to come in first, while collecting and zapping your opponents with weapons/items you find in boxes on the road and you can also build up turbo power by powersliding around corners. Additionally, each character has a unique super move that can be used twice in a single race (for example, Donkey has a revolving trio of Dronkey babies that function as both a shield and optional projectiles).
The graphics are pretty nice (the 3D action is displayed on the DS' top screen while a map of the track is shown on the bottom screen). The tracks are colorful and varied and the characters are all recognizable. The music, while not particularly memorable, is generally upbeat/pleasant and most of the characters have a voice clip or two too (I particularly like the Eddie Murphy wannabe's rhymes when Donkey summons his Dronkey babies).
The game in controlled entirely by the face and shoulder buttons, no stylus needed, which is a very good thing in my book, as touch screen controls in racing games don't work very well in my opinion. The racers respond accurately and smoothly to your inputs and I never noticed any slowdown or other gameplay hiccups. The difficulty can sometimes seem unfair when you're repeatedly getting zapped by your opponent's weapons, or are "cheated" out of a first place finish by a last second attack from a racer behind you, but, once you learn the tracks (including the shortcuts) and how to build up turbo effectively by powersliding (you can avoid many attacks with a burst of turbo juice), you should be able to consistently finish in the lead.
My only real disappointment with the game is the relatively small number of tracks (nine). There are a quartet of 4-track cups available (16 races total), but, since nine doesn't equal sixteen, in the later circuits, several of those locations are simply reversed, which is a rather cheesy way to pretend that there are more tracks than there actually are. Don't get me wrong, reversed tracks can be fun, but, in most racing games, reversed/mirrored tracks are typically optional bonus content, not used to pad out the main game. The nine tracks are nicely designed and fun to race--I just wish there were more of them for variety's sake.
On that note, 12 characters (three from Shrek, six from Madagascar, two from How to Train Your Dragon, and one from Monsters vs. Aliens) is a little light too, not to mention disproportionately stacked in Madagascar's favor. The developer could have easily doubled that amount considering the large casts of those animated films. Unlocking all of said characters is rather tedious as well (you only start with three of them available), as you have to pay 10, 20, or 30 Dreamworks logo symbols (each), and it takes a lot of time to accumulate that many. Some of the Dreamworks logos are scattered on the tracks in the circuit championship mode, but they're one-time-only affairs, once you snag them you can't get them again that way. To earn enough to unlock everybody for play, you'll have to race, and come in first, on the individual tracks in challenge mode, which are identical to normal races except that they limit, or completely exclude, what weapons/items you can pick up and use. They're generally not hard to beat, but you only get one Dreamworks logo for each challenge, so, you'll need to win 30 of those challenges to unlock one of the more expensive characters, which gets old fast and just feels like busy-work. I would have preferred that the characters became unlocked by defeating all of the circuits on each difficulty setting instead. In addition to the main championship and challenge modes just mentioned, there are also time trial, quick race, and multiplayer options.
While not quite a must-have, overall, I'd say that Dreamworks Superstar Kartz is a very good game if you like the genre. How much you love, or dislike, the Dreamworks characters will probably influence your enjoyment, but, ignoring that, it's still solid kart racing combat, and a nice alternative to Mario Kart if you want something very similar to Nintendo's classic. If the game had a full complement of 16 unique tracks (instead of 9 with 7 of them reversed) and a larger roster of characters to race as, I would likely have bumped my review score up to a 9 or even a 10.
Date published: 2017-02-08