Releasing a kart-racer on a console that already has the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe spear-heading its software library is an interesting move; Mario Kart is a series widely accepted to be as close to perfection as we’re likely to see, so what is left for other titles to offer? Beach Buggy Racing (a title that has previously been released on mobile devices and other consoles) is attempting to prove that there is room for more than just the heavy-hitter in this genre and, for the most part, it succeeds.
The game sees six racers take to the track to find out who can come out on top. There are items scattered around the track in item boxes (exactly like how you might imagine) which cause havoc and destruction at every turn and, on top of this, each individual racer has their own unique power-up which can be used once per race. Both these specialised abilities and the standard items have some utterly bonkers effects; you might be used to laying down bananas as a trap but how about a box full of chickens instead – leaving a mess of feathers and an actual, full-sized, squawking chicken smeared across your screen when hit? We’re down for that!
You’ll likely spend the majority of your time in the Career Mode, a place where you play through lots of races earning stars to unlock more events. The goal is to work your way through multiple series of races, unlocking a new driver to play as when you complete each one. Along the way you’ll face standard races as you’d expect, but also other challenges such as Elimination rounds (where every few seconds the last placed driver is eliminated until only one remains), Boost Blitz (a time trial-like event where you have to complete sections of the track before the timer runs out) and even a Shooting Gallery, where your main goal is actually to shoot targets as you drive around to get a high score. It feels similar to the setup of games in the Need for Speed franchise and it works rather well.
The tasks vary further in the Daily Challenges mode. Here, you will be presented with a random driver and vehicle and must complete a challenge. You are rewarded with coins for doing so which can be spent on upgrading your cars in the Career Mode. There is also a Championships mode which consists of tournaments of five races which you must win on every difficulty class with every vehicle; Quick Race, should you want to just play for fun; and Split Screen which supports 2-4 players playing locally. Sadly, there's no online mode.
The presentation and feel of the whole experience is fine; by which we mean it does the job, but never blows you away. The controls are simple to understand – ZR is your accelerate button, the left control stick is used for steering, and A and X house your items and abilities – but even so are not quite perfect. The cars often feel rather ‘floaty’, which is something you’ll get used to over time – and does add to the ‘party-fun’ feel of the game – but isn’t ideal for those looking for a serious racer. It looks and sounds ‘fine’ too with TV, Handheld and Tabletop modes all working well; there is nothing ground-breaking to report but it does the job. The soundtrack actually consists of an odd blend of country and surf-rock, all of which is rather pleasing to the ears.
There are two main problems here, however. Firstly, despite the different types of challenge on offer Beach Buggy Racing does start to feel rather repetitive. This is most likely because the hundreds of races making up your Career and Championship modes are spread across only 15 tracks; the circuits are decently designed and 15 isn’t an ungenerous amount, but driving along the same stretch of road again and again gets a little stale. Secondly, there's the items. On the one hand they’re great fun – their craziness means that you can have a laugh whilst playing and there are some interesting ideas here like dodge-balls and springboards – but when you’re trying to complete harder races at the end of your career, being shot down at the last second can be infuriating. Of course, you could argue that this particular aspect is present in Nintendo’s offering too, but the wild nature of the items on offer here seems to make this more severe; perhaps that's because Mario Kart's items are ingrained in our memories and we know what each one does instinctively.
If you do happen to get on well with how the game plays, though, then you’ll actually have a surprising amount of content to play through. As mentioned, the Career and Championship modes contain an awful lot of races and will take quite a while to complete fully. On top of this there is as an excellent set of in-game achievements that leave this writer screaming for an integrated system on Switch (but that’s an argument for another day).
Beach Buggy Racing is a decent kart-racer; the driving is fun, the items are bonkers, and you’ll likely be playing it for some time. Perhaps enjoyed best in small bursts, and without the expectation of it being a mega-serious racer, the game does offer some easy-to-play fun for both solo players and groups of family or friends. It can’t steal Mario Kart’s pole position and it suffers from a couple of little niggles but for a fraction of the price it does offer an acceptable alternative.