With the recent release of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, Team Sonic Racing, and the continued dominance of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, we are officially living in a kart racing renaissance. All three of those ’90s mascots are on the Nintendo Switch too, a feat that would have blown anyone away on the playground back in the good old days. Of course, it wasn’t just Mario and Sonic hitting the circuit either. In its heyday, kart racing was an all-consuming genre, with tons of franchises getting their own spin on Mario Kart action. It didn’t matter if they had a small cast or if they had nothing to offer in terms of power-up ideas, there were as many kart racers back then as there are mobile match three games now. Let’s take a trip through history and relive the absurdity that makes Sonic the Hedgehog driving a car seem normal.
Obscure Kart Racers | Bomberman Fantasy Race
Hudson’s Bomberman franchise was never been afraid to get weird. While each core entry in the franchise sticks pretty close to the signature bomb laying gameplay, new iterations often added new mechanics to the mix. In Bomberman ’94, someone on the team thought that Bomberman should be able to ride multicolored kangaroos called Louies. These became a staple of the franchise from then on, including a 1999 PlayStation game where riding them on racetracks superseded the arcadey explosions.
Bomberman Fantasy Race features exclusive racer Machbom alongside a host of notable characters from games past. As you’d expect, the power-ups are all variations on bombs, most also coming from past games. You might want to explode after hearing the game’s soundtrack, which enhances traditional music with the constant sound of a Louie’s feet hitting the pavement. Bomberman also had a more traditional kart racing experience on the PlayStation 2, but Bomberman Kart only released in Japan and Europe and has a significant lack of Louies.
Obscure Kart Racers | Toy Story Racer
Long before Woody and the gang met with Bonnie and visited the antique store, they all apparently found some time to compete in races around the neighborhood. Lacking even basic handwaving to fit it into the movie’s canon, Toy Story Racer is a 2001 Activision racer featuring all your favorite characters from the Toy Story franchise. Why play as characters from 1999’s Toy Story 2 when you can instead pick Lenny the binoculars and Rocky Gibraltar? Indeed, Toy Story 2 is curiously absent from the entire game outside of a few tracks. It makes it easy to wonder how long Toy Story Racer was in development
At least the developers were sensible enough to put RC in the game as his own character, letting him excel before rolling into the sidelines in later movie sequels. The most unique weapons include the trademark Pixar bouncy ball and Bo Peep’s Sheep, which provide unique spins on traditional concepts. There was also a Game Boy Color version developed by a different team that cuts the sparse roster down even further. The tracks in the portable version were rendered out using full-motion video, which is a weird effect to see on original hardware even by today’s standards.
Obscure Kart Racers | Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour
It’s the year 2000, and Disney wants to make a kart racer. The company created some of the most successful animated films of the last decade, so it has plenty of properties to mine. However, Disney also wants to promote its theme parks with the game. This is a fine choice, as there are plenty of theme park characters who would be perfect selectable racers. The final game, Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour, contains only a few Disney characters and no theme park staples. Instead, you race through Blizzard Beach and The Haunted Mansion as a whole host of original characters created solely for this experience.
Magical Racing Tour does have some inspired features, including weapons like Teacups that send opposing drivers for a spin. It’s just baffling that the roster features mostly off-brand Disney lookalikes instead of characters from the rides. Instead of Madame Liotta, here’s Baron Karlott. Why race as one of the many Pirates of the Caribbean when you could be Polly Roger? It’s something that only could have happened two decades ago. It was a time when companies were far less averse to rolling the dice on concepts not involving established names and brands.
Obscure Kart Racers | Chocobo Racing
Final Fantasy‘s foray into kart racing shares a lot of with Disney’s theme park themed entry. Instead of just filling the game with recognizable heroes (something Square would do to great effect in other genres), their kart racer focused on Chocobo and his lovable friends. With an art style that harkens back to the pre-PS1 days of the series, Chocobo Racing has Cid and a Moogle in place of anyone wielding a gunblade. Sure, Cloud, Squall, and Aya from Parasite Eve are all unlockable, but hiding the most marketable characters behind player achievement is a very 1999 move.
As for how Final Fantasy adapted to the race track, power-ups turned into a set of magic spells you could collect as you sped by. You could also steal power-ups just by bashing an opponent on the track, which is a unique mechanic that made the game a bit more aggressive than its contemporaries. Each character also had a signature ability, something that wouldn’t come to Mario Kart until the GameCube era with Double Dash. So, even if the graphics look a little dated nowadays, Chocobo Racing did have some unique ideas to share. Also, the Chocobo races with jet-powered rollerblades. That’s just rad.