When it comes to karting games, you can try something new in an attempt (and probably failed) to reinvent the genre, or you can play it safe and take notes from Mario Kart.
Smurfs Kart has absolutely no qualms about using the latter option, with barely an ounce of originality to be found in its game design. But do you know something? It’s not always a bad thing. Indeed, this decision to borrow heavily from the best – coupled with developer Eden Games’ form (Test Drive Unlimited) in the racing genre – means Smurfs Kart is a decent little driver.
There is no need to sit down as you read this, because nothing we will tell you about the structure of Smurfs Kart will stun you in boots. You already know the drill. It’s a karting game featuring everyone’s favorite blue Belgians characters (with apologies to fans of the Club Brugge football team, or a drowned Tintin).
The roster is made up of 12 of the navy’s numpties, from established favorites like Papa Smurf, Jokey and Smurfette to others that old farts like us aren’t quite as familiar with, like Blossom, Astro Smurf, and mechanic Clockwork Smurf. Each has their own narrator and personality, which means everyone feels as unique as a dozen all-blue characters can feel. Each also has their own unique kart, which cannot be customized in any way but at least fits the personality of the Smurf who drives it.
There are two speed settings to choose from – Fun and Hyperspeed – which work exactly like the “cc” ratings in Mario Kart, not only increasing the maximum speed of each kart but also significantly increasing the difficulty level of the AI.
Once on the track, anyone who has played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (which is practically everyone, according to sales figures) will immediately feel comfortable with the handling, which is not an exact facsimile but is close enough to have adapted to the first race. That is, assuming you didn’t accidentally activate driving aids by mistake like we did. Just like Mario Kart, you can activate assists for younger players – these prevent you from leaving the track, accelerate you and allow you to steer with motion controls. They can be accidentally turned on during pause or character select screens, but they are just as easily turned off.
Powersliding is the typical hop-and-slide method you see in Nintendo’s game and you get the typical three-stage sparks as you swipe that determine the speed of the speed increase when you exit the corner. It loads a little faster here than in Mario Kart, but otherwise it’s the same thing.
Same with power-ups. Coins are replaced by Smurfs and most of the typical Mario Kart weapons are here in a different form as well. Green shells are acorns, red shells are bees, bananas are tufts of earth, that sort of thing. It’s all simple, it’s all Mario Kart, it’s all easy to learn.
All of that would be useless if the game worked like Absolute Smurf, but it’s actually one of the few genuine surprises we’ve had playing Smurfs Kart – this is a pretty nice game after all. The frame rate isn’t 60 frames per second like Mario Kart is, but while it’s 30fps it’s at least an extremely solid 30, unlike other karting games on the Switch (we’re looking at you, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3). And that drop to 30 was clearly done to ensure the game looks as detailed as possible.
And to be honest, sometimes it looks really adorable. If it doesn’t work at native 1080p resolution while docked, it must be very close to it and there are some really lovely lighting effects along with detailed characters and tracks. Unless you throw up at anything less than 60fps, you’ll be surprised at how impressive it looks when docked or held in the hand.
It’s not without its downsides, mind you, and the most notable of these is in the number of tracks available. Each track is well designed and a joy to run around, and it’s not just lazily laid out flat surfaces – there has been a clear effort here to make them fun, practically every one of them offers some sort of shortcut and some even with different routes of the everything.
They even manage to feel different when the setting is the same. Some of the tracks take place in the village of the Smurfs, and while the initial flyovers of each of them look eerily similar, once the races begin there is a clear variety, for example, between the path that winds between their houses and the one set in their huge wheat fields.
The main problem is that there are only 12 courses to choose from, divided into three cups. While it’s possible to unlock mirror versions of these, there’s still not much variety for a $ 40 / £ 45 game. The multiplayer is local split-screen too, with no online play keeping you busy. It really won’t be long before you’ve fully played each track backwards, and while this might not be a big deal for younger players, older fans will feel a little bit Smurf after a while.
That said, there is also an in-game sticker album that rewards players for performing certain achievements, including winning a number of races with specific characters. This should add some longevity and give players a reason to tackle each track for the umpteenth time. Ultimately, however, this lack of content is the only major problem, albeit a rather large one, in a surprisingly well-made karting game.
On the track, Smurfs Kart brings out a surprisingly solid Mario Kart imitation, with satisfying handling and some gorgeous visuals (albeit at 30fps). In the big Switch kart games leaderboard, it won’t create any problems for podium places, but it will definitely lag just behind the first ones and definitely offers a fun time, even if it’s as short as its topic. The lack of routes is what keeps it from being one of the best karting games on the Switch, but they certainly haven’t smothered it.