Have mascot, will travel
Mascot racers were popularized more than 20 years ago with Super Mario Kart, and despite it being one of the most overused genres in recorded history, games like Mario Kart 8 and Sonic All Star Racing Transformed proves theres still a lot of fun packed into those tiny cars. Given Nintendos sustained kart success, it isnt surprising that mascots like Pac-Man and Crash Bandicoot starred in arcadey racers of their own, even outdoing Mario and company on occasion. But respectable competition like that is nothing compared to the army of kart pretenders that had no business behind the wheel.
Decades of kart games have starred forgotten cartoon characters, Jedis, pieces of candy, and cats who hate Mondays, all of whom had no business appearing in forgettable mascot racers. These were cheap cash-ins at the time, and have only become more unnecessary with age. These are the least asked for kart racers of all time; look back on these mistakes and be happy that theyre mostly limited to mobile these days...
Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing
Long after everyone realized The Phantom Menace was actually terrible, the Episode I characters refused to be ignored, further sullying the Star Wars universe with their goofiness. That includes spin-offs like a kart racer reinterpretation of pod racing, a move that seems inevitable given the direction of the first prequel. In case youre wondering, the Bombad in the title is derived from Jar Jar Binks language, which is a dead giveaway that Star Wars fans under 10 need not play.
What makes this unnecessary? LucasArts was foolish not to quit while it was ahead; it had Star Wars Episode I: Racer--a pod racing game that was far better than anyone could reasonably expect. Then theres Bombads roster, which had legends like Yoda and Obi-Wan driving next to hideous prequel trash like Sebulba and Boss Nass. Even Darth Maul, the demonic Jedi slayer, got defanged by a superdeformed makeover. Sadly, the simplified racer didnt restrict its roster to The Phantom Menace either, dragging down badasses like Darth Vader and Boba Fett with its mediocre kart action. Good thing Star Wars fans had already learned how to deal with disappointment by the time this game came out.
Inspector Gadget Racing
Remember Inspector Gadget, the mildly entertaining 80s cartoon starring a bumbling cybernetic policeman who couldn't walk five feet without falling down a manhole? Reruns of the show aired for years, and Gadgets mainstream appeal reached critical mass with a 2000 film adaptation starring Matthew Broderick. But if youre too young to have any clue what Im talking about, would you believe that the aging animated series got its own ugly kart racer in 2003? I dont blame you if youre still drawing a blank, because Gadgets GBA adventure was never released outside of Europe.
What makes this unnecessary? Gadget may have more fans in Europe than the US, but Im thinking quality concerns had more to do with it not coming stateside. By 2003, most of the world had stopped watching Inspector Gadget chase after the diabolical Dr. Claw, especially in GBA games that wouldve been considered hideous on the SNES. It didnt help that the kart racer barely had enough memorable characters to support a roster of seven--including nobodies like Agents Bruce and Abdul. But beyond the mundane driving of Inspector Gadget Racing, its biggest misstep may be that the iconic theme song isnt used as the title music.
There are many ways to celebrate Chicano culture, like artist David Gonzales choice to do honor it via a series of tiny, controversial figurines called Homies. The large roster of characters is undeniably cartoonish, with some complaining that the cutesy trinkets celebrate dangerous gangs. The Homies creators counter that the characters backstories show them to be good people who give back to their community, but Im betting some of that positive impact was likely undone by this very broken DS game.
What makes this unnecessary? The obvious answer is that Homie Rollerz is one of the worst games of all time, but theres more to it than that. Homies were designed to be impulse purchases that cost under a dollar, so its odd that the publisher expected people to pay $30 for a kart racer featuring an anthropomorphic red pepper driving around East L.A. Then theres the severely unneeded use of the letter Z in the title. Years later, the Homies seem to have moved past their horrendous game, with nary a reference to the title on their official site.
South Park Rally
The recent South Park: Stick of Truth shows that, with a lot of effort and involvement from the creators, a great South Park game is possible. That was quite the revelation for gamers that grew up when South Park was still new and the adorably profane children had garbage games. The now-defunct publisher Acclaim snagged the South Park license in the late 1990s, making several crappy titles to quickly cash-in on a franchise that, at the time, seemed to be a flash in the pan.
