Review – Smurfs Kart
Making a kart game is a different kind of beast in the years since Mario Kart 8 has decided to become the Skyrim of goofy racers. It used to be that each generation had something to try out that might be the big winner or at least be somewhat appealing. Sonic Racing had some great moments, but was still baffling as it was a racing game that had Sonic in a goddamn kart instead of, you know, his feet. Nickelodeon Kart Racers is a bit on-the-nose, but still appeals to players less interested in intense courses or dynamic gameplay. Even the recent Warped Kart Racers could be fun, if it wasn’t so incredibly janky: it’s evident money went towards voice clips and not course design. But developers, especially the devs at Microids, are determined to provide a fun and engaging racer for players of all ages who don’t want to don the cap of Mario or Luigi for the umpteenth time as we wait for more courses to be trickle fed in December. So, against all odds, we’re here with Smurfs Kart.
This is a weird one, because Smurfs are an IP that’s both new and old. There’s definitely been Smurfs memorabilia throughout the years, and a new animation began back in 2021 (which is the main visual pull for this game). However, I don’t know many, if any, children who are familiar with Smurfs. The wild story of little blue people from the 80s who are constantly hounded by a mad wizard and his cat, is something that feels so firmly set in the 80s and 90s that I try everyday to forget there were a couple of movies back in the early 2010s. I would argue that peak popularity is when the Smurfs actually teamed up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Garfield, ALF, and the Bush family to tell you why crack cocaine was bad. So to see a brand new game about Smurfs on the same console where I play DOOM, Persona 5, and NEKOPARA, is a bizarre feeling to say the least.
As you might expect, Smurfs Kart is a traditional kart racer where you take control of one of twelve Smurfs, each of which has their own unique attack item that affects the game in some way. One Smurf throws a cake that causes the receiver to hiccup, making them bounce around the track. Another launches a hot potato present that you need to quickly throw back to someone before it explodes. Yet another just has a crossbow because I forgot that the Smurfs participate in The Hunger Games annually.
None of these items will show up if you’re in first place, so, like most kart racers of the last fifteen years, it’s only really fun or special if you aren’t particularly good at racing. Items come from gift boxes strewn over the courses, you collect berries to achieve a maximum top speed (and lose them if you get hit with something), and you need to finish three laps in order to win. I need to be explicitly clear that new ground is not being broken with this game. You’re going to race, as a Smurf, and win. End of story.
Once you get things moving in Smurfs Kart, it’s going to become immediately apparent whether this was a good or bad investment on your part. I say this because the different elements and aspects of criticism can be viewed from either side. I’ll give my own take on things, but you really need to consider them from your own vantage. Take, for example, the fact that there are twelve courses in total and all of them are unlocked from the very beginning. Some might view this as a positive things because you don’t need to grind yourself on courses and victories in order to access the full game, you can do that from the drop. On the other hand, now you know that there are these courses, only a couple of which feel significantly different, and you just need to work with those. Personally, I would have liked a bit of mystery, or, dare I say it, more tracks. Twelve is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but Warped Kart Racers has sixteen and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is at a staggering forty-eight tracks, plus more coming. Is the Smurfverse as expansive as the other two? Certainly not, but it’s something worth considering for your replay value.
Mechanically, Smurfs Kart handles pretty well. The controls are a little rubbery, but far from floaty, and the importance of drifting has come back into my life with a vengeance. The AI driving has only two speeds: Fun and Hyperspeed, but both have a high level of competency for both avoiding obstacles and also finding secret routes. I highly suggest starting on the lower “speed” so that you can get a feel for the courses, because you are given no quarter by Papa Smurf or any of the other blue demons that burn down the track, tagging you with acorns, mosquitos, and that damn flute that puts you to sleep and slows you down. You may even want to take a few laps in the time trials to both learn the courses and to get a feel for the game overall. The way you snap in and out of drift can be jarring coming from Mario Kart, so give yourself time to adjust.
