Ranking nearly every GBA Kart Racer

GBA Kart Racer Retrospective

This piece has been in the works for a long time, and that’s because without a deadline or editor I could indulge myself with the subject matter. At the time of conception, you could get any old rom from any old rom site, and I saw this as an opportunity to appreciate a overlooked era in video games. Now, with the rom sites gone and Nintendo now cracking down on game resellers, access to the past is becoming more and more rare. After all: how many people saved their Nicktoons Racing GBA kart after they grew up? These titles, which took significant effort to develop on behalf of countless programmers, designers, and artists, are mostly lost to history.

The Mode 7 Mascot Kart Racer, for the GBA, is a unique subgenera of game where several developers have identical hardware, identical rendering techniques, and an identical problem to solve: How to adapt a licensed property into a kart racing game?

The mold for this is Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo. 8+ racers with different stats, 3 championship series of 4-5 unique tracks each, a suite of weapon pickups that always includes missiles, homing missiles, mines, speed boost, invincibility, and maybe others. There’s nothing new to figure out and the sell is easy, “It’s Mario Kart, but with X”. Adapting a property is straightforward as well, the characters are all in little karts, their stats match their relative personalities, the tracks are settings from the property. There’s nothing “new” to make most of the time. Some of them adopt new systems on top of kart racing.

And because this is the internet I am ranking them Best to Worst. That way the 2nd most important question, which one is the best, is answered first. And the most important question, which one is the worst, is at the bottom.

**Konami Kart Racers**


A GBA launch, or near launch, title. When the GBA was first new I was fascinated by this game, even though I never played any Konami games up to that point.

You can play as Grey Fox, there’s an MGS themed level, and when you win as Grey Fox he turns invisible. There’s a bangin intro song. There’s an email system in the game. One of the tracks is a baseball diamond, which you hurl around with aplomb. I think it’s my favorite kart racer due to a variety of subjective opinions. Bright pastel colors. Colorful and cute characters. The gameplay isn’t as good as Crash Nitro Kart, or as smooth. There’s a nominal level of depth to this game. You can earn money and spend it on items to stock up during the game. There’s an in-game email system.

The rom I found was, however, entirely in Japanese.

So why is it my favorite? Is it the charm? can charm overcome polish and gameplay? are you looking for an objective mathematical answer? do you make all decisions this way? I played all the kart racers I could and this one was my favorite, so I’m making it first.



Nicktoons Racing is an excellent example of mascot kart racing on the GBA. It has very fluid controls, interesting tracks that have multiple routes and emphasize risk vs reward and different play styles. It’s vivid and the animations and graphics are wonderful. It is exactly like stepping into the worlds of these cartoons and racing around them.

Like in other cart racing games, there’s a fuel refilling mechanic, you have to gather in-game energy to keep racing at full throttle. I’m not sure why this feature shows up in a lot of other kart racing games. It makes it such that you have to always adjust your route around the track and forces you to improvise, yes. Maybe some designer was obsessed with “moment to moment” gameplay. It doesn’t exactly add anything to the game but because the kart handling is very good, it doesn’t detract from the game either.

Track design is very good, there’s branching paths, sometimes you can take shortcuts but sacrifice getting an item pickup. Little things like that make the game exciting to play.

Props on the track aren’t mere cutouts, but they rotate as you go around them. The development team created objects that change perspective, going as far as to create rotated sprites for objects in the world, and this gives a much better sense of motion. When you boost the background goes out and the ground stretches a little, effectively faking a Field of View change. It’s incredible. There’s so much detail in the racers and animations to literally everything. Because there’s so much detail and everything moves so fluidly, the game has an incredible look to it.

Items have immediate feedback. After using them once, I know their immediate effect and how to use them if I get them again. This is, believe it or not, something not all kart racers can do correctly.

This combination of characters, charm, graphics, and gameplay make this a very good kart racer.

**Crash Nitro Kart**


Crash Nitro Kart for the GBA is a good damn kart racer. It does things I didn’t think a GBA would be capable of. There’s a hub world you can putt around in. Drifting and boost drifting are in the game. Sound effects are incredible. Crash follows the same Mascot Kart Racer game logic of “Well this is a video game so…” and so it works, thematically, you wouldn’t question it. I can’t come up with enough good things to say on it. The amount of love and polish put into the game is apparent upon first playing it.

