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The Racers: There are eleven Karts total, four of which you must earn. Each kart has it's own steering, acceleration, and top speed characteristics. On the kart select screen you are given a rotating view of the selected kart, and beside it is a 3D bar graph of each characteristic. The names of the first seven racers are: Regius (a Rooster), Skully (a skeleton), Pulpito (an octopus), Bentley Bear, Vulky (an Alien creature), Ptarmigan (a snow man), and Miz Tress (a lady). The four bonus drivers are Haratari (a samurai from another planet), Pum King (a guy with a pumpkin for a head), Fire Bug (a guy with a round head, pointy ears, and a mean looking face), Miracle Man (I haven't seen him yet).
Game Play: Game play is pretty much standard for this type of racer. You race around a track with six other opponents trying to finish in the highest position you can. There are various bonuses, and hazards placed around each track. There are some obstacles scattered on the track, hitting one stops you dead in your tracks and forces you to back up and go around (you can actually reach racing speeds going backwards, but you cannot see where you are going). Most obstacles actually stick up from the track, but some are just flat on the ground. Running off the track slows you down, unless you have a wheel power up (explanation later). Banging into the back of another racer stops you completely while speeding them up. Side collisions send both karts towards the sides of the track, often into the barriers. You can often get ping, ponged around if there are several karts in one area. Barriers and obstacles off the track often hang you up for long periods of time while you maneuver around them. You must finish in the top four positions, or you will loose a life and have to repeat the track over again (on the two player game, you continue on to the next race if the other player finishes in a top position).
Bonuses and Hazards: Bonuses and Hazards appear as flat objects mapped directly onto the terrain. The current Bonus/Hazard appears at the top center of the screen, and flashes quicker until it disappears. The Bonuses are Rabbits (speed you up for a long time), Gold Speed Arrow (gives you a brief burst of speed), Wheel (keeps you from slowing down when off the track or in the water), Steer (a steering wheel that keeps you from skidding), a Heart (gives you an extra life), and a Ramp (makes you jump). The Hazards are a Turtle (slows you down for a period of time), and a Red double arrow (reverses your steering). There is also a green double arrow, but this one doesn't affect you when you pick it up, instead by pressing the C button (or whatever you set it to) you can reverse the second players steering and give them a hard time. The red and green arrows appear more frequently in the higher levels. Some hazards are a natural part of the terrain, ranging from water (slows you down) to oil slicks (sends you briefly out of control).
Control: The control is tight and responsive, but the actual properties varies between different karts, some karts turn quicker than others. Left and Right on the joypad steers the kart, while 4 and 6 on the key pad (L and R index buttons on the Pro Controller) control tight turns. Pressing down makes the kart back up to get around obstacles. The default button controls are A: Accelerate, B: Brake, C: Enables Bonus. These controls can be configured in the options screen (though I can't seem to get the controls the way I want them, which is A,C,B respectively). Pressing pause during the game pauses the game, pressing A during pause brings up the music volume adjust, and B brings up the sound FX adjust.
Music: The music is not exactly amazing, it's more of a fair to good. It actually sort of hangs in the background while you're playing and doesn't get annoying, and you can turn it down if you don't like it. During racing, it mostly consists of synthesizer type music. There is a really nice sounding piano solo during the Results/Standings screen. The title screen music is pretty much the same as the racing music.
Sound FX: Sound effects are what you would expect in a go cart racing game. Each kart has it's own engine sound that varies with the speed (in two player mode, each kart's engine noise plays on one of the Stereo channels). The engine sound is a simple motor sound, but it fits to the cartoony style of the game. Running into objects or other karts produces a muffled high pitched boom. Some objects make special sounds when hit. The pumpkins in Halloween Land say something (though I can't tell what). The gongs in the Far East area make a "gong" sound, and the weird things on the sides of the Start/Finish line on the alien world also appear to say something.
Graphics: At first glance, the track appears to be the same as the one in Mario Karts, but a closer look reveals that there are hills. The terrain actually moves up and down as you move over it, and you can see dips and hills as they come up as in SBO (try that on the SNES), though they aren't as big. Some hills you can jump if you are moving fast enough. There is an switch on the options screen that allows you to choose between a hilly, and flat track (I imagine because the hills can actually make you feel a bit uncomfortable). The backgrounds have two layers of parallax set against a stationary background. The backgrounds are really beautiful, they appear to be in 16-bit color, and are delicately drawn. They almost seem real. You can't see much of the background in two player mode. The track appears to be either 8 or 16 bit color, each track is highly detailed, and some are quite large. Animation of the track is extremely smooth, and the framerate is probably near 60Hz. At the start of each race you get a fly-over view from the front up to your position where the view then spins around behind you. During spinouts, the entire view rotates with your car, it happens really quick, and almost makes you dizzy. You can't complain about the graphics in this game.
Overview: Atari Karts is a good game, especially with another player. My only complaint is that it seems impossible to set the controls to A,C,B like I want them. The game features smooth scaling, colorful backgrounds, good control (especially with the Pro Controller), good music/SFX, fast action, and loads of fun. If you liked Mario Karts, then you'll definitely like this game. Too bad this game doesn't have a CatNet feature, then you could have more than 2 people racing at once. Also, I wish they would've included a Battle Mode, 6 player battle mode would be cool. :)
NOTE: Thus review was posted to the Jaguar mailing list. I sent a request for permission to Stephen, but either he no longer has an account, or has changed it, or there is a problem with the mail system, because my post was bounced back to me. I never got a response from him. I am assuming I have permission since he posted it to the mailing list, as long as I give him credit where credit is due. Stephen, if you're out there, contact me. I would love to get more reviews if you have any....
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