Kart racing has a long and illustrious history on Nintendo consoles. Now replace “Karts” with “shopping carts” and “racing” with “be the first to complete a tedious task” and you have Mart Racer, arguably the most unsatisfying racing game on WiiWare. Mixing the usual suspects of clumsy controls and ugly graphics with a classic flawed premise for a video game (in this case, going shopping), Mart Racer sums up everything that can go wrong in a video game design.
Let’s take a look first at the premise. Although the game identifies itself as a “racer”, it actually has more in common with the battle mode in Mario Kart than with any actual “racing”. There are no racetracks, laps, or any such thing as finishing in second place. The only mode of play is a shopping game in which you are given a list of items to collect which you must find hidden throughout the store before anyone else. In this way, it is a “race” to find the hidden objects, but that’s really stretching the definition of the word.
Players are tasked with pushing a shopping cart as well as their lazy partner who rides inside the cart Double Dash style. This passenger character is the one tasked with grabbing items off of the shelves. But this happens automatically and there is no option for a human player to take this role. Instead, players merely push their shopping carts around the store from item to item. The identity of the specific items doesn’t matter, as once the game begins they are merely colored circles for you to collect. You must collect all of the colors on your list before all of the other players. The first one to the checkout line wins and then it’s game over.
In between the fun of collecting groceries on your shopping list, you may pick up items conspicuously laid out on the floor for you to use as weapons against your opponents. These items range from plungers that may be thrown to oil that may be dropped behind you. That’s actually pretty much all there is. The items themselves are difficult to use, especially the oil, as there is no way to see if someone is directly behind you other than by checking your radar.
In the bottom left corner you are given a radar screen which more or less shows you where all of the items and players are in the store. The problem is that the map displayed on your radar has a very short range and so is not very useful. Items outside of your radar’s range may be around a corner, behind a dead end, or in an otherwise hard to reach location and you must find your way through stores designed more like a labyrinthine hedge maze than a Kmart in order to find what you need next on your list.
If you have elected to play in single player, the game will be a breeze and you will easily collect all of your items while the computer players struggle with just moving in a straight line. The computer AI is simply no challenge at all and you will have to rely on human competition to make the game worth playing. Fortunately, in addition to supporting up to four players locally, the game also supports online play. This is a huge selling point as few retail Wii games support this feature, much less WiiWare games. Thanks to this, any time you want to go shopping with some strangers you may do so on your Wii instead of getting some actual shopping done.
However, there are two problems with the inclusion of this admittedly welcome feature. First, as of press time you will be lucky to find even one person online to play with. Like Tom Sawyer, we hope that more people come to learn how much more fun playing Mart Racer is than painting a fence. But for now, competition is scarce and the remaining slots are filled with more worthless computer players.
The second issue we had with multiplayer is that the single player game in no way prepares you for the realities of online play. Playing with the computer or similarly inexperienced local friends might lead you to believe that Mart Racer is a slow paced game where players race to collect a handful of items and very rarely interact. In reality, a competitive game of Mart Racer devolves into experienced players who are overly used to the clunky controls smacking less experienced players endlessly and taking their items. If you aren’t playing online right now, don’t bother, as you may never get the chance to become as good as your competition.
Being skilled at Mart Racer is nothing to be proud of. The game offers two control schemes, clunky classic controls or funky motion controls. If you choose motion controls, you will have to drive your cart by twisting the Wii Remote forwards and backwards to increase or decrease speed. It is horribly imprecise and you must accomplish this in the narrow confines of a shopping aisle. Needless to say, the classic controls are a more reliable option. However these controls are still awkward and pale in comparison to the controls in other driving games such as High Voltage Hot Rod Show or Heracles Chariot Racing.
Indeed, much of the challenge in the game is to simply overcome the awkward controls that you will wrestle with throughout the entire game. Attempts to turn corners will often result in ramming into walls, which, for no reason, cause you to float up into the air. There is no damage nor is there a satisfying thump from a collision. You just float and then fall back down. Because the store maps are laid out in crazy, unrealistic patterns, players will constantly struggle with the controls to turn corners as they attempt to find their way through the store. A more experienced player will be able to win easily just by memorizing the maps and spending hours learning how to steer.
Lastly, we mentioned graphics as contributing to Mart Racer’s lack of appeal. The saccharine sweet colors and low resolution, fuzzy characters assault the player’s vision from the moment the title screen ends. Although it features 3D-ish graphics, they are of poor quality and remind us of early 3D games such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, albeit with a childish, cartoony look. This problem is especially noticeable because the Joju Games introduction before the title screen is glossy and high resolution and reminds you one last time of just how pretty a Wii game can be right before treating us to this tacky version of a four-year-old’s Crayola rendition of what a grocery store looks like.
Featuring twelve maps, two selectable control schemes, and four player local as well as online play, Joju Games remembered to include everything except for the fun. Although features are a good thing, they don’t help much when the game itself has an uninteresting premise, clumsy controls, unappealing looks, and is just no fun to play. Mart Racer provides a grossly inferior battle mode of play to anyone lacking multiplayer from some other game. For anyone who does own a game that features competitive play with other people, this game should be set down in favor of that one, whatever it is.