Kart Krashers has a plan to shake up the kart racing genre: keep the karts, erase the race. Sure, it sounds rather pointless, but stick with us. The basic idea is to drive your kart around arena-like courses, shooting for a high score by collecting stars and rings and taking out baddies. The "Krashers" in the name implies a bit more chaos than is actually going on here — replace it with "Kollectors" and you might be closer to the mark — but however you'd describe it, Kart Krashers is a fun and refreshingly unique take on the kart-driving formula.
Right off the bat, you'll notice that Kart Krashers is single-player in every sense of the word. While the lack of competition from other drivers (computer controlled or otherwise) might seem like a missed opportunity, speeding solo around the varied environments looking for collectables calls to mind the overworld areas of the N64 title Diddy Kong Racing, and it's surprisingly fun. A multiplier for continuous and speedy collection is at the heart of the scoring system and power-ups, long a staple of the kart racing world, come into play as well. It's a small but varied selection, with magnets for pulling in out-of-reach stars and shields and rockets for smashing through enemies and speeding up ramps.
Your Kart Krashing adventure takes place over ten different stages, from an ancient temple to a suburban mall and all the way to the moon, and every course looks and feels unique. Each stage has three challenges to tackle, with unique item layouts and environmental hazards, and you can earn from one to three "Golden Wheels" per challenge based on your score. Earning at least four out of the nine wheels in each stage will unlock the next area. This makes it easy enough to progress through the stages, but getting a three-wheel-rating on each challenge can be seriously tough; for players who enjoy chasing high scores, it adds a ton of replay value.
The karts control reasonably well, if not as tightly as in a Mario Kart title, but it's worth noting that the game's concept works better in the larger, more racetrack-like stages than it does in cramped quarters. In the latter, you'll find yourself feathering the accelerator more often than flooring it, and missing out on the great sense of speed found in the other environments. It's a natural consequence of the game design: Kart Krashers controls like a racer but doesn't play like one, and though it takes a bit of time to shake years of Mario Kart-inspired behaviour (it's okay to use the reverse button!), in the end it works well enough to do the game's concept justice.
Kart Krashers tries harder than most kart-based games to connect the action with a story, and it's a suitably silly one involving zombies, aliens, corporate empires, and a girl who really wants a pony. It's certainly not a gripping narrative but it's a nice way to introduce the five playable characters unlocked as you move through the game, and adds a good bit of Saturday-morning cartoon personality to the proceedings. We did have the game lock up on us once while advancing dialogue in a cutscene, but it appears to have been an isolated incident.
Graphically, Kart Krashers is a good showing for a DSiWare title. It's bright and colourful, moves along at a nice clip, and manages an impressive sense of speed. The audio side of the package doesn't fare as well, unfortunately. Though there are a few catchy songs (like the Crash Bandicoot-inspired theme in the Ancient Temple stage) among the generally forgettable background tracks, it's a moot point. The music is almost entirely obscured by the much louder sound effects, including the constant din of your engine, with no apparent way to adjust the balance.
Perhaps most impressively for a DSiWare release, Kart Krashers feels like a coherent, fully-realized experience, rather than a snapshot of a gameplay idea. There's a lot of game spread over the ten stages, especially if you go for three wheels on each challenge, and thoughtful additions like achievements, save files and user profiles for three different players, and a "Story So Far" recap feature to add a level of polish above most DSiWare outings.
Kart Krashers isn't perfect, but it sure is fun, and its willingness to try something new is a very good thing. It stumbles a bit in the control department and the sound issues are a disappointment, but when you're in the zone, smashing robot zombies and careening around a shopping mall, it's a blast. Kart racing fans looking to try something different while sticking to four wheels should have a great time with this one.