Shaun Munro reviews VR Karts…
Viewpoint Games’ VR Karts attempts to infuse greater immersion into the much-loved Mario Kart formula, and tantalising though that idea sounds on paper, the depressingly lacking end product makes it a disappointing failure.
The gameplay loop is essentially Mario Kart to a T; you race around short, colourful maps, collecting speed boosts and power-ups which can then be used to inflict damage on your opponents, all in the hope of stealing first place. Thankfully, there’s no sign of the dreaded blue shell, though.
The main single-player draw is a series of four cups, which make use of the game’s 12 maps set across castle and beach themes. You can’t move onto the next cup unless you come first place in the previous one, which can be infuriating if you end up drawing first with the CPU, which seems to automatically put the player in second place overall. It’s actually more challenging than most will probably expect, though sadly not always in a satisfying way, and the lack of more diverse map themes makes it feel tedious pretty fast; most of the maps simply blur together.
There’s also the usual array of single race and time trial options, and an extremely limited customisation suite, but the game’s real allure for PSVR owners will surely be the multiplayer mode. Sony states that the game supports 2-6 players online, though in my playtests I never once encountered more than a single other player, and even on weekend afternoons, I had to wait a long time just to come across one opponent. The lack of voice chat is also rather disappointing considering that the PSVR headset has a built-in microphone, though perhaps this is part of Viewpoint’s design philosophy intended to keep the game kid-friendly.
Taken on its merits purely as a VR experience, VR Karts does fare slightly better; the graphics are pretty rudimentary and the power slide animation is hilariously hideous, but the actual immersion and sense of presence isn’t bad at all, if you can deal with the basic visuals and a pretty appalling aural package. The grating collision noise sounds like it was swiped from a royalty-free library, and the music is repetitive but at least easy to tune out.
Firing weapons in particular is actually pretty fun – ranging from spike belts to beehives (which you can shake your head to get rid of) and even spells that invert rivals’ controls – as you must use your head to aim. However, you can only fire after locking onto another racer, presumably in order to lessen player frustration, especially as the game is unapologetically aimed at younger players (though ironically, Sony recommends children under the age of 12 shouldn’t use PSVR).
All things considered, the real kicker here is the price. VR Karts on PSVR is currently sold for a ludicrous £34.99 on PSN, making it more expensive than most AAA VR games and more than three-fold its £10.99 price tag on Steam. Considering there’s really only an hour or two of content here for all but the most ardent enthusiasts, it’s a laughable proposition at the current price point. Ideally games should be reviewed in a vacuum, yes, but it’s impossible to ignore such an egregious price tag, especially as the cost is no doubt the biggest reason why the multiplayer community is so barren.
At £10 or less, expectations would be significantly lower and perhaps VR Karts wouldn’t seem like such a low-effort proposition. As it stands, with its bare bones presentation and lackluster amount of content, this is basically an overpriced Mario Kart knock-off that’s vaguely amusing for about half an hour before its limitations become abundantly clear. If you’re desperately craving a VR racer, save a few quid and stick with the vastly superior – not to mention criminally underrated – Driveclub VR instead.
+ Mildly amusing for brief spells
– Extremely basic presentation
– Outrageously overpriced
– Lack of content
– Limited multiplayer due to small community size and price
Reviewed for PS4 (also available on Samsung Gear VR and PC)
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.