Smurfs Kart Review

A Smurfin' good time

By Paul Hunter

At this year's Tokyo Game Show 2022, which finally again ran live at Chiba's Makuhari Messe, I had the chance to play Smurfs Kart. This surprisingly competent kart racing game unabashedly draws inspiration from Nintendo's Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The retail version has now been released, so naturally, I was excited to experience the entire package, to see if everything was as Smurfin' as the TGS demo.

For game historians, this is actually the second Smurfs racing game following 2001's Smurfs Racer on PlayStation. It's also the second game in publisher Microids and IMPS (the Smurfs world license holder) multi-year gaming deal, which produced the rather good platformer The Smurfs: Mission Vileaf last December. Similar quality extends into Smurfs Kart, which overall was a delight to play even if it's lacking in originality. Let's head to the starting line, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: Strong Gameplay Fundamentals

Anyone who has played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will instantly feel at home with Smurfs Kart as the gameplay is nearly 1:1 analogous. Races begin with the potential to gain an early turbo boost lead, provided you can rev your engine just the right amount. The game also features corner drifting with an acceleration boost that powers up to three stages depending on how long you continuously drift. The gameplay may actually be slightly easier to get into compared to Mario Kart since you're given an on-screen turbo start speed gauge to help you nail that boost every race. And drift boosting power accumulates faster than in Nintendo's racer letting you get a speed boost around nearly every corner.

Items are nearly identical as well, starting with collectible Smurfberries that act as this game's version of Mario Kart's coins. As you race you can grab floating presents holding items, of which you can hold two at any given time. Items include acorns that act like Green Shells, bees that are akin to Red Shells, green leaves that give you a speed boost much like Mushrooms, and spiky shells you can drop similar to Banana Peels. If you're lucky, you can also get multi-item versions in one go, such as nabbing five acorns or three green leaves. There are some original items as well, including a horn that puts rival players into a slow-racing trance and a blue orb that temporarily protects you from enemy attacks.

The tracks themselves contain many familiar and welcome kart racing staples. There are speed ramps that let you zoom ahead and leap over the competition, plus on-track boost pads for similarly speedy acceleration. Most courses also include shortcuts to help you gain the edge, often requiring tricky maneuvers to access them—and some of them are very cleverly hidden, encouraging you to fully explore each track.

Another element Smurfs Kart borrows from other kart racers is the ability to temporarily fly, but with a cinematic twist. Instead of your kart ejecting a paraglider, in this game your racing vehicle gets submerged in a bubble, which then carries you on autopilot to your destination. While you could argue the autopilot limits the excitement of in-flight racing, I actually enjoyed sitting back for a few seconds to soak in the track's luscious, Smurfy visuals. And this game is quite a looker, but more on that a bit later in this review.

Liked: 12 Smurf Racers

Smurfs Kart features a dozen playable Smurfs, some of which this longtime fan recognized, like Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Hefty and Jokey. But there were others that I presume were popularized in the new Smurfs cartoon series, such as Storm and Blossom, and then there were a few Smurfs I totally forgot about like Astro Smurf and Clockwork Smurf. All 12 characters have fantastic in-game designs that fans of this venerable Dutch franchise are sure to appreciate. Each character also has their own custom kart design reflecting their personality, and they look great, but it is a slight disappointment that all karts handle exactly the same.

Choosing a Smurf racer isn't just for the looks: Each little blue buddy has their own signature super power. Papa Smurf has magic powder that puts everyone asleep instantly, Jokey has an explosive gift he sends to opponents, Storm unleashes sticky arrows that gum up other racers' karts, and Handy deploys DIY drones that circle and protect him. Most of the super powers either debilitate other players' kart in silly ways, provide some sort of personal protection, or give you a huge speed boost to overtake opponents. I really enjoyed the range of super powers and they really help differentiate each Smurf racer.

Liked: Smurfing Good Visuals

I was not expecting Smurfs Kart to look as good as it does, especially on the relatively underpowered Nintendo Switch. But when docked the game looks 1080p, complete with vibrant colours, detailed textures and eye-catching special effects. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised at the graphical quality though, given that Eden Games is also the team behind Gear.Club Unlimited and Test Drive Unlimited 2.

Smurfs Kart features 12 tracks, which is not a lot honestly, but the good news is they all look wonderful. Despite most of them focusing on three distinct iconic areas—the Smurfs village, the surrounding Smurf forest and Gargamel's labyrinthine castle—there's a great amount of variety across the courses. For instance, one Smurfs Village track has you zigzagging between the Smurfs' houses, while another has you zipping through the village's corn fields. Likewise, the Gargamel Cup has tracks that take you through the wizard's swamp, inside his potion-filled laboratory, and even on the roof of his decorative castle. All these amazing visuals get me pretty excited for the upcoming PS5 and Xbox Series X versions, expected to release in 2023—which surely will look even better.

Didn't Like: It's a Bit Janky

The gameplay of Smurfs Kart is fine overall, with controls that will instantly feel familiar to fans of other kart racers. But it's not all great, with the major fault being the janky camera 'snap' that occurs as you come out of a corner drifting. It's not as smooth as racers like Mario Kart 8 and it can make precise drifting a bit of a challenge. You can also feel the controls are generally a slight step down from Nintendo's racing juggernaut, but still are adequate overall.

The other slight disappointment (but could be a bigger sore spot for others) is the game runs at 30fps compared to the buttery smooth 60fps found in Nintendo's kart racer. So again, like most aspects of this game, it's a small step down from the top racers out today but still offers lots of fun racing action.

Didn't Like: Limited Content

The 12 tracks in Smurfs Kart are sure to keep you occupied for a while, although I do wish there was more on offer here. There are time challenges and mirror modes to extend the replayability, plus four-player local split-screen multiplayer. Still, more tracks or a battle mode would make this a better value for its $49.99 CDN ($39.99 USD) price tag.

The good news is that the game includes an unlockable Photo Album where you can collect 110 digital stickers, mostly neat shots of the many Smurfs in the game. You're awarded stickers for completing various challenges ranging from collecting a certain number of Smurfberries, finishing races with each character, ranking on the podium, and getting the gold medal on the two racing speeds (Fun and Hyperspeed). The stickers are nicely drawn and a great little add-on to keep you engaged with the game.

The Verdict

Smurfs Kart doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, instead giving you a clear Mario Kart-inspired kart racer with fantastic visuals, a good variety of playable Smurfs and accessible gameplay. If your family is looking for their next competitive racer, this game delivers tons of multiplayer thrills.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good

Smurfs Kart details

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Eden Games
Publisher: Microids
Genre: Racing
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.