Family Kart 3D is the latest in a series of sporty budget titles from ‘Arc System Works’ which bares an extremely strong resemblance to many other mainstream mascot titles such as Mario Kart or Sonic All Star Racing, minus the mascot characters. This game stars two siblings, ‘Billy and Sarah’ who have brought their extended family along for a Go Karting tournament.
Upon starting the game you have a choice of game modes. ‘Grand Prix’ where you can participate in four races to earn points, ‘Free Play’ which is a single race, ‘Time Trial’ which can be used to practice particular tracks, ‘Quick Play’ which is the same as free play on a randomly chosen track with a randomly chosen character & kart, and finally ‘Leader Board’ which is a racing mode where you can earn a national ranking.
The game features 3 Grand Prix tournaments, (confusing labelled ‘Bronze’, ‘Silver’ & ‘Gold’) each of which consists of four tracks making a disappointing total of only 12 races. When you begin the Grand Prix mode you’ll notice that the only level of difficult initially available is ‘Beginner’ as ‘Journeyman’ (a very unusual name for ‘Normal’) and ‘Pro’ require unlocking.
The first major negative point I noticed while playing happened before I even began racing. When confronted with the character select screen I lost a little bit of my enthusiasm for this title as all 8 characters were distressingly boring. The motif for this series is that the characters are based around members of a generic family, so there is a young boy, a young girl, a mum, a dad, a grandmother, a grandfather etc. none of which convey any sort of personality. The most interest comment I could muster about these eight individuals was that the grandfather had slightly amusing facial hair. That’s the full extent of intrigue and excitement I could muster. I actually had an easier time choosing a kart to drive as the designs of the karts offered far more interest and variety than the family.
Fortunately my mood shifted up a gear when I began the racing itself which on the whole is pretty decent. The karts were very responsive to the controls and the game runs very smoothly. You can steer the karts with either the analogue stick or the D-pad and there are only two simple face button controls, one to accelerate and one to use items.
There was another feature to the controls that I have to admit I completely missed on my first play through and that is the drift / boost system. Using the L & R triggers you can drift your kart while turning which builds up an F-Zero style boost meter allowing you to store up to three boosts at any one time. I actually had no problem beating all the courses in the Beginner mode without using this system, however by the time I reached the ‘Journeyman’ level of difficulty these extra boosts actually came in very handy in gaining leads. Do be careful when pressing the boost button as I accidently double tapped it and effectively wasted a boost unnecessarily. It would have been useful if the trigger was deactivated while in mid-boost.
Initially I couldn’t always get the drift to work but I soon discovered that it only works if you press the drift trigger down in mid turn. You can’t simply hold the button down and then turn like you can in other racers like Juiced. I did discover a fun little exploit in the controls which is that if you start drifting in one direction and then shift you’re momentum into the opposite direction, you can effectively drift in a straight line. This allows you to pretty much drift around the majority of the track regardless of whether you’re on a bend or a straight. This can help you build up a ton of extra boost power.
The courses in this game are lovely and colourful with a variety of pleasant themes, scenery and set pieces. There are hills, tunnels, bridges, waterfalls, etc. All the basics are here and make for a pleasant enough gaming environment. Some of the detail in the graphics falls a bit below par on closer inspection. The water effects leave a lot to be desired, there was a chain fence type bridge with transparent segments which was a bit tough to look at, and I did notice at one point that the sky appeared to be a little glitchy / broken with a black line occasionally running down it. One effect I found a bit annoying (although it may have been a deliberate game design choice) is that when you are hit by a rocket or a mine your screen will temporarily turn white, effectively blast blinding you. These issues aside there is nothing majorly awful about the graphics and overall I’d say the game was pretty nice looking.
There isn’t much to be said for the sound. A lot of the sound effect and fanfares are very similar to those in Mario Kart and although the music is OK there was nothing memorable or particularly good about it. It’s not bad and it does the job.
When travelling through the courses during the first Grand Prix I noticed many paths and areas that were coned off and not accessible. I also noticed parts of track in the background scenery which had boost pads on them and was curious to know how to access them as I assumed they were short cuts. I was hoping that the courses would change between laps like in Sonic All Star Racing Transformed, however all would be revealed when I entered a second Grand Prix. It turns out rather than creating 12 completely unique environments for each race there are in fact only 4. Each track gets reused in each Grand Prix but with changes made in which paths are blocked, effectively remixing the stages. For example, in the Silver Cup there is an area where you drive along a bridge under a waterfall, however in the Gold Cup you take a different route and end up travelling across the waterfall itself, making an area you previously believed just to be scenery an integral part of the track. Although I actually do admire the idea of rearranged stages it does serve as a poor substitute for a lack of original environments.
Items in this game work in exactly the same way they do in every other cart game. There are missiles, oil slicks (or spilt drinks in this particular game), boosts, mines which are a lot of fun to throw and my personal favourite which is some sort of rainbow car horn. This item has a similar effect to the boost, only stronger and without the worry or having to control your kart at high speed as it effectively puts your kart of rails for a short period.
All in all this game really didn’t take long to finish. As there are only 12 races by the time you’ve finished ‘Beginner’ you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, and this can be done in about half an hour if that. There is some replay value in trying the harder difficulties (‘Pro’ actually being very challenging), or if you really enjoy this game you could attempt to get a respectable leader board position, however realistically I don’t think this game offers nearly enough to sustain anyone’s interest for very long.
Although you couldn’t ask for too much from a $5 kart racer this game is amazingly shallow in the way of content. Since the mid 90s there have been so many advancements in Kart racers which this title has chosen to ignore. There are only 12 races in 4 environments, there are no boats, planes, jets, battle modes, adventure modes, vehicle transformations, coin modes, hidden collectables, secret paths, unlockable stages, bosses, there is not even any multiplayer.
Although this game is cheap and pretty solid at what it does I still can’t recommend it over any of the mainstream kart racers. As the 3DS is combatable with DS games I would sooner recommend grabbing yourself a copy of ‘Mario Kart 7’ or ‘Diddy Kong Racing DS’ over this. It could be argued that by choosing a DS title you’d miss out on the effect of the 3D screen, however you won’t actually be missing out on anything. Although ‘Family Kart 3D’ has 3D graphics and has ‘3D’ in the title it doesn’t take advantage of the effect of the 3DS screen. Whether you play in the 2D or 3D mode it looks exactly the same. Pretty disappointing overall.
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