The racing action is very good for a kart racer, in that I feel like i’m evenly matched to these other characters who aren’t merely tracing a line around the track. As you drift, a meter appears next to your kart, and releasing it at the right time gives you an extra boost. There are…boss battles? I shouldn’t have to sell the game to you, reader. If you already like Crash Bandicoot, have a GBA, and somehow find a cartridge, the game is absolutely worth your time.

**Gadget racers**


Gadget Racers is a part of the sadly overlooked Choro Q series, itself based on the toys of the same name. The toys themselves are miniaturized versions of real world cars and vehicles “Super deformed” to fit a roughly cube like shape. The result is caricatures of real life cars, but they look extremely cute. Gadget Racers itself isn’t the only Choro Q game for the GBA. And in fact this really doesn’t fit the strict definition of Mascot Kart Racer. So what the fuck? Why is it here? I don’t know! It has the spirit of the Kart Racer. Despite there not actually being any karts.

Really gadget racers should be lower but you can play as a Trash Truck. It’s based off the Choro Q series of games, which are usually pretty fun. The gameplay is pretty bad and the weapons are bad, and there’s a zillion upgrades each one more expensive than the last and they all have a small effect on your car’s stats. So you must play endlessly to unlock them, inching your car to something faster, and so in the start things are boring.

And you unlock things like a Garbage Truck racer body for your car. And you make marginal upgrades and your car becomes faster, and easier to handle. And pretty soon the car is really an expression of oneself as you progress through the game. This is what Lego Racer 2 should have really been.

Tracks are all very detailed for being a GBA racer. There’s one based off of 2 parallel runways. Or a racetrack circuit. Or a set of city streets, complete with railroad tracks that you bump over. Despite being really rudimentary, it’s represented enough to matter.

To my knowledge this is the only GBA racer that models a manual transmission, you use the L and R buttons to change gears, and can swap for a manual gearbox because it’s faster. And despite the simple handling model, I find myself actually racing the other cars because we have matched machine stats instead of weapons or too hard AI. As you progress it becomes impossible to get 1st place unless you upgrade your car enough, but you only need to get 3rd place to advance. So a bit of grinding is needed in order to get further ahead.

The game also has special events, like finishing first in a 1 lap race and under a time limit, or a drag race. Gran Turismo stuff.

The Gameplay isn’t as smooth as the other racers rated higher, especially at the start when your car is incredibly slow and sluggish. As you upgrade things get faster, but there’s still this weird

**Digimon Kart Racing**


I think this is the ur-gba kart racer that kicked this thing off. Digimon being the unfortunate step-child to pokemon’s explosive popularity, enjoying a cult following over the preceding decades. The idea that Digimon would kart race is ridiculous. and at the time of release Digimon the show was perhaps waning in popularity. as a child I remember finding the melodrama of the first season captivating, but as middle school crept in it became unfashionable to like childish things as the world’s cruelty started to inflict itself upon me.

So the game

Digimon Kart racing elevates itself above mediocrity but can’t match the joy of, say, Konami Kart Racers. It exists in a limbo. It plays less well than most kart racers but better so than other kart racers. It exists in a middle ground of gameplay. There are power slides, jumps, and speed pads. It seems to play at a lower framerate than other kart racers and as a result

There’s multiple cups, each one ending in a boss battle. On the tracks there’s bits of road that are a digital looking grid, driving over these increases your power level, and with enough of them you digivolve into your character’s higher form, which unlocks another attack that’s unique to them.

The game has Kart Racer boss battles, which are sort of like the battle modes in multiplayer kart modes, except against a massive enemy. I don’t think any games outside of Diddy Kong racing had them. Boss battles are all unique and have a basic element to them, you attack during a opportunity window and dodge attacks. The attack item showing up as a pick up that appears randomly on the map. One of them required navigating a rudimentary maze before getting to the boss. They’re novel and provide a change of pace.

Track designs aren’t particularly interesting or memorable. In a few the skybox has been replaced with an animating texture to make it look as though you’re moving through a larger space, but this is just very distracting and makes it hard to see.

The digimon themselves…well. I don’t remember enough about the show to say if the characters match the Kart stats. The initial form of the creatures is a good form for kart racers, being small and cute, but the evolved forms lead to some fudging of the game’s premise. Patamon