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KartRider: Drift Review – A Mario Kart Killer?

KartRider: Drift characters racing.

After a lengthy wait, KartRider: Drift has finally arrived on mobile (and PC, if you’re into that sort of thing). It follows in the footsteps of the previous entries in the series, which is to say that it tries to emulate Mario Kart as aggressively as possible. Given that the world’s most famous plumber’s racing game is top tier in the kart scene, that’s not a bad aim, but how successfully it manages to translate the series is open to debate.

Overall, there’s stuff that KartRider: Drift does really well – possibly even better – and plenty that it gets wrong.

The Good Stuff

Perhaps this is unfair to Mario Kart, whose last (proper) entry is nearly a decade old at this point, but KartRider: Drift is easily the better looking of the two. It’s not by a large margin, mind you, which is kind of embarrassing given the years of progress visuals have made since 2014.

But, it is a looker, with its cute cartoon visuals really popping on a decent phone screen.

The items are also a huge positive. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’re better than Mario Kart, but there does seem to be a lot more skill to using them. The magnet, for example, is great when used against a distant foe, as it simultaneously slows them down while speeding you up.

Use it against a close opponent though, and you’ll overtake them only for the magnet to then pull them back ahead. There are plenty of items like this too, including walls that can block your passage as well as your opponents, and a water balloon that can trip you up if you’re not careful.

You have to manually aim most items too, which is in stark contrast to Mario Kart’s wild abandon approach. Sure, there’s absolutely a huge element of skill in Mario Kart, but it almost seems optional when compared to KartRider, which forces you to aim and think with most items.

Lastly, there’s a greater variety of modes on offer too. You’ve got item, which is classic MK, alongside speed, which removes items, license, which is basically ranked, and time attack, which does what it says on the tin.

Then there’s custom race, which lets you pick any of the modes and maps, and allows you to invite friends or fill with AI if you just want to practice.

We should also give a special mention to the range of kart and character options too. While Mario Kart also has a host of characters and karts to unlock, each of them has a set of stats that changes how you play. KartRider: Drift dispenses with that in favour of flat stats across all characters and karts.

Whether or not that is a good thing is subjective.

The Less Great

So, a few positives, then, but, ultimately, Mario Kart this isn’t. The worst feature of the game by far is easily the map design, which is an absolute far cry away from Nintendo’s best. It’s worse, even, than Mario Kart Tour’s offerings, though it suffers from similar pitfalls.

The tracks are just far too simplistic and short – so much so, in fact, that there’s typically only a single turn per track that actually requires the titular drift feature.

Speaking of which, it never feels quite right. It’s far too easy to over-drift, and you never really need to drift long enough to earn the boost – which is so pathetic, by the way, that it’s never worth it.

In Mario Kart, drifting doesn’t just help you get around tight corners, but is a vital mechanic in terms of gaining speed. Here, it can help you get around corners with ease, but the speed gain from drifting is so minimal that it’s worth avoiding the speed loss from drifting in the first place.

You could forgive the above if KartRider: Drift was mobile only, as touch controls do make difficult manoeuvres challenging, but it’s also available on PC, and, soon, PlayStation and Xbox. There’s simply not enough depth here to keep a console audience happy.

Then there’s the free-to-play aspect. Now, there’s no pay-to-win, thanks to characters and karts being cosmetic only, but you still need to fork out actual cash to unlock certain cosmetics. That’s in stark contrast to Mario Kart 8, which provides you with everything by simply playing.

Not A Winner, Then?

As we alluded to earlier, a Mario Kart killer this is not. Don’t get us wrong, KartRider: Drift does plenty right – it looks great, features genuinely brilliant item design, and has a wide variety of modes to play.

But, where it counts, it falls well short of its inspiration. The map design is far too simplistic to satisfy kart racing veterans – or even children who have never played one before.

Its titular drifting feature also pales in comparison to Mario Kart’s. So much so that it’s actually worth actively avoiding using it as much as possible, as the speed boost you gain from doing so doesn’t mitigate the loss in speed from drifting in the first place. It’s baffling.

If you don’t own a Switch, or any device capable of playing a proper Mario Kart, then you should probably play Mario Kart Tour.

One to Miss

KartRider: Drift does plenty right, with stunning visuals and inventive item design, but it fails where it matters. Its minimalist map design and poor racing mechanics result in a kart racer that simply can't compete with Nintendo's best.


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