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Smurfs Kart Review

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If you’re a Smurfs fan and haven’t played it yet, then The Smurfs – Mission Vileaf is a surprisingly strong platformer that steals some of the best bits from Luigi’s Mansion. Although it might have come from a different development house to Smurfs Kart (Osome Studio has been switched for Eden Games here), it shows that publisher Microids knows it’s way around a Smurfs game. It was one of our favourite family games of the year, so we had high hopes for Smurfs Kart.

It’s certainly arrived at a busy time for karting games, particularly ones aimed at the younger generation. Disney Speedstorm and PAW Patrol: Grand Prix are perhaps the biggest, and both have arguably a more recognisable and modern IP. In the past year, we’ve also had Garfield, Nickelodeon, KartRider and even rubber ducks joining the party. The grid is starting to look pretty congested, and Smurfs are going to need something special to stand out. 

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4 player Smurfs Kart!

First it needed to hit the basics. Smurfs Kart can be played four-player locally on split-screen. You might think that’s a given, but you’d be surprised how often it gets omitted. The four-player works well, with the surprising addition of CPU karts in races: not every karting game is able to keep the other racers present, and there’s no noticeable lag. 

On the game modes side, things are slimline to the point of raising an arched blue eyebrow. In multiplayer, you can play Grand Prix – four tracks in a row from a chosen cup – or Free Race. The latter isn’t what we would expect from the title: you have to play a minimum of four races, with the next track being chosen at the end of each race – which is basically a Grand Prix, just with the ability to select from multiple cups, not just one. 

Without a Battle Mode, multiplayer challenges or anything of that sort, Smurfs Kart starts to look like a thin old package for those who like to smurf together. Single player is a little better, with the addition of a Time Trial mode that has you chasing down recognisable Smurf ghosts and their times, but it’s still a bit measly for a near full-price £24.99. A sticker album, collecting all your achievements in one place, is a neat addition, but still not pushing Smurfs Kart up to ‘good value’.

Twelve playable smurfs is pretty decent, but there’s a caveat here if your knowledge of The Smurfs stops at Papa Smurf and Smurfette. Every last racer is a smurf (duh), and there’s not a huge amount of differentiation between them. Some have chef’s hats, others have a quiff of purple hair under the hat, but mostly they’re all extremely similar characters. That’s to be expected with the IP, and we understand why they haven’t shrunken down a Gargamel or similar, but it did make the character-choice yawn-inducing for our two little ones.

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It’s the Smurfs. In Karts!

The karts could have saved things. Each Smurf comes with their own kart, but you can’t change them for a different one. There’s nothing like Mario Kart’s cracking vehicle selection screen where you can mix-and-match wheels, sails and more. The kart-choice is locked in, and we’re not entirely convinced that the decision was the right one. 

Still, credit to the Eden Games team for some sterling accessibility work. This has become increasingly common in kids karting games, which is a Very Good Thing Indeed, but Smurfs Kart takes it up a notch. You can choose constant acceleration for your kart, which is perfect for younger players who can’t press multiple buttons at once, while there is also an assisted driving mode. Finally, haptics can be turned off to make the experience smoother. It’s a strong range of options and, again, we’re not going to take it for granted. 

There are twelve tracks on offer, split into multiple cups thanks to the use of mirrored tracks. But one of Smurfs Kart’s primary problems is that it struggles to make them feel different enough. We’re going to point a finger at the colour palette on this one: eight of the twelve tracks take place in forest locations that overuse their green and brown paint pots. We appreciate that much of The Smurfs show takes place in these locations, but we got brown-fatigue. Four tracks turn up later that have Gargamel themes, but by then it’s all a little too late. It also doesn’t help that the colours are all very muted. There’s not a bright blue in sight, which is a crime for a Smurfs game. 

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There’s less blue than expected

Credit to the track-design team, who haven’t been deterred by the drab browns and greens and have done the best they can to create memorable tracks. For one, there’s a large dollop of verticality, as races undulate upwards and downwards. This is something that karting games keep getting wrong – if you’re on a flat plane, then you’re looking like SNES Mario Kart – and Smurfs Kart is one of the best games for using the full 3D space. It also does a fine line in secret routes, as there are at least three to be found in each track. 

They could have felt more fun to race around, though. The track-designers’ good work is undone by some poor signposting and a few too many uninteractive moments. If my family could give one piece of feedback to the developers, it would be to make the turns clearer. Don’t get us wrong: there are arrows plastered on most of the walls. But too many of the corners are unsighted, making it hard for younger players to anticipate them, and the surplus of browns can often mean that pits and walls come out of nowhere. Brown on brown isn’t easy to distinguish. 

As a more seasoned karter, I wasn’t a fan of the ‘flying’ sections, which seem to be standard in karting games now. You have to be soaring about on paragliders at some point if you want to compete. But Smurfs Kart makes the very odd choice of making them uncontrollable. You are locked on a conveyor belt, and you can’t even fire weapons. We’d love to know what made Eden Games think this would be dynamic and exciting, but we get the feeling that something happened last minute that meant that control had to be stripped away.

The racing, though? It’s fine, if a little vanilla. The karting touchstones are present and correct: there’s a boost for pressing the accelerator at the right time on the grid. There’s a power slide on RB that offers a boost if you keep it surging for a long period. And a deft press of RB at the top of the ramp will perform a stunt that ends with a surge of speed. Then there are the weapons, which are a fine mix of the familiar – a fly replaces a red shell, an acorn replaces a green shell, and a leaf replaces a mushroom – and the not-so-familiar. Our favourite inclusion is one that we can see Nintendo pilfering: a fake present appears in the player’s inventory and it has a ticking timer. If you don’t throw it away in time, it explodes and sends you spinning. 

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There are some ‘buts’ with Smurfs Kart

Here comes that ‘but’ again: the weapons in Smurfs Kart are only satisfying in certain situations. If you’re out front, you’re often being given the game’s currency of pomegranates (think Mario Kart’s coins), which is never satisfying, or you’re being given weapons that can’t be fired backwards. Acorns and flies don’t have a backwards feature, which is a crazy oversight, so you’re left tossing them into the breeze for giggles. Being first is often very little fun. 

Being further down the pack isn’t much fun either. There are far, far too many weapons which affect every racer on the track. You can be merrily driving along before being given hiccups, falling asleep, being hit by arrows and many, many more. The result is a LOT of spinning out, more than we’ve encountered in any similar racer, and that can have a huge impact on enjoyment. We’ve been on track for a first in one of the game’s two difficulties, before being hit by four or five weapons in a row, all resulting in a fifth place. It makes us smurfing angry,

The result is a patchy karting game when Smurfs Kart needed perfection. It has so many competitors, some free to play, and the bar has been set pretty high. But it’s turned up on race day with a decided lack of charm, colour, modes and anything we’d point to and say ‘that’s pretty cool’. The tracks are cleverly made and it runs well, but Smurfs Kart needed far more than that to register a scoring position.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Four-player racing with all CPU players present
  • Some well-designed weapons
  • Tracks are uniformly well made
Cons:
  • Lacks personality and colour
  • Tracks can be confusing, mired in brown
  • Unsatisfying racing
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Microids
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 22 August 2023 | £24.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Four-player racing with all CPU players present</li> <li>Some well-designed weapons</li> <li>Tracks are uniformly well made</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Lacks personality and colour</li> <li>Tracks can be confusing, mired in brown</li> <li>Unsatisfying racing</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Microids</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 22 August 2023 | £24.99</li> </ul>Smurfs Kart Review
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