The Switch can’t avoid licensed kart racing games. It’s already seen its fair share of gems (Team Sonic Racing, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled) and stinkers (Hello Kitty Kruisers, Garfield Kart Furious Racing). The situation doesn’t seem to be slowing down any, either: after getting Nickelodeon Kart Racers in late 2018, it’s now getting a sequel this October. Oh, and let’s obviously not forget the small matter of that lad with the moustache who’s always racing karts.
Although there are some generic racing games out there that happen to have karts in them, it goes without saying that a karting game becomes infinitely more interesting when it’s based on a specific licence or series, with characters you know and recognise. That’s how things started off with the original Super Mario Kart all those years ago, after all: who’s to say we’d still be talking about it today if Nintendo had gone with its initial idea of just having generic characters driving the karts?
As much as we love the classics with Mario, Sonic, Crash and the like, it’s the bizarre ones with slightly more unusual licences that interest us the most. It’s perfectly understandable that there would have been a karting game based around the worlds of Pac-Man or Mickey Mouse (or yes, even Shrek), but was there really a big enough following of, say, ‘80s cartoon and comic strip cat Heathcliff to justify Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest on the Wii (which is an actual thing)?
Here are some of our favourite instances of licences and IPs that we didn’t really expect to be strong candidates to get the karting game treatment, but got them anyway. Just to stress: we aren’t saying these games are any good – most of them are absolutely hopeless – and there are plenty more where these came from, so it’s not intended to be a definitive list. Unlike most of the games on here, it’s just a bit of fun.
M&M's Kart Racing
Let’s start with one of the most notorious examples. When you think of M&M’s you probably immediately think of crunchy chocolate, overpriced novelty shops in New York and London and those ads that were voiced by the guy who voiced Fry in Futurama (who was also Doug as well as Ren & Stimpy, incidentally). Putting them in a kart probably isn’t one of the first places your brain goes.
That’s exactly what M&M’s Kart Racing, one of seven(!) different M&M’s games, sets out to do. It isn’t exactly a classic, though: with only five characters to choose from (all M&M’s, you’ll be stunned to hear) and 15 deeply bog-standard tracks to race on with such exciting names as Beach, Arctic and Forest, it’s fair to say this one doesn’t make the most of the licence.
Spare a thought, too, for any gamer unlucky enough to be playing with the sound on. Any time you collect a speed boost or even just hit a high enough speed the game’s announcer will bellow the infamous line: “approaching sound barrier!” Expect to hear it countless times in each race. Or don’t, because you probably won’t play it.
Antz Extreme Racing
You’ve got to feel for Antz in a way. As only the second computer-animated film since Toy Story, Dreamworks probably felt it was onto a winner. The problem is, CG movies take years to make (especially back then) and by pure coincidence Pixar was also working on its second film, A Bug’s Life. Which was about ants too. And would probably be better. Which it was. A Bug’s Life hit cinemas just 49 days after Antz, and overshadowed Dreamworks’ effort.
Oddly, that didn’t stop someone deciding that people still cared enough about Antz that they would buy a racing game based on it. Sure, there was no memorable racing scene of note in Antz and sure, Antz Extreme Racing was released a full four years after the movie came out, but hey, who’s counting? Nobody, that’s who, which is why the bold-as-brass rebels at Empire Interactive went ahead and launched the game on PC, Xbox, PS2 and GBA.
To its credit it does at least try its best with what it has: there are different types of racing in here, from foot races to ‘snowboarding’ on leaves to racing on the back of giant beetles. As in the bugs, not the Volkswagen cars. The problem was just that it was so boring, and it was difficult to get excited about a hero who was voiced by Woody Allen in the first place.
Inspector Gadget Racing
Inspector Gadget is one of those classic ‘80s cartoon series that lots of people fondly remember but probably doesn’t have a wide variety of die-hard fans who buy all the merchandise they can get their hands on. It almost certainly wouldn’t have enough to justify making a karting game based on the series as late as 2003, and yet Inspector Gadget Racing absolutely is a thing.
Players can choose to play as either Inspector Gadget (obviously), Penny, Brain, Chief Quimby, Dr Claw or two completely generic goons called Agent Abdul and Agent Bruce, neither of whom appeared to have any sort of notable role in any Inspector Gadget series or movie. When you’ve added five characters and then realise you have to start making some up, that’s probably the best sign that your licence isn't suited to a karting game.
It’s not actually the worst looking game in the world, to be fair. Despite being on the humble Game Boy Advance it does feature impressive enough tracks and the cars are nice and chunky, and you can transform into a plane or boat at times. The problem is, it’s painfully slow and your car’s turning circle is roughly as wide as the equator, so it isn’t as fun as it looks.
Race With Ryan
Let’s move on to something more recent. If you’ve got a child you can’t fail to have noticed Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel starring a mildly insufferable boy who has an endless supply of toys thrown at him by his delighted parents, who can’t believe their luck as they make tens of millions of dollars doing deals with toy companies to get their products featured in his videos. The whole thing’s a pretty grimy affair, really.
Before long the inevitable happened and Ryan ended up with his own merchandise line. Go to any toy shop now and you’ll likely see his eager face slapped over all manner of tat, from ‘mystery eggs’ (i.e. loot boxes for children) to action figures to walkie talkies. He’s got his own magazine because why not, and naturally this led to his own video game last year because 2019 was obviously trying to warn us about 2020 and nobody was listening.
Race With Ryan isn’t a particularly offensive game, at least if you don’t count Ryan appearing regularly at the corner of the screen and the video cut-scenes in which his parents badly act their way through some inane banter with their magical money-making child. The game itself is just boring: we dislike it more because we’re old and grumpy, and it makes us feel even older and grumpier (in case you couldn’t tell).
