With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe being one of the biggest sellers on Nintendo Switch at the moment (trailing just behind the behemoth that is Super Mario Odyssey) it’s surprising that there haven’t been more kart racers released. In fact, I’m having a tough time even thinking of one. While we have the recognisable faces of both Sonic the Hedgehog and the Nickelodeon toon cast bringing their own unique brand of slapstick racing to Switch later this year, PQube has also taken it upon themselves to inject a healthy dose of fruit into the genre.
And when I say injected, I mean most everything is inspired by fruit – whether it’s the racers and their weaponry or even the tracks themselves taking you from deserts littered with peppers to snowy mountains featuring cabins with apples on their rooftops. What this results in, is a dazzlingly colourful and bright world that borders a little on sickly but at least sets itself apart by taking such a random theme and running with it (or should I say driving with it).
In terms of gameplay, this is your typical kart racer offering nearly everything you’d expect from a game of this genre. Take the handling of the karts for example where everything is kept nice and simple making navigating turns and boosting through long power-slides a breeze. Random Juicer – one of the game’s numerous modes – even handles weapons similarly to the much-loved Nintendo series by awarding random items as you drive through a question-marked bubble. And while we may be used to tossing homing red shells and dropping banana peels the artillery you find here acts similarly albeit with a fruity layer.
That isn’t to say All-Star Fruit Racing borrows all its ideas from other titles though, the game also sporting its own power-up system in other modes. As you race you’ll pick up different fruits scattered randomly around the track that fill up one of four tanks depending on its colour. Fill a tank to completion and you can then unleash a power-up. Fill up multiple and you’ll have access to more abilities depending on which tanks you use (the game allows you to cut off usage of each tank opening up the opportunity for experimenting with different combinations).
While it’s an inventive system on paper there are problems that prevent it from being the preferred option. For one switching off tanks and remembering the right combination of colours can be tough especially as you’ll need to juggle this task whilst racing. The weapons also don’t feel weighted properly, special moves requiring all four tanks to be filled often weaker or less effective than power-ups that only need two or three.
A lack of polish in the execution of All-Star Fruit Racing’s ideas is felt throughout, a problem that also proves to be its biggest downfall. The controls for example while functional are far from ideal, the game mapping the switching on and off of tanks to the A, B, X and Y buttons. It doesn’t sound like it should be an issue, but in action proves uncomfortable especially as you need your fingers on both the shoulder buttons to drift and accelerate. Using a single Joy-Con on its side is also an option but one that feels even worse with their tiny SR and SL buttons.
There’s also something a little off about how the game feels, drifting never as satisfying as it should be, boosting often underwhelming and the karts themselves a little too weighty. While this rarely impacted my overall enjoyment I had with the game, it’s an area that with some tweaking could help elevate the gameplay from just good to great. Load times in the game are also painfully long whether it’s simply loading up the game itself or jumping between races. Given the fact you’ll find yourself playing through numerous tracks in a row this leaves a lot of time sitting, staring and waiting.
All-Star Fruit Racing does offer a couple more modes outside your standard race most affecting how weaponry is handled. While we’ve already delved into the standard Mario Kart-style approach and the unique tank-filling mechanic, another choice removes consumables from the track entirely and instead has your special ability on a cool down. Elimination meanwhile cuts the pack down one by one at set intervals while another mode (and probably my favourite) randomizes when a trailing racer gets picked off. All of these make up the game’s 11 trophy career mode while players also have the option to shave off seconds in time trials, pick and choose their own championships or even just tackle a single track one at a time. The variety is a nice surprise but one I wish the developer expanded upon a little more.
As you might expect, All-Stars Fruit Racing excels as a multiplayer experience especially if you can wrangle together three other players. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t offer online support, a feature available in the other console and PC versions but mysteriously absent here. The developer has since promised this option will arrive in a future update, however not having it from day one while PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC owners do is a bit of a blow.
The game does offer light customisation of your vehicle although all purely cosmetic. You’re able to choose the chassis of your kart, wheels, horn and such for each character of which you can also earn more. Not everything is unlocked right from the get-go, so there’s a decent sense of reward as you gradually gain access to more as you play further into the game.
All-Star Fruit Racing is a decent enough kart racer that offers a few interesting ideas of its own but unfortunately suffers in a few areas whether it’s the awkward control scheme, confusing weapon system or even a general lack of online features. There’s fun to be had from this fruit-inspired title, sure, but perhaps a little ripening could have helped sweeten this uneven racer.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by PQube