Review: Family Go-Kart Racing (WiiWare)

A pit stop on the road to hell

The family that just can’t get enough of each other is back in their eighth outing on WiiWare. By now, Aksys has had plenty of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t in this series of games. And it was becoming pretty obvious that if these games have a fault (and they’re all pretty flawless) it’s that the cast of characters was just too small. With the inclusion of Grandpa and Auntie here, Family Go-Kart Racing truly is perfect with the exception of only one minor flaw—it’s completely unplayable.

Not the first kart racing game on the Wii, or even WiiWare for that matter, Family Go-Kart Racing enters a crowded genre not in the pole position but rather dead last given the poor reputation the Family series has garnered for itself. Indeed, the Family series has become almost synonymous with thin premises and repeat play value measured in mere minutes. Lately the series has attempted to turn a corner, most notably with Family Tennis and its significantly higher production values and difficulty level. Sadly, the series makes a U-turn here and turns its back on any promise of improvement.

Ordinarily we would devote time to issues such as music (it’s exactly the same as all the other games) or graphics (they’re not up to par with Mario Kart 64). But let’s put the peddle to the metal with this review as there’s really only one thing we need to tell you: the poorly implemented (and non-optional) steering wheel controls unfortunately make this game a pass for just about everyone, even experienced users of the Wii Wheel.

Although the game uses the familiar steering wheel or Wii Remote-only layout of Mario Kart and other Wii racing games, the responsiveness is of noticeably worse quality. In Mario Kart, turning the wheel results in subtle steering changes that allow the player to round a corner smoothly, depending on his or her skill. And even in Heracles Chariot Racing, a Kart-style racing game on WiiWare, where we observed that the controls were clunkier than Mario Kart, it was still manageable and even intuitive once once you got the hang of things. But this kind of subtle logic is lost on the controls for Family Go-Kart Racing.

Instead of logically turning the steering wheel in proportion to the amount of turn you would like to make, turning the steering wheel produces one of two results: your kart continues to move forward even as you turn producing a skidding effect, or you overcompensate and turn too sharply and slam into a wall. Even when driving in wide-open spaces, turning is a chore. No matter how much space you have to work with, turning gracefully, or even at all sometimes, is seemingly impossible. The problem seems to stem from a steering system that measures the angle that you are holding the remote rather than the timing you use in turning the wheel, in combination with a generally slow response time.

Tapping the break offers only minimal help and does not lessen the difficulty of turning. The best results we had with the breaks were when we came to a complete stop before attempting to round a corner. And unlike in Mario Kart or Heracles there is no controller option dedicated to helping you round corners more tightly.

Some karts handle corners better than others. But even the best are pretty bad and a player’s skill will only go so far. Eventually you will reach a point in a track where no matter how good you are or how high your karts "grip" and "handling" ratings, you will bump into a wall and slow down as a result. And if you’re like us, this will happen frequently throughout the entire race as you bounce back and forth along the track like a pinball, but having to restart as you lose your momentum every time you do so.

Like other kart racers, the game features items that you can drive over to pick up and use to interfere with your opponents. Never mind that these items range from the mundane such as a bowling ball that is basically a red/blue shell, to the confusing such as a lightning bolt that temporarily drives your kart for you. That’s right—a special item gives you an advantage by driving for you. Ironically, this makes it the best item in the game because while you are using it is the only time you will be able to actually drive your kart.

But those aren’t the only problems with the items. The real problem is, once again, the controls. The item blocks are so small that you must drive over them more carefully than in other games like Mario Kart. When you are having difficulty enough even in keeping your kart on the road, driving over a small target that is located on the road is too easy to miss.

The fact that this game is designed as part of the Family series and therefore targeted towards casual players and young children makes the unbearably difficult controls all the more absurd because the people most likely to purchase this game stand no chance of mastering even simple tasks such as steering around a corner without crashing into a wall or running off the course before giving up on the game completely.

Those who stick with it won’t have to suffer for long. There are only four different racetracks, arranged three different ways for a total of twelve courses in all. But make no mistake—this game is hard even on the easy level because you will struggle to even cross the finish line your first time out. And the fact that the second track on the easy level circuit is an ice level doesn’t help matters much. Worse yet, the course design is almost universally bad, with some levels (such as the aforementioned ice levels) featuring obstacles in the middle of the road that are difficult to distinguish from the road itself as everything is the same shade of white.

The game allows for up to four players to race in local multiplayer (there is no battle mode), which is worth exactly one play through as you and your buddies laugh at one another’s bad driving. Games should be challenging, of course, but when you and three friends are all playing against each other and you are still fighting with the controls more than each other then it should be clear that the game is not so much challenging as it is just clumsy and frustrating.

Conclusion

At only 500 Wiipoints this is about as cheap as entertainment gets. So there will, no doubt, be some observers who will say that Family Go-Kart Racing deserves a generous review and score on account of being more affordable than the premier kart racing game, Mario Kart. And then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who will repeat the mantra that “you get what you pay for.”

We disagree with both positions. First, Family Go-Kart Racing is definitely not a more affordable option to Mario Kart in the same way that eating poo is not a more affordable option to eating steak. And to the second group, we say if you spend your 500 points on this unplayable mess you will most definitely not get something worth what you paid.

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