What makes this unnecessary? Beyond a handful of brief voice clips, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had basically nothing to do with the game, ensuring a certain level of mediocrity. Instead of anything clever, Acclaim haphazardly mixed in references to the early years of the show along with some messy race tracks and confusing objectives. Why exactly would Big Gay Al task drivers to shoot each other with arrows? Matt Stone himself summed up this era of South Park releases pretty well: Acclaim did such a good job of fucking up the games
Heracles Chariot Racing
Mascots are expensive to create, and its even harder to build any kind of legacy for them. Most of the kart racing games in this feature sidestep that problem by using famous cartoon characters, but what if you cant afford anyone on the scale of Cartman or Yoda? Thats when you turn to characters no one owns, like those in Greek myth. You dont have to pay anyone to drop Heracles, Medusa, or Poseidon into a virtual go kart.
What makes this unnecessary? This has all the faults of other lackluster kart games, but without any of the warm memories associated with a particular franchise. The Greek pantheon is very generically designed, making the tracks and weapons even more forgettable, even if the gameplay isnt painfully awful. Whats especially unnecessary about this game is that it didnt see release stateside until a 2009 WiiWare port, which virtually guaranteed no one would ever play it.
The Smurfs have an impressive longevity for a group of blue creatures that annoyingly replace every other word with smurf. The collective of friendly creatures first appeared in a Belgian comic series before expanding into animated shows that occupied Saturday mornings for generations. Papa Smurf and company have starred in multiple (terrible) games, including one of the earliest sidescrollers, so the whimsical bunch was bound to end up with a kart racer of their very own.
What makes this unnecessary? If youre going to bother cloning Mario Kart, you should try to design a game that supports more than four karts per track. Smurf Racer is seemingly unable to handle more than a quartet of Smurfs at one time, but it does have the capacity for spoken dialogue, as shown by the almost constant Smurfy tutorials by Brainy Smurf. However, while Brainys know it all explanations fit the series, the kart gameplay isnt as natural. For a group known for teamwork and friendship, the Smurfs are more than ready to Smurf their fellow Smurf off the road with an Smurfsplosive.
M&M's Kart Racing
When I think of M&Ms, I imagine a sugar rush followed by a long stretch of guilt for eating a whole bag in one sitting. Many others think of the dopey, giant humanoid versions that have been selling the candies for years. The commercials are endearing in 30 second increments, but I think the chocolate makers were a bit delusional in assuming the candies could support multiple promotional games. Since 2000, M&Ms have starred in platformers, party games, and--you guessed it--a kart racer.
What makes this unnecessary? Released in 2008, the M&Ms went beyond inoffensively bad. Their karts drove like you the tires were coated in molasses (not an ingredient in M&Ms, fyi), the graphics were relentlessly mundane, and the courses were as straightforward as could be. The game is too lazy to even include items, a gameplay aspect that even the worst offenders on this list bothered to use. Lastly, the game decides that the best way to incorporate the candies personalities is to have then repeat a few stock phrases over and over again during each race. Its enough to make you swear off chocolate forever.
Your local newspapers comic page may be on life support, but Garfield still seems unstoppable as a brand. Long after the world stopped being entertained by the Monday-hating cat, Garfield endures, and will likely outlive newspapers, persisting mainly thanks to the internets ironic love for him. But if you think kids today arent aware of Garfield, consider that 2013 saw the release of Garfield Kart, the cats long overdue entry into the genre.
What makes this unnecessary? You expect a game called Garfield Kart to come out in 1996, not 2013, though it still plays like its 16 years old. The kart racing is pretty boilerplate, only the controls are set-up mobile devices, so dont expect much precision--though I guess an overweight cat like Garfield should have poor reflexes. The mascot racer also illustrates that beyond Garfield and Odie, the comic strip is strapped for recognizable characters. Im doubting many were dreaming of seeing Nermal battle Arlene for first place.
The finish line
I hope all those most unneeded kart racers put into perspective how lucky we are to live in an era when those quick cash-ins are no more. And if there were some kart titles that were so forgettable that even I missed them in this list, be sure to let me know about them in the comments!
And if you're looking for more comic book fun, check out the 9 worst X-Men games of all time and the every single Mario Kart item ranked from worst to best.