A Hi-Def remix of 16bit kart racing in 720p and 5.1 surround, detailed physics, track friction and multiplayer options add new depth to an old formula. Challenge your avatar against a host of Dirchie characters in fast and furious single or multiplayer karting, join up to 4 friends in a split screen party of Race, Battle and Drag events with an assortment of rockets, mines and other items.
Although kart racers have been around forever, there's little question that Super Mario Kart popularized arcade style racing and crafted a template from which all future games would copy. Throw in some wacky characters and have them race around a track while pelting each other with projectiles and other assorted power-ups, and a kart racing game is born. Dirchie Kart clearly draws inspiration from Super Mario Kart, even culminating with Technicolour Nightmare, the game's final track and a dead ringer for Mario's Rainbow Road. Yet the game finds ways to innovate beyond the formula -- some welcomed, others not so much -- which has Dirchie Kart feeling like more than a cheap knock off, even if it lacks the polish of the better kart racers out there.
Dirchie Kart may take some shortcuts with its driver models, which resemble Little People with arms with only their heads remotely matching their character designs, but the game looks pretty good on the whole. Dirchie Kart features cel-shaded vehicles and drivers racing around pixelated ground with polygonal track details, giving the game a disjointed look, like if Wacky Races mated with the original Super Mario Kart. The Mode 7 tracks are bright and fine by 16-bit standards but look poor bound to the more modern and cleaner 3-D environment. The heavily pixelated ground can make it tough to discern where the track ends at times, the abyss bound by sloppy, chunky colored boxes which may or may not mark drivable terrain. This is particularly annoying on Rim It, a muddy doughnut of a race track where the required sharp turns and powerslides will see players falling through the ground or seemingly driving on air while pushing out to the edge to break the constant curves sent players' way, but other tracks are affected as well. The messy ground looks passable during the game's split screen multi-player, which is unquestionably how these kart racers should be played, but the full scale graphics seen in single player mode make the game appear uglier than it is.
The cars look great (aside from the awkward look of having drivers' heads slapped atop trucks) and the course detail is excellent. The game is split into two circuits, the Decaffeinated Series and The Mongrel Cup, each challenging players to race along five courses and come out of the trials placing a medal. I love the variety of the tracks in Dirchie Kart: Coulrophobia has the eight racers going through a circus while clowns fire upon the cars while others come out to beat them down, and Boggy Marsh has a truffle on the track which when touched by a player sends all of the pigs wandering on the level to mob him or her ("You have the truffle! Piggy wants you!"). Crack Hack is a rather unimpressive looking green colored level but is fun thanks to all of the ramps and shortcuts available on it. Dirchie Kart excels when it goes out of its way to include these interactive elements, and I wish the other seven tracks offered something similar to shake things up as they seem a bit dull by comparison. The themes may still offer some novel sights such as an oval course which takes place on a cut lime or another track which has people racing in an urban area and then spilling out onto rural dirt roads, and the varied themes and speedy pace keep the action generally fun.
Whether playing a circuit or a single race, the game begins with the players selecting one of eight different characters (or using their Xbox Live avatar) and one of three different vehicle types with each car is rated on speed, item capacity, and health. The Hornet is the fastest, a go-kart whose speed is offset by the ability to absorb one hit but can carry three items. The Caddy is the mid-range vehicle rated two stars across the board, and Truckasauras is the slowest of the group and can take three shots before exploding but is limited to just one item. A visit to a pit-stop square will repair the vehicle, but until then the player is stuck driving a scooter which cannot use any bonus item. While I like the diversity of vehicle types in theory, Dirchie Kart's races are simply too short to make the slower vehicles viable as the Hornet and the scooter can seemingly outrace anything, their weaknesses not having much impact on their success in the game. Whether on the lowly 250cc circuit or the brutal 1000cc one which has the AI breaking turns while maintaining speed levels which were impossible for me to match, it was either go-kart or go bust, its ability to level the competition with a full plate of missiles while also being able to out race the pack too difficult to counter with the other vehicles. While the easy mode is playable and fun, 1000cc launches with a big pile up at the start of a race, the AI conspiring to sink human drivers at the starting grid to ensure they'll never stand and receive a medal.
The game controls fine for the most part, and power sliding is about the easiest I've seen in any racer, triggered by breaking while accelerating. I didn't like how slow and slippery reversing is in the game, guaranteeing any spin out or crash is completely unrecoverable on the higher difficulties as opponents will quickly lap the player before he or she rights the car. I also don't like how the game resets the player on the track, dropping the car onto the course from high in the sky where the short and curve happy tracks will often find players running off the road again given the poor position they reenter the game. Of course, any AI complaints are remedied simply by playing against others which evens the table, and Dirchie Kart is an awesome party racer. The up to four player split-screen run smooth, and the additional two multi-player modes are excellent, particularly the Battle mode and its three courses. Battle plays with the same power-up system as the standard Race mode, but the goal here is to defeat the other drivers by firing rockets and such to deplete their health. It's much more fun than the other mode, a drag racing contest, and having players alternate who gets to choose which mode to play is a nice touch. Being able to customize if the power-ups are to be found on the track a la Super Mario Kart or purchased before each event with coins found in-game is also great to see, Dirchie Kart offering a surprisingly amount of content and customization for its 240 points.
Dirchie Kart is an excellent racing effort despite some frustration with control, collision, and AI issues which pop up on the hardest difficulty, but even then, there's plenty of fun to be had. On-line support would have been great to have here given the quality, but the four player support should make Dirchie Kart a must have for those searching for a good bargain Xbox 360 party racer. I'm not sure developer BrownBot will succeed in pulling people away from Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, but Dirchie Kart would at the very least make for a great change of pace and those looking for an inexpensive way to get some Super Mario Kart style action on the 360.