It might be difficult to believe, but Race With Ryan is one of the most difficult reviews we’ve written in a while. When you’re covering a game based on a licence it’s always important to make sure your opinion of the licence itself doesn’t get in the way of the review. After all, nobody wants to read a review of an NBA game that’s just full of the writer going on about how they think basketball is rubbish.
The problem here, though – and we’re about to break the rule – is that Race With Ryan is based on one of the most easily hated licences in the brief 4.54 billion-year history of our planet, which makes it incredibly challenging to write about the game without constantly wanting to scream in the face of anyone who’ll listen about how knuckle-clenchingly infuriating the whole thing makes us. But we’re professionals, so we’ll try.
For those unfamiliar with it, Ryan’s World – formerly Ryan Toys Review – is a massively popular YouTube channel in which a very young boy (who doesn’t know any better, to be fair) is given an obscenely huge supply of toys by his parents (who absolutely do know better). These often take the form of enormous mystery eggs: literal loot boxes, packed with countless toys.
His parents have made more than $22 million so far, and toy companies are bending over backwards to get their products into Ryan’s videos because it gives them massive exposure through what are essentially paid product placements for preschoolers. The whole thing’s pretty grim, really... unless, of course, you don’t think it is, in which case, hey, to each their own.
Not content with having all the internet money ever, Ryan’s parents have now taken to jamming their lad’s face onto various other products, from inevitable toy lines to stuff like toothbrushes and TV shows. Now it’s time for a Ryan video game, and what better way to do that than to make a karting game in which eight of the characters are Ryan? Actually, don’t answer that.
We can already feel our prejudice getting in the way so let’s put aside our feelings on the licence and judge the game on its own merits. Race With Ryan is your regular run-of-the-mill Mario Kart imitator, with the typical selection of modes you’d expect from this sort of thing. There’s the option to race solo in single races or a cup, as well as local split-screen multiplayer for up to four players. Nothing remarkable, then, but at least the standards are being met.
The first red flag, however, is the severely limited number of tracks. There are only six on offer here, though you do get to race them in normal and reverse forms. The six environments – Ryan’s playroom, a theme park, a haunted house, a wild west town, a pirate island and a toy shop – are reasonably well-designed, with decent background detail and multiple routes in each circuit. Regardless, though, even Mario Kart would lose our interest after a couple of hours if it only had six tracks.
The character roster is another strange affair. There are technically 21 different racers to choose from, but this actually amounts to seven characters in various different vehicles. As well as Ryan – who, as previously mentioned, takes up about two-fifths of the entire roster – players can choose from various animated characters from the VTubers 'Let’s Play' channel that’s part of Ryan’s YouTube network. The selection of vehicles is varied enough, but some of them are a little on the large side which actually affects gameplay: Ryan’s boat is pretty tall, for example, and its sail obscures a lot of what’s up ahead, meaning you’ll regularly drive into spills and obstacles you couldn’t see on the road in front of you.
Speaking of which, how’s the actual racing itself? Well... it’s alright. The frame rate is expectedly weak but the handling is fine and there’s a hop-to-drift mechanic that works well enough, giving a generous turbo boost without too much effort needed. When it comes to actually controlling your kart, then, we have no real issues. That’s not to say it’s all good news, however: the game’s array of weapons – ranging from paper planes to footballs to hamburgers – are all painfully uninspired and feel so lightweight that they simply aren’t satisfying to use.
There’s also no escaping Ryan himself, who regularly pops up in the corner of the screen in a series of still ‘reaction’ images any time you hit someone, get hit, complete a lap, collect an item, breathe, look out the window or generally exist. It’s like the “Toasty!” pop-ups in Mortal Kombat games, except whereas those games were inappropriate for children, this one’s unsuitable for adults.
That’s just the tip of the Ryan iceberg, too. Look, we’ve tried our best to be diplomatic here, but the reality is that Ryan’s all over this thing and it’s hard for us to play it and not continually be annoyed. Not at him personally, of course – he’s just a kid – but at the way he’s being shamelessly exploited here to make people money: including his parents, who actually show up in FMV sequences before each tournament to talk a load of guff about racing strategies. If you’ve got a swear jar, best put it away before booting up this one.
It’s not even like his presence has been handled with much care. The menus are full of speech samples where Ryan talks you through every single option, mode, character and unlockable in the game, but they’re horrendous quality with plenty of mic feedback. So too are the video clips that appear before and after each race and show Ryan at home trash-talking his other (animated) rivals. It seems the studio just asked Ryan’s parents to get him to record some stuff at home and WeTransfer it over, rather than recording stuff properly in a studio environment.
Ultimately, the argument from some will be “hey, it’s just a kid’s game, don’t worry about it”. The reality, though, is that children are smarter than some people give them credit for, and they still know quality when they play it. Just because a game has the kid they watch on YouTube in it, that doesn’t mean they’re still going to be playing it weeks and months from now, certainly not like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Putting our opinion on the cynical Ryan phenomenon to one side, the resulting game is nevertheless a slightly below-average kart racer that handles reasonably well but generally underwhelms, from the pitifully small number of tracks to the uninspired, floaty-light weaponry. Give your kids a Mario, Sonic or Crash racer instead; they may be young, but they aren’t stupid.