Mario Kart has gone from strength to strength over the years, and many of us have our own personal favourite entries in this superb series; as Mario Kart has evolved, so have rival Kart games from other developers. There have been some notable successes; Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing spring to mind, but head over to mobile platforms and there's a further avalanche of Mario Kart clones vying for your attention. One of these is Garfield Kart. Having been available since 2013 on iOS, Android and PC/Mac, Garfield Kart has now arrived on Nintendo 3DS. Does Garfield have what it takes to park up next to Mario and friends at a meet-up, or should he just drive on by with his head down?
Initial impressions provide the first cause of concern; the title screen is rendered at a horribly low resolution and the entire menu must be operated with rather clunky touchscreen icons. There's been no attempt at all to utilise the physical controls. Moving ahead into the menu, the player is presented with three options - Single Race, Grand Prix or Time Trial; incredibly, there is no multiplayer whatsoever. Yes, you read that correctly; Garfield Kart on Nintendo 3DS doesn't have any option for playing with others, not via local nor online. The original 2013 version allowed for cross-platform online play (iOS vs Android etc) AND local play. Already there's a feeling that this port may be lacking…
That feeling continues with the single player. There are four cups to compete in, with only the first being unlocked initially. There's also a choice of 3 speed/difficulty settings, which are the standard 50cc, 100cc or 150cc. The opening Lasagne Cup consists of four courses set in fairly generic environments; a town, a desert, a scenic lake and a city. There's a quite nice Saturday morning cartoon feel to the graphics, but they don't really resemble the Garfield comic strip too much and subsequent cups don't get much more inventive, either.
Before jumping into a race you make your choice of character, kart, hat, spoiler and boosts, all of which have an effect on either the overall handling or (in the case of boosts) affect the chances of receiving particular power-ups on track. On mobile platforms, real world money can be used to purchase additional objects and boosts instantly, but here everything must be earned either by winning races or picking up in-game coins.
After making your choice of either Jon or Garfield (the only two characters available to start with) the race begins. Garfield Kart is essentially Mario Kart by numbers - there's nothing new here - a few different power-ups, but roughly speaking everything is as expected. Race around the track, pick up candies for random power-ups and power-slide where possible to increase your speed.
On its original platforms, Garfield Kart is pretty good. It has decent resolution, nice handling and is smooth and colourful. On 3DS however, the presentation has gone backwards. Indeed, even without a comparison to a 'better' version, it still wouldn't be very good. The Karts all look like they are floating on the track, mainly due to the absence of any shadows or interaction with the surface. On numerous occasions you'll find yourself stuck in the scenery or coming to a standstill for no apparent reason. None of this is assisted by the severely twitchy and badly judged Kart handling, all of which have way too much understeer. There's been a valiant attempt to emulate Mario Kart's technique of holding a power-slide long enough to gain a boost, but the majority of the time you'll be sliding out of control on all but the tamest of corners. When you eventually learn to be slightly proficient at controlling a slide it fast becomes clear that you don't even need it to be victorious; every single corner can be taken quite easily (even at 150cc) with no sliding required.
The weapons are mostly imitations of Mario Kart classics; an Apple Pie (Green Shell), an Antenna Pie (Red Shell), Hot Lasagne (Boost Mushroom) – you get the idea. You can hold two items at once but you can't drag an item for a shield. Not that it matters as there's hardly any weapon interaction at all, the most recurring item being the 'Cuzzzhion' which sends everyone to sleep, a similar effect to using the Lightning Bolt in Mario Kart.
The AI is horrendous (to put it bluntly). Begin playing on 150cc and it's quite simple to get into 1st position and stay there for the entire race. The bottom screen of the 3DS displays an overhead course map and you'll see yourself increasing your distance from the other characters lap by lap. It's lonely (and dull) at the front of the pack with no 2nd place in sight. On the flip side, Garfield Kart suffers from the ancient driving game miracle whereby a 1st position AI character will seemingly be able to zoom off into the distance and be uncatchable. Yet, if you're in 1st, you'll leave the exact same AI for dust.
What makes all of this all the more annoying is when you go back to the mobile version and find that (ironically) the touchscreen controls are better, the handling is better and the AI is more fun to play against. In fact, it's actually an ok game and kids will likely love it. To put the final nail in the coffin, these mobile versions are less than a tenth of the price. The only real positives of owning the 3DS version are that the stereoscopic 3D is quite nice and you can still use the tilt controls (if you like that kind of thing).
This game is Garfield in likeness only; remove Garfield and you're left with a bland, horribly un-balanced Kart game (that's either way too easy or frustratingly hard) with no multiplayer options. Sounds good? No, of course it doesn't. Looking for a Mario Kart style game for your Nintendo 3DS? Just buy Mario Kart.