Mario Andretti Kart
Now Codemasters is looking to shake Formula 1 free of those shackles a bit with the release of F1 Race Stars, a karting game starring every F1 driver worth his or her salt (at least a cartoon version of them). Did they borrow a page from classic karting series Mario Kart? Actually, they borrowed several chapters. Imagine a world where green shells have been replaced by yellow orbs! Bullet Bills might become green bullets! Mario and Luigi magically transform to Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, where Rainbow Road becomes a cartoonish Belgian F1 track. The only thing missing is battle mode, although a few other modes are there to make up for it.
Like other Codemasters games, F1 Race Stars can sometimes be pretty damn hard. If you set out to make your way through all 30 championships (each of which consist of 2-5 races) you’ll find that even on 1000cc difficulty (the easiest) you’ll run into some really tough races before you get very far. Try to make it through them on 3000cc and you better be some sort of robot. Just to make things more difficult, each time you get struck by an enemy shell… err… orb, your kart goes a bit slower until you can make it to the next pitstop. Get hit a second time and it gets even worse and it isn’t hard to get hit twice seconds into the race. Good luck catching up after that.
You’ll also find some other familiar kart conventions spread around the track. There are boost zones, jump pads, and even super shortcuts you can unlock by finding the hidden key tucked away on each track. There is even a super simplistic nod to the KERS system from real F1 racing that can help you get a boost on certain corners each track. Don’t mistake this for any sort of serious racing though, it’s just pure karting. You may ask yourself why you wouldn’t just play the aforementioned Mario Kart or even the also newly released LittleBigPlanet Karting. The only real answer to that is that you have an unabashed love for F1 racing. Otherwise those other options are a lot more full-featured and a bit more charming without the punishing difficulty.
When you get bored of straight up racing through 3 or 4 laps you can check out a few of the other modes, some of which are also integrated in the Championship slate. You’ve got your Exhibition mode, where you are awarded points based on how “exciting” you are during your races. There is Trophy Chase tasking you with gathering as many random trophies spread all over the track and smashing them out of your fellow riders. Sector Smash sees you trying to get the fastest time in each individual chunk of the track. Refuel gives you a limited amount of gas and spreads some fuel tanks on the track with the twist that the lower your fuel, the faster you go. Of course there are time trials that are punishingly impossible to get gold medals on.
There is of course an online component. As you may expect, the action is not exactly hot and heavy but you can find some foes if you are persistent. All the various modes are available from the single player side of things and in my limited experience the connections were pretty good with only an occasional warping racer letting me know I really was online.
The game looks decent enough, with the cutesy caricatures of the racers especially charming. It’s a little disappointing that they did not bother to put any effort into the pickups (they are literally just spheres) but the tracks themselves look pretty fancy. The UI is surprisingly bland for a Codies game for some reason. You’d think they would put some effort in there given the history.
What you are left with is a pretty generic karting experience that seems like an odd choice to release in the face of much stiffer competition from the decidedly more developed LBP Karting. As such, it’s pretty hard to recommend playing this game unless you are a fan of F1 or Codemasters.