Once I played through a couple of grand prix, I figured it was time to do some multiplayer with my family, and the results were…mixed. Without a connection to the characters and with every kart being the same (zero modifiers in speed, handling, weight, etc.), it was just a matter of seeing whose weapon visually looked cooler. Split screen, it handled well and looked pretty good; I must admit the game was polished and visually appealing on the Switch, which helped for the silliness and fun of it all. Although, it was very telling that no one wanted to do more than a single circuit to get a better feel for the game. The overall reception was just “okay.” With access to other games and other avenues of enjoyment, the draw to keep going through more tracks with errant bugs knocking you down wasn’t the most fun for anyone.
The sound design is also something people might go back and forth on. The music I actually thought was great for Smurfs Kart. It’s got some jazzy, almost funky rhythm to it all, really on-the-nose for a game that’s a racer that’s also fairly low stakes and silly. It’s got good ambience throughout, particularly in the loading screens and the menus. I made a point to enjoy the soundtrack whenever I could, as that was also the only thing I really heard. There were sound effects for the different items, but there weren’t any voices.
Okay, there were some kind of grunts and sounds from each character, but none of them said a damn thing. If you told me we couldn’t get the original voices of Papa Smurf back, that’s fine because Don Messick died in the 90s and I’m not expecting a miracle. But it would have been incidental to get Davis Freeman to drop in some lines, and it would have added to the atmosphere. Also, if we’re talking original Smurfs, Frank Welker is very much still alive and working, and I bet he would have really enjoyed bringing back Hefty Smurf for something this silly. Having cartoons from a well-known IP at the center of your game and having them say nothing seems like a really backwards and almost self-sabotaging choice.
The thing that bothers me the most about Smurfs Kart is the inclusion of the stickers. For whatever reason, there’s been a decision to artificially reward players with achievements and stickers in recent games, and it feels so demoralizing in the grand scope of things. The achievements I get: I love being able to see that I did a thing the game wanted me to try to do, and now I did it and I’m a good boy. Awesome.
But the stickers come across like mocking placeholders for something that could be useful. I’ll temper my expectations and not throw out unlocking new vehicles, characters or courses: it was clear from the start that there was never a chance. But new skins, maybe? Yes, Smurfs are blue with white hats, but how about a new coat of paint for their cars? Hell, how about I can put one of those stickers on my car instead of an arbitrary album that I can look at and say “Wow, I got a sticker?” My kids love stickers. I like stickers. I don’t like digital stickers, and squeaking out wins in Gargamel’s Castle should get more than just a sticker. It’s a JPG. I just busted my ass for a JPG.
Overall, Smurfs Kart is a decent little kart racer, but that’s all it is. It’s decent, it’s little, it’s full of missed opportunities because it’s so small and it commands a very hefty price tag for what it delivers. I know there’s got to be a couple people out there who are really interested in a Smurfs game and don’t care the cost, and I’m fascinated by your lifestyle and would like to learn more. But this game has no future for my own interests. I can nod and say “I played it,” followed by shrugging if asked if I liked it. If my friend wanted to try it, I’d give it another spin with them, but it’s far, far down the list for a game I’d recommend to pick up and play.
Character sprites are decent and the levels have enough object difference to be interesting. Nothing really pops beyond a generic cartoony feel, and the lack of customization for the karts gives a sameness that blankets the race overall.
Too much focus needed on drifting and alternate paths to be easy for newcomers, but also wildly unbalanced for certain items. Power-ups should give you an edge, not cut off the opposition entirely.
A jazzy, fun soundtrack that’s a tad repetitive, the lack of voicework on a cartoon game feels like a wild miss that degenerates the potential engagement.
Fun Factor: 5.0
A surprisingly solid kart racer, the lack of variety in play styles or tracks takes what could be something great and hamstrings it into a single afternoon.
Final Verdict: 5.0
Smurfs Kart is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Smurfs Kart was provided by the publisher.