Usually when a licensed karting game is released, it’s a one-and-done affair. Cram a load of well-known characters into tiny cars, fling them around a bunch of courses, collect the money and punt them out the door.
In that sense, you’ve got to give credit to developer Bamtang and publisher GameMill for holding firm and pressing on with its Nickelodeon Kart Racers series, which has now entered its third iteration. It’s just that, usually games like this are supposed to get better with each entry, and that’s not the case this time.
First, the positives. As with its predecessors, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3: Slime Speedway celebrates a hefty chunk of Nickelodeon’s history, going all the way back to the early Nicktoons cartoons from 1991, all the way up to last year’s Paramount+ exclusive SpongeBob spin-off show, Kamp Koral. A healthy selection of 40 racers are eventually yours to choose from: while you’ve got significantly fewer than this when you first boot up the game, you unlock them through a combination of winning Grand Prix-style events and buying them from the in-game shop. And this time they even talk.
Yes, one of the biggest issues with the first two games in the series was that this colourful cast of characters had seemingly taken a vow of silence, which isn’t really ideal in a genre whose games often live or die by their personality. The lack of voice acting made everything feel oddly underwhelming last time, so its addition this time is massively welcome.
It’s a decent range of characters too, bringing back most of the favourites from the last game and introducing some newcomers representing other classic Nick series. Oblina from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters is a particular highlight, as is Powdered Toastman from Ren & Stimpy, and we’re sure some ‘90s kids will appreciate the inclusion of Jimmy Neutron.
That said, some characters from the previous game have been axed from the line-up this time, which will disappoint some players. Rugrats enthusiasts will mourn the departure of Tommy and Angelica, while Rocko’s Modern Life and TMNT fans will be sad to discover the game is missing Heffer and Shredder respectively. And JoJo Siwa is still in there, which is understandable but infuriating too.
The kart selection system has been given an upgrade, too. In Kart Racers 2 players could customise their engine, wheels, and exhaust but each character had their own bespoke kart body that couldn’t be changed. This time it’s more like Mario Kart, in that there’s a standard selection of kart bodies, wheels, and exhausts to unlock, which everyone is able to drive.
Also taking heavy influence from Mario Kart is the addition of bikes to the series for the first time. Unlike in Nintendo’s series, these don’t appear to affect handling too much, but it’s a nice aesthetic touch to give players the choice between four wheels and two this time. Besides, Ninja Turtles just look cooler on a motorbike.
So far so good, then, so what’s the issue? Well, kart racing games tend to have not only karts in them, but racing too. And it’s here where the series unfortunately kicks into reverse, making the overall experience a disappointing one.
The most notable problem is the performance. We’re more than five years into the Switch’s life now, so we’ll spare you the usual “hang on, this performs better on other consoles” nonsense: that’s to be expected at this point, and it should come as no surprise that this version performs worse than Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3 on Xbox and PlayStation, because of course it does.
What may surprise you, however, is that this also performs worse than Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2. On Switch. Much worse. We don’t know what’s going on here, but the game has taken a serious nose-dive in frame rate, almost as if it’s now trying to do too much and can’t handle it.
We didn’t remember having major issues with the last game so, just to make sure, we booted up Kart Racers 2 again on the Switch and sure enough, the frame rate was okay. Nothing remarkable, but the game aimed for 60 frames per second and hit it around two-thirds of the time, with slowdown kicking in when things got a bit hectic. It was a decent enough attempt.
This time the game appears to be aiming for 30fps and frequently fails to hit it. We recorded some footage and went back through it later to study it in more detail, and on some tracks in particular we were getting around 23-24 fps at times, which would be fine for something like an RPG but for a fast-paced karting game is a massive handicap. Everything feels extremely sluggish, and on the higher speed settings it can get really tricky to keep up with the action as a result.
That isn’t the only issue, either. For some reason the weapons feel far less satisfying this time around: we rarely got that rush of “yasss, got them” that you’re supposed to get when taking out an opponent with a well-aimed projectile.
And then there are these weird new shortcut ‘slides’, where you slip down a big slime-filled chute while having to jump barriers. The idea is that if you can jump all the barriers and make it through the slide unscathed you’ll save a chunk of time, but the weird swooping camera in this section combined with the awful frame rate means you’re basically guessing when to jump because you just can’t see the barriers coming quickly enough.
This all makes for a game that, despite improvements to its roster, karts, and voice acting, still ends up being a worse experience than its predecessor. This would be bewildering were it not for the fact that we know exactly why this happened. One word: Garfield.
A couple of years ago, Nickelodeon’s parent company acquired Garfield, and there’s a new Garfield animated show coming to the channel at some point. As such, Garfield makes his debut in Kart Racers 3, and given his previous record for karting games (we direct you to our 2/10 review for Garfield Kart Furious Racing on Switch), it’s utterly clear that in making the jump to Nickelodeon he’s brought that jinx with him.
In fact, if Bamtang was to do the right thing and patch the game to remove Garfield from the roster (and Odie too, just to be safe), we’d put our money on the frame rate immediately leaping up to a rock solid 60 frames per second.
Hahahaha! Such japes! Seriously though, this performs terribly.
On paper, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3 does so much right, with a bigger roster of racers, more kart customisation, and the oft-requested addition of voice acting, which does add to the atmosphere considerably. But on the track it's hugely disappointing, with a severely reduced frame rate compared to its predecessor, making everything feel more sluggish as a result.