If F1 had a koopa shell and banana peel...
Codemasters is generally known as a studio that concentrates on its technical racing brands, including both the F1 and DiRT series. But it can be exhausting to care about every detail of a simulation racer, so I'm glad that they are showing their much more casual and offbeat side with F1 Race Stars, essentially a light-hearted translation of Mario Kart with real Formula One racers.
In the preview build GR was given, F1 Race Stars shows off its quick exhibition mode. You can choose from 28 bobblehead versions of real-life racers, some of which fans will recognize including Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, and several female avatars who unfortunately have no real-life counterpart. That's just the state of gender roles in Formula One racing at the moment, but let's not think too much about that here. Each racer is paired up with another team member and has a special ability that grants a particularly powerful weapon that can be activated during a race.
Then comes choosing one of eleven tracks (four of which were previewable in the build), all based around a specific country. It's as if they took each cultural area at Epcot Center and transformed them into a speedway. The Brazil track takes place in a colorful parade and jungles, whereas the Italy track has racers turning through ancient architecture and beneath aqueducts. Most tracks have several tricky turns that require precise speed to execute properly.
The point, of course, is to be the first kart racer to cross the finish line out of 12 competitors, but it takes an awareness of shortcuts and weapons to do so, especially on the 2,000cc and 3,000cc difficulty levels. Every track usually at least two shortcuts or a handful of diverging paths with differences in item pick-ups and hazards. In a neat twist, some of them even have you racing almost sideways or upside-down. One super shortcut on the Germany track could only be opened by picking up a key in an earlier out-of-the-way path, but once taken, let's you jump ahead of the pack by a hefty margin.
Speeding over star icons on the track gives you a random item pick-up, most of which are trap balloons that can be planted on the road, fired forward, or even fired backward, with the assistance of the camera which can shift to have you to see if anyone is coming up behind you. Other items allow you to accelerate for a short time, turn your wheels metal so you can plow through the competition, and force a rain cloud over a target. The most irritating of the bunch is the safety car, which limits the speed of the player in the lead. I actually don't know if this is activated by an item, but however it does appear, it has thwarted me more times than I dare count.
Several modes like Career, Time Trial, and Online weren't available in the preview build, but they'll likely round out the package when the full retail game is available. F1 Race Stars releases some time next month for XBLA, PSN, and PC on November 13. It's at the same time as Call of Duty: Black Ops II, so I can only wish them good luck.