Codemasters have expanded the range of official Formula One games to include F1 Race Stars, a Mario Kart clone with a healthy sense of fun.
It joins mainstream racer F1 2012 and online resource management game F1 Online: The Game (available free of charge and not reviewed) in their roster of Formula One titles.
Taking an existing set of characters and sticking them in go-karts with colourful tracks and power-ups galore is classic spin-off fodder. Sony have recently done the same with their LittleBigPlanet series. And it’s a concept that F1 lends itself to particularly well.
Naturally you have the pick of all 24 F1 drivers, suitably cartoon-ised, with special characteristics particular to each team. There are four fictitious racers as well which, in a wise move, includes three female characters.
But it’s the tracks that are the real stars, each featuring distinctive sections based on the real things and riffs on local characteristics and culture. So the Belgium course features a version of Eau Rouge and frequent rain.
In Japan you bounce along the roof of a Shinkansen then dodge highway traffic. At Yas Marina you disappear off into the Ferrari World theme park then emerge onto a desert track with sandy run-off areas that are far more punishing than their real-world tarmac counterparts.
Comparisons with Mario Kart are inevitable and the similarities are unmistakable. Power-ups such as the bottle rocket and exploding balloons of confetti have near-identical parallels in the Nintendo series.
The characters’ exclamations, the shortcut-riddled tracks and the teeth-gnashing frustration of being blasted out of the lead by a rival are wholly reminiscent of the Mario Kart universe. So much so that I was disappointed not to see a cameo appearance from a moustachioed racer in a red cap, though I’d probably have mistaken him for Nigel Mansell.
F1 Race Stars also has that Mario Kart trait by which the best way to win races is to blast into an early lead to stay out of range of your squabbling rivals. Killjoy that I am, I took shameless pleasure in winning races this way, Sebastian Vettel-style.
But the game has an answer to that as well in the form of the Safety Car power-up, which deploys a cartoon Mercedes SLS AMG to delay the leader’s progress. Even so, it’s still possible to win by over 20 seconds.
The single-player game offers a variety of race styles including ones with refuelling (grab fuel power-ups to keep going but fill up too much and you slow down) and TOCA shootout-style elimination races.
The graphics are colourful but Nintendo-basic – given which, it’s surprising there isn’t a Nintendo Wii version. However this simplicity allows for four players to compete at once via split-screen.
The best way to enjoy F1 Race Stars is in multi-player mode with a group of friends – the single-player championships get repetitive quite quickly.
It’s easy to see how this game might particularly appeal to younger players but there’s tons of fun to be had for grown-ups too. We should also be wary of patronising younger fans with too much of this sort of thing. There are plenty of young players who went to learn more about the sport with a realistic game, and for that F1 2012 is clearly the way to go.
F1 Race Stars is not particularly original, but it is lots of fun and the extension of the Formula One brand to a new universe is definitely welcome. Codemasters haven’t set the bar high with this one, but they’ve cleared it comfortably.
F1 Fanatic rating
F1 Race Stars
Published: November 2012
Format: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Price: £34.99 (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), £29.99 (PC)
F1 Race Stars trailer
F1 Race Stars images
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