Hello Kitty and friends have cornered the market on cute for four decades, and it’s easy to see why: Sanrio’s simple yet charming style makes for easy application to almost anything. Racing games are certainly not out of the question, and Hello Kitty Kruisers takes the obvious whimsical route through the genre, as much as our Fast and the Furious crossover fanfics have tried to champion otherwise. But while adorability is expected in force, how well does the racing element show up?
Hello Kitty Kruisers features 10 playable characters from Sanrio’s roster, four which are unlocked. In addition to the titular Kitty, favourites including Keroppi the frog, My Melody the rabbit, and Badtz-Maru the perpetually non-impressed penguin are also selectable. Each comes with two racing outfits on top of what they commonly wear.
The 12 tracks in the game cover five themed areas and range in use of cars, boats, and planes. Unlike Diddy Kong Racing, you can’t choose which mode of transportation to hit each track with. You’re stuck with whatever the track was designed for, but can choose from 10 models of that vehicle, each with a choice of two alternate paint schemes.
Feel free to choose whatever character and vehicle you want, as there are little to no discernible differences between them; this is your first omen regarding the depth of the racing experience here. The second comes when you realize stats wouldn’t matter at all, anyway.
Kruisers’ races are extremely easy to win, even accounting for the target audience. The tracks are of simple geometric design with often little in the way of obstacles and a width that makes 6-lane superhighways feel snug in comparison. Controls respond very well, with every method offered on the Wii U available except the Wii Remote + Nunchuck combo. The Wii Remote itself is a go, probably because tilt controls can be used, and they are mostly serviceable here in the way that you can drive a bus through the desert and probably not hit anything.
Sadly, for how basic the courses are, the AI seems woefully incapable of handling it. Computer-driven racers bumble about, bonking off walls from the first turn. You can use the maps on the TV or GamePad to see which of your favourite characters has become permanently stuck in a corner or is inexplicably driving the wrong way, since they’ll all be behind you, anyway. Every course is easily winnable on the first try and there are no difficulty settings to adjust for challenge. The usual item pick-ups are available, including pie-shaped missiles and traffic cone mines, but there’s little use for them from your reserved location in first place.
Up to 4 players can play locally on split-screen, which at least has hope of real competition, but online play is not an option. A single-player “Adventure” mode offers 20 challenges that cycle between hot laps, gate-clearing, and collecting apples and cupcakes on the tracks; stars won here and in the Tournament will unlock characters and vehicles with no fanfare whatsoever. New options will just be there when you go to the selection screen, as if they had tried to sneak in late.
Presentation is overall pleasant, with vibrant, colourful, yet incomplex aesthetics that serve the Sanrio universe well. The music is sweet and bouncy, sounding like cheerful throwbacks to music of the 16- and 32-bit eras. There is the occasional rough texture, though, or the fact that boats don’t cause any reaction to water and make a rubber-squealing sound effect when turning sharply (there are no power slide boosts, by the way).
Also, what is likely the strongest selling point of the game, the Sanrio license itself, doesn’t feel put to use as widely as it could have. Characters are fully mute and do almost nothing to convey their personalities. Fans wanting to know more about the characters will also find nothing here. Heck, just some artwork when loading would have been nice, but all you get is a monochromatic screen with a loading bar.
Hello Kitty Kruisers may not be a good racing experience, but at least it provides some decent fanfic inspiration:
“I want to like you, kid; I really do,” Dominic said through his driver’s window. “You got charm. The streets need that. Your engine runs OK, too. But you gotta know how to compete, how to drive. You and your crew, well…”
The wail of sirens grew closer, the 9-car pileup on the gentle curve in front of them sending an S.O.S. of smoke into the night sky. Cinnamoroll flailed down the street, his floppy ears on fire.
“...you need work. You might pass running with the younger crowd — I mean way young — but anyone with experience’ll kick you to the curb after that sugary aura of yours wears off. You’re better than that.”
Her deep black eyes stared back at him, unblinking. Dominic sighed and shifted his car into gear.
“Find your voice, too. React! You can’t earn respect out here unless you make the effort to at least squeak or something. See you down the road, Kitty.”
And with his engine’s roar, he was gone. She watched him fade into the distance, fists (as best as she could make them) clenched in indignant and kawaii fury.