Kart racing, braking, and (mostly) friendly competition in a land of European comic bobblehead dolls.
There are racing games, and then there are racing games. My introduction to the genre was the arcade classic Pole Position. This is because I am 33. And when the young gamers of today are 33, they will say, "my introduction to extra-terrestrial genocidal war simulator games was Halo," because alien races with whom we'll have a future alliance will demand that we label our games appropriately.
F1 Star Racers is an Formula 1 Racing-branded Mario Kart clone developed by Codemasters. You have the option of choosing from real Formula 1 racing stars as your avatars, who have been rendered in-game in a cute, European comic book style. Not surprisingly, the game is full of Euro-centric caricatures that have a very French comic-book style. The depiction of the US is of a Disney-esque Texas world full of tractors on the course, huge tumbleweeds, and truckzilla.
The game features a lengthy campaign of different sets of race events, with three different difficulty levels. As the player moves through the campaigns they encounter the different race or event types and modifiers. Every track is colorfully designed, with item pick-ups that might as well be Mario Kart shells and bananas.
The different types of events are F1 Race Stars' strong suit. Many of these are point-based. In the Trophy and Slalom events (my favorites), you increase your point value based on hitting certain physical targets, and the winner is the first who hits a specific number. Modifiers, on the other hand, change the track or play style, like "Mirror" which creates a mirrored version of the track where objects on the left and right were inverted.
The most bizarre element of F1 Race Stars is its lack of drifting. I put on my research hat (since I know nothing about Formula 1) and discovered that F1 racers don't drift according to the magnificent repository of knowledge that is The Internets. While this doesn't in any way break the game, it does mean playing totally differently from a Mario Kart experience in regards to cornering. I was shocked when I actually had to use judicious application of the brake pedal the first couple times.
F1 Star Racers exudes charm in visual presentation. It presents a world of respectful competition; the competitors wink and point at each other during the countdown to the start, and on the podium they encourage each other to show off their victory dance moves. The cute, chiseled bobblehead doll depictions of the F1 real-world counterparts are sure to delight fans of F1 racing who are into carting games.
However, it doesn't bring much new to the table in terms of gameplay (and fans of Mario Kart may find the lack of drifting a step backwards). The game features online multiplayer and some other standard features, as well as being able to log your progress with Codemasters' online service, Racenet. However, it's still not Mario Kart, no matter how charming the presentation and attitude.