There are cynical licensed games and then there are those that make perfect sense. While Multiversus is surprisingly good, we’re not convinced we needed to see Shaggy shanking Batman. But a karting game that features the perennially four-wheeled PAW Patrol? That makes a whole lot of sense. It might be a money-making vehicle (haha!), but it’s one that has a right to exist.
What also makes sense is that the Xbox, while not short on karting games, isn’t particularly well stocked with karting games made for younger players. Race With Ryan is a flawed and shonky attempt at it, but PAW Patrol: Grand Prix takes aim at the bullseye and doesn’t get far from it.
Time to sing one of its praises. PAW Patrol: Grand Prix includes an auto-drive mode. As someone with a three-year old who sees a family playing together and absolutely demands that she joins in, this is a life-saver. It drives forward for her, and occasionally course-corrects so that she doesn’t see Adventure Bay from behind a crash-barrier. It’s not new – Mario Kart 8 pioneered it – but so few games adopt it. Bravo to PAW Patrol: Grand Prix for including it here.
Everything your little ones would want from a karting game in the PAW Patrol franchise is present and correct. The main cast of pups are here, plus Ryder, and it doesn’t take long to unlock Everest, Tracker and Rex. There might have been room for Liberty from the latest movie, or some of the peripheral characters (Chickaletta only gets to sound the starting bell, natch), but it’s the heavy hitters, plus a few more, all in their famed, recognisable vehicles.
They are all voiced, as far as we can tell, by the UK cast too. Watch PAW Patrol on YouTube and you will know, all too well, that there are regional voices and Mayor Humdinger just sounds wrong in the US version. But here, the effort has been made to localise and get these voices right. They only appear in little interstitial cutscenes, and the occasional chatter in the cars, but it lends PAW Patrol: Grand Prix some authenticity.
Best of all, PAW Patrol: Grand Prix is four-player, and it’s couch co-op to boot. As long as you have four game pads and the equal number of willing pups, you can all play together, and you’re not sacrificing much as you do. It’s the bare minimum for a karting game, but you’d be surprised how many let this hurdle twonk them in the face.
The core, then, is as dependable as Chase, but the rest verges on the lightweight. There aren’t many ways to play PAW Patrol: Grand Prix, for example. The closest you get to a campaign or Mario Kart-style grand prix is the curiously limited Adventure Mode. Here, you can play seventeen tracks in a row, but you can only play them single-player, and they’re not broken up into smaller chunks. You can return to your save at any point, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to break these up into manageable bites in some form?
Outside of the bizarre marathon that is Adventure Mode, there are quick races, which picks the track and character for you (again bizarre: what discerning PAW Patrol fan wouldn’t want to choose their character), and finally – and thankfully – a Custom Race, where you get to choose the track AND character, as well as play multiplayer (but only locally, which makes sense considering the age rating).
There are twelve tracks with the option to switch them to night or day, when we would have taken a mirror mode instead. Those twelve tracks are four ‘themes’ stretched over some reasonably similar layouts. Jungle, Adventure Bay, snow and a kind of beachy flavour are all you get here, and it’s not really enough. With some flat track designs, handicapped by also needing to be simple for younger players, they manage to sharpen the feelings of repetition. Playing those seventeen tracks in a row in Adventure Mode is going to feel mighty familiar. A bit like watching the episodes as an adult, as it happens.
While the tracks are bordering on the tedious (some shortcuts do help to liven things up a tad), the controls are robust. The cars handle well, and they handle even better if you work out that RT is a power-slide with a boost as payoff; the game doesn’t actually tell you that it’s there. There’s a neat dual-weapon system too, which echoes Outright Games’ other racer, Fast & The Furious: Spy Racers Rise of Sh1ft3r. You can collect Mario Kart-like weapons, such as boosts, jams and tornadoes that circle your kart, but you can also accumulate pup treats which will eventually unlock your dog’s signature attack.
Ryder has a shield to stop attacks (a typically non-committal attack from ol’ goody two shoes), while Skye has a flying helicopter boost and Tracker uses his toolkit to grapple the person in front. Each pup has a character-appropriate ability, and while they do range in quality (Tracker’s only works if someone is in front, which isn’t great in first place), they are varied and give the pups some individuality.
That said, there is a blue shell in PAW Patrol: Grand Prix, and it sucks as much as it does in that Mario game that we’ve referenced too much already. It’s a tractor beam that slows you down to a crawl which, as it turns out, is more infuriating than being hit. Moving at 2kph doesn’t feel good, unsurprisingly.
Very generally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a lot of rubber-banding in PAW Patrol: Grand Prix. We found that the three difficulty settings were much of a muchness to us as seasoned karting players. No matter which we chose, Marshall or another pup would be up our backside, ready to overtake when we got hit by the blue shell, sorry, tractor beam. PAW Patrol: Grand Prix is definitely prone to a little didn’t-deserve-to-lose-itis, which is fine, if not great, if you want little’ uns to have a chance of winning, but makes it unsatisfying if you are chasing the perfect Adventure Mode for an achievement.
Nothing in the arsenal of weapons is particularly outstanding (a confetti bomb is a cute articulation of the screen-smothering weapon, but that’s about the height of it), but we have to keep rewiring ourselves: this is a kid’s game, and kids are nowhere near as discerning. Looking at the beaming face of our three-year old as she clears the finish line in second place with Skye, well, that’s kind of priceless, innit?
For a younger player who dreams of jumping into the fire engine with Marshall, PAW Patrol: Grand Prix gets so much right. It can handle four players at once; it’s all the right pups with all the right voices. To crown it all, it has an auto-drive feature, so your little one only has to jab an analogue stick. This is not to be taken for granted: it’s incredibly rare.
For everyone else? Perhaps we shouldn’t care. There’s enough here to make playing four-player anything but a chore, and so what if it doesn’t stand up to an adult’s single-player scrutiny? It wasn’t made for us. Not really.
Take the testimony of two PAW Patrol fans in our house – PAW Patrol: Grand Prix is on a roll.
You can buy PAW Patrol: Grand Prix from the Xbox Store