It's been twenty years since the Super Nintendo game Super Mario Kart defined the kart racing genre, and the genre has seen a number of improvements since that time. It's also seen a lot of licensed cop-outs as well (ie: Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing). Joy Ride Turbo, a kart racing game released earlier this year, ditches corporate branding and focus upon actual gameplay -- a decision that spawned an above-average game in this crowded genre.
Players of Joy Ride Turbo, a title available for download via Xbox LIVE Arcade, won't find cars/karts inspired by the latest cartoon series; nor will they find racers from 'Looney Tunes', 'The Replacements', or even 'Dancing With the Stars'. What they will find is a collection of not-so-over-the-top vehicles and the player's actual Xbox 360 avatar waiting to drive one.
Developed by BigPark, Joy Ride Turbo is a sequel to Kinect Joy Ride (a Kinect launch title). Turbo, however, has shed its Kinect features for traditional gamepad controls. The result is a natural-feeling racing title that's simple to pick up and play, yet challenging enough to keep the player's interest. Controls are well mapped and stay true to industry standards such as using the right trigger as the accelerator and the left analog stick for steering. All actions -- including stunts while airborne and firing projectiles at rival vehicles -- feel almost second-nature.
In media, it's often said that content is king. If that's true with video games, then Joy Ride Turbo is at the very least somewhere in the castle. For a measly 800 Microsoft points, players get Mario Kart-style cups, a stunt mode, and online/offline multiplayer. The game also has 15 semi-customizable vehicles and a collection of tracks that would make the PS Vita game Ridge Racer swoon. Sure, the game's initial choices are quite limited (literally to one vehicle at game start), it's not too shabby for the Xbox 360 equivalent of ten bucks.
While the tracks are fairly fun with well-distributed projectile pickups and cool shortcuts for racers to take, they're not perfect visually. While the game doesn't seem to suffer from any frame rate or glitching issues, the tracks aren't as beautiful as maybe they could have been. While moderately well detailed, the scenery comes off as a bit plain after a while. Of course, if given the choice between pretty backgrounds and solid gameplay, gameplay should win out every time. But, why can't the game have both?
In the twenty years that the kart racing genre has been around, Nintendo has been the king of the kart thanks to its Mario Kart series. Sure, there have been a number of imitators and some (such as the PS3 title ModNation Racers) have been rather good, but few of them actually go out on the dance floor. Most seem to just sit on the chairs in the shadows hoping somebody would ask them to dance. The Xbox 360's Joy Ride Turbo isn't that kind of game; rather, it's the one standing by the punch bowl with a flask of gin hidden in his sports coat.
Final Game Guys grade: B
(Microsoft provided a copy of this game for review.)