Living World Racing
Living World is a range of products aimed at owners of birds and small pets. Since 1972, it’s been providing food, bedding, cages, toys, litter products and the like to pet owners so their little furry friends can live in the utmost comfort. If your immediate, instinctive reaction to that isn’t “sounds great, let’s put them in cars and make them race” then we frankly don’t want to know you.
Easily in the top 5 racing games based on pet shop litter trays, Living World Racing lets you choose between eight different characters with the deeply original names Mr Mouse, Mr Hamster, Mr Rat, Mr Guinea Pig, Mr Chinchilla, Mr Dwarf Rabbit, Mr Rabbit and Mr Ferret. Sorry ladies, there’s no place for female representation in Living World Racing’s roster: you just don’t have the pure testosterone required for *checks notes* a small hamster in a little wooden boat.
We know what you’re thinking: this is the point where we shock you by revealing that Living World Racing is actually an exhilarating white-knuckle ride through some of the animal kingdom’s most devastatingly incredible circuits. In reality, it came from Data Design Interactive, the studio behind the infamous Ninjabread Man, so the fact you can actually steer at all in it should be considered a bonus.
EA released MySims on the Wii in 2007. This cheery spin-off of The Sims was an attempt to make the series more appealing to children thanks to its chunky character designs, more colourful environments and its more objective-based, storyline-driven gameplay. As the 2000s ended EA tried its best to establish MySims as a big franchise, churning out no fewer than six games in three years.
One of these was the inevitable karting game spin-off, MySims Racing, which did at least try to do some fun and interesting things. As well as creating your own character – something relatively rare in the karting genre – your kart was heavily customisable too. There was also a story mode where you performed various tasks for your villagers and were rewarded with more custom parts for your vehicle.
The problem was just that it was too much, too soon. EA was so keen to make MySims a thing that it didn’t give the games a chance to breathe, so by the time we got MySims Racing we’d already had MySims, MySims Kingdom and MySims Party in quick succession, and knew that MySims Agents was coming just a few months later. There was potential here, but MySims Racing simply suffered from MySims burnout.
F1 Race Stars
When you’ve already got the licence to make video games based on a proper, real-life racing organisation, it may not necessarily make sense to turn that into a karting game: you’d imagine it probably speaks for itself. Still, that’s what Codemasters did with its Formula One licence, resulting in the curious F1 Race Stars, a karting game based on the 2012 Formula One season.
All 24 drivers who started that season are playable here, albeit in comedy big-headed versions in tiny cars, as you race through a series of 12 tracks (not every circuit from the actual 20-race F1 season made the cut, it seems). Each racer has their own comedy speech samples (not recorded by them, we should stress), and each circuit is an over-the-top, fantasy version of their real-life counterparts. It may be surprising that it exists, but on paper it sounds fun.
While it wasn’t terrible in practice either, it did suffer a little due what we can only assume were restrictions with the licence. With fairly modest power-ups (the ‘weapons’ are just coloured orbs), the need to use pit stops and the complete lack of any drifting mechanic, F1 Race Stars felt like a karting game desperately trying to break free from its F1 boundaries and not quite managing to do so.
Oh dear. In case you aren’t familiar with them, Homies were a series of small plastic figurines introduced in the late ‘90s that were designed by their creator David Gonzales to look like the various Mexican-American people who lived in his neighbourhood growing up. With names like Big Loco, Mr Raza and Eight Ball, Homies became something of a fad and gained its own fanbase of eager collectors.
“Hey, here’s a great idea: we should put the Homie characters in a karting game and only release it on the DS,” said no-one ever. Actually, someone must have said it, because you can rub your eyes as many times as you like and Homie Rollerz is still here, so it definitely isn’t some weird dream. Players take part in the Wizard Circuit, a series of races put together by an old homeless Latino man called Wizard who claims he can grant wishes and will do so for whoever wins, and yes, we’re actually writing this.
The Homies brand was wildly divisive at the time, with some Latino advocacy groups and police forces claiming that it painted negative stereotypes of Mexican-American communities and promoted gang life, and others saying it helped young Latin Americans establish their cultural identity. That’s a far deeper debate that we’re not here to get involved in: the main thing to note here is that the game was absolute pump.
Crazy Frog Racer
Finally, let’s end with perhaps the most infamous of them all. If you’re not familiar with Crazy Frog, you probably didn’t live in Europe in the early 2000s. Starting off life as a short internet cartoon called The Annoying Thing, Swedish animator Erik Wernquist’s creation properly took off when mobile phone ringtone company Jamster licensed the rights to it and renamed it. Cue countless phones bellowing its infuriating “a ring-ding-ding-ding” noise, a subsequent Eurodance track that became a UK number 1 for four months, and then this game.
Crazy Frog Racer is interesting in that it’s a karting game where the lead character doesn’t have a kart. Since the joke in the original animation and subsequent music is that he’s pretending to ride a motorbike and making the noises himself, the game has him riding the same invisible bike, meaning he’s just sitting in mid-air. The supporting cast of eight other completely fictional characters all have vehicles, but they all float, in order to match the WipEout-style handling of the titular character. To be clear, that’s if WipEout wasn’t controlled with a PlayStation controller, but a slinky spring on a stick instead.
Considering he doesn’t actually drive a vehicle, it’s somewhat impressive that Crazy Frog Racer was a car crash anyway. The game’s 12 circuits took place around a single city environment, falling through the track was a regular occurrence and the combination of huge hills and dips and extremely high speeds meant you were often flung off the road without any chance of seeing what was coming up. Anyone who bought and enjoyed this game simply contributed to the evidence that craziness isn’t exclusive to amphibians.
Have the likes of Antz and MySims somehow still not satisfied your craving for strange karting licences? Share your favourite other examples in the comments below...