While playing Joy Ride Turbo, I wondered if Nintendo knew that Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo would create an entire racing subgenre and would be copied for years to come. Super Mario Kart was published in 1992, and here we are, 10 years later, and kart racers on consoles haven't changed much. Sure, track designs have become more elaborate, and graphics and audio have definitely improved, but the idea has been pretty consistent for the past decade: racing against miniature, stylized versions of vehicles with single weapon pick-ups scattered around multiple locations on a track.
While a number of kart racers have emerged as very solid representations of that concept, it's been a market dominated by the originators. Joy Ride Turbo isn't going to be the game that does it, but that's not to say the developers behind this avatar-themed racer didn't give it a hell of a try. If the Kinect-enabled Joy Ride gave you a sour experience, try to not let that game hinder your enjoyment of this version. Going with a controller-focused experience is certainly the better way to approach a kart racer, and Joy Ride Turbo has enough bells and whistles that it's certainly worth a look. Its multiplayer modes are fun, if not a little basic, but it's filled with unlockable racers and a very fun, sandbox style mode dubbed Stunt Park.
Joy Ride Turbo is developed by the same team that created the original Kinect Joy Ride, a Canadian team called BigPark. BigPark doesn't have a lot under its belt for Microsoft, with just Joy Ride and the second version of Kinect Sports prior to this. Joy Ride Turbo is certainly their best effort yet and is a great addition to Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade. It might not sound like high praise to call this the best kart racing experience on the console, but I'd certainly place this neck and neck with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, which was a really fun racer for anyone who enjoys this particular subgenre.
The biggest drawback is the title's lack of any marketable characters or license. It's hard to get excited about using your Xbox Live avatar in a racing game, since I tend to put very little thought into creating it. When playing against the offline CPU for the single-player portion of the game, I found it kind of difficult to keep track of who the other racers were from race to race, and who I needed to keep an eye on to make sure they weren't gaining more tournament points if I lost a race or two. The lack of recognizable characters definitely takes some of the charm out of an otherwise enjoyable experience, but thankfully, the design and gameplay are enough to elevate Joy Ride Turbo beyond a mediocre experience.
As far as the actual racing goes, Joy Ride Turbo offers up a few modes. There's an offline, single-player experience divided into a series of speed classes, like 100cc, 200cc, and so on. Again, the Mario Kart model is on full display, but there's certainly an air of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The offline mode isn't difficult for anyone who has experience with kart racers, but it certainly offered up more of a challenge than I was expecting once I passed the initial tournament. You'll need to make ample use of your brake and drifting abilities to outperform the CPU in later races; it's nice to see in a genre that's not known for being that tough.
Multiplayer is certainly where you'll have the most fun with the game. Multiplayer is available on- and offline, but online, you'll go against seven other players in a few different race modes. First up is Battle Race, which is essentially the classic Mario Kart formula, with weapon boxes that you can run over to collect a randomized power-up. The power-ups seem pretty balanced and feature familiar elements like boosts, homing rockets and shields. If you'd prefer standard races, then you can check out the Pro Race mode, which offers the same track variety minus the weapons. Finally there's the Stunt Park offering, which is my personal favorite in Joy Ride Turbo.
Stunt Park can be experienced in a single-player format, but playing with others is ideal. Basically, Stunt Park removes any kind of actual track format from the game and gives you a more open-world, sandbox style environment to explore. The only real goal is to collect a number of trophies hidden around the world, some of which are fairly obvious and easy to see, whereas others take a certain level of ingenuity to reach. Each stage featured in Stunt Park is filled with half-pipes, loop-the-loops, ramps and other oddball obstacles that'll utilize Joy Ride Turbo's loose physics system. As an added bonus, each level is filled with collectible coins to unlock the different skins for each vehicle, along with hidden boxes that contain parts that unlock different cars for all game modes.
While I said that Joy Ride Turbo wasn't going to beat Mario Kart at its own game, Stunt Park certainly feels like a pretty fresh idea, even for someone who has played a bevy of kart racing titles over the past decade. The closest thing I could compare it to is Codemasters' last DiRT title, which had a similar mode fashioned after something called Gymkhana — basically obstacle course racing. Stunt Park is sort of like that, but with a more cartoonish look and feel than the realistic DiRT series. It's a whole lot of fun, it's the mode that I've spent the most time playing, and it's certainly one of the better aspects of Joy Ride Turbo. Whereas the racing is competent, feels great and is satisfying to play, Stunt Park is where the game manages to stand out from its competitors.
Is Joy Ride Turbo worth checking out? Absolutely! It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and actually seems quite content to imitate the standard Mario Kart formula. However, that formula is pretty well realized, and even without an interesting license to back it up, it's a lot of fun to play with friends. Stunt Park is where the fun is at in Joy Ride Turbo, and it's honestly worth the asking price of 800 Microsoft points ($10). I'd definitely suggest downloading the title, especially while the online community is still active. Hopefully, we'll see this concept fleshed out even more in future Joy Ride titles from Microsoft and BigPark.
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