Ever since the legendary Super Mario Kart made its first appearance on the SNES back in 1992, it really does feel as if every publisher has tried to emulate its success. Shrek, Looney Tunes, Sonic, Bomberman, Digimon, LittleBigPlanet, Crazy Frog, Crash Bandicoot, Madagascar, The Muppets, South Park and more have been cynically shoehorned into titles in the karting genre and while some have been relatively playable, most of them have been games to avoid. The trend has died off a little in recent years, meaning that there's a gap in the market for a fun and light-hearted multiplayer racer on Xbox One. Riptide GP2 developers Vector Unit are attempting to fill that gap with a port of their mobile title Beach Buggy Racing.
It should be said that they initially appear to have made a decent fist of it. A selection of track types are on offer, along with upgradeable vehicles and an absolute ton of events to compete in. Each character in the game has four championships to beat, each containing four races, and that's before you even step into the game's career mode. There are daily challenges that you can take on to try and earn a few credits, also. In career mode, you'll start out in a 250HP buggy, with the goal being to win stars from doing well in events. Earn enough stars and you'll unlock the next event, continuing all the way up until you have to take on a head-to-head race with a section's "boss" character. If you beat them, they're added to your racing team for use in future events.
It isn't just racing in career mode, either. Every now and again, you'll be faced with a different style of play. "Follow The Leader" for example, sees you trying to keep pace with an AI racer, picking up any power-ups that they drop. "Shooting Gallery" litters the track with rocket power-ups and sets you the task of blowing up targets and drone racers in order to hit a high score. These diversions aren't the sort of thing that will get your heart racing, but they're enough to mix things up a bit. No matter what the event, you're rewarded coins in order to upgrade your ride, all the way up to a 1000HP version which goes like the clappers, should you have the funds to do it.
When racing, Beach Buggy Racing provides decent action. The power-up selection is nicely varied, with tributes to most of Mario's hits being played out with aplomb. A screaming creature replaces the blue shell. A chicken replaces the ink-spraying Blooper. Bottles of nitrous replace mushrooms for speed boosts. It's all very much by-the-numbers, but what's here is generally executed nicely and if you look closely enough there are a few unique choices to be found. A confusion power-up will cause multiple drivers in front of you to lose control of their vehicles for a few seconds for example, whilst the most sweat-inducing attack, which sees lit sticks of dynamite being attached to your car that only explode if you hit something before the fuse burns out, is innovative.
Everything runs at a rock-solid 60fps, although this does come at the expense of draw distance and detail. It isn't something that you'll notice all the time but there are certainly occasions when you'll see scenery pieces being drawn in late. Water splashing on the screen during rain-soaked races is a nice addition that's carried out well but beyond that, the courses are a little bit bland. Sure, they're varied, but the game falls foul of the same thing that stopped all of the other Mario Kart wannabes from getting anywhere near being in contention. Pretty much every course in Nintendo's game has a feel all of its own and that just isn't replicated here. The only real standout is a track that emulates the lower gravity of Mars, with all of the others mainly having a different elemental focus. This lack of ingenuity when it comes to course design means that you'll probably have a hard time remembering the names of any of the tracks that you've raced on.
For our money, the camera is a little too close in to the action and those who suffer from motion sickness might find it flaring up here, simply due to the way the viewpoint changes in response to your twists and turns on the course. With the developer failing to include any sort of camera settings or alternative angles, this will undoubtedly be a gamebreaker for some.
While Vector Unit have gotten an awful lot right here, these, as well as a few other things stand out as being less than optimal. The limited field and over-zealous catch-up logic are the main causes for concern. Only having six racers in any event means that it's entirely possible to fire a power-up that takes out all of the contenders and leaves you clear and away in the lead, but then you'll notice that you're never allowed to win by any sort of distance. At one point, we were over half a lap in front with a shade less than a lap to go and without succumbing to any attacks or going off-course, we only won the race by half a second. This is designed to keep things exciting of course, but the system entirely fails to do that, coming off as wholly unfair more often than not. It's even more of a nuisance when the game as a whole is generally pretty enjoyable fayre.
In local multiplayer, that enjoyability takes a jump up. Beach Buggy Racing holds its frame rate with aplomb even when six players are on hand, and is great fun. So much so, that you'll be longing for some sort of online play. Sadly, there is none to be found. The daily challenges and individual track leaderboards are as far as the game goes in terms of online functionality.
When all is said and done, Vector Unit clearly have some talented folks on board. This is their second Xbox One title to be ported over from mobile devices, and their second that has been enjoyable enough but ultimately limited by a lack of ambition. Was Beach Buggy Racing built for consoles from the ground up, then we've no doubt that it would be heading toward greatness. What's been delivered certainly isn't a bad game by any means, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
Beach Buggy Racing is a decent attempt at bringing a kart racer to the Xbox One. It runs into a lot of the same troubles that most of the other karting titles that have been released over the years have done, however. There's little innovation in terms of the courses on offer but it provides good - albeit somewhat throwaway - fun at times. Local multiplayer is what will keep most playing.