Most cats hate car rides, but this one handles it pretty well
Ever since Super Mario Kart came on the scene back in 1992, there have been dozens of imitators. Some have come from established properties, such as Crash Bandicoot or Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, while others have been crudely-made, cheap cash-ins which often feature licensed properties (such as M&M’s Kart Racing).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Garfield Kart would be among the latter; we certainly did. Much to our pleasant surprise, however, this title is actually an extremely competent entry into the kart-racing sub-genre. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not likely to light the world on fire, and Nintendo has nothing to fear as they prepare for the upcoming eighth entry in the series that started it all, but Garfield Kart is a surprisingly solid and sturdy racing game.
Based more specifically on The Garfield Show than the fat cat’s newspaper or other incarnations, Garfield Kart features a cast of eight characters, including Garfield, Odie, Jon, Nermal, Arlene, Liz, Squeak, and the toon-original Harry. Each looks just like their cartoon self, but at the outset, you can only use Garfield or Jon, while Liz, Odie, and so on get unlocked as you continue playing.
Locations seem to come from the cartoon (Full disclosure: While we’ve seen some episodes of the toon, we’ve not seen them all), and while they provide a nice degree of variety—more than seen in some racing games—it’s admittedly not as diverse as what you’re likely to find in Nintendo or SEGA’s offerings.
And, as any kart-racing game seems required to do, Garfield Kart includes items you can use against your foes. Pies and radio-controlled pies fill the projectile slots originally occupied by green and red shells, lasagna gives you a Super Mushroom-like speed boost, springs allow you to leap like the cape feather, and so on. There’s even a timed explosive in the curse of the Klopman Diamond, a running gag from The Garfield Show writer Mark Evanier which dates all the way back to his time on the Garfield and Friends cartoon from 1988. History!
Like the Klopman Diamond, there are some other items which aren’t direct rips from Mario Kart, but some players may take issue with one whose roots are in the most infamous racing item of all: The Blue Shell. Here, a clever twist is played, as a trio of unidentified flying objects fly out ahead of the lead racer, each shining down a nigh-unavoidable ray on the track. Two will stop you right where you are, while the other is harmless. It’s a clever twist on the idea of an item designed specifically to haunt the lead racer, but the frequency with which these are launched can be a bit of a pain.
The game controls quite well, though it can take a little getting used to. The karts go forward automatically, and you have separate drift/skid and brake/reverse buttons on the touch screen. Steering can be handled by tilt or by touch, and both seem to work pretty well, though we preferred the latter, even though it seems to work better by tapping than holding.
Though much of it is hidden behind paywalls for in-game currency (which can be earned on the track, or by buying it with real-world currency, of course), there are also a lot of different customization features. The karts themselves aren’t spectacular, feeling like generic cars and not really being tailored to the characters (any character can use any kart, by the way), but you can add different spoilers for different effects, purchase items to aid you at the start of the race, and even choose hats for your characters with different effects (such as getting lasagna more often, or making your pies go faster).
One potential downside to the game is that, much like other racers of this type (i.e. licensed from comedic cartoons), it’s just not very funny (insert your wisecracks about the comic strip here). Not funny at all. Seeing the Klopman Diamond was still in use after all these years was good for a brief chuckle, but otherwise, nothing. Not even during victory celebrations.
We can appreciate that it’s difficult to make a game funny, but it feels like they didn’t even try here. This might even be easily overlooked, except the characters have a tendency to continuously chuckle as one of their items makes contact with another racer. It feels like everyone else in the game is privy to something the player isn’t.
Overall, Garfield Kart is good fun. As we said before, it’s not going to set the world on fire, but you can do far worse for kart racing on your iPhone. If a Mario Kart-style game on the go is what you’re looking for and Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing didn’t quite cut it for you, or if you’re just a big fan of Garfield who wants a good game, then give this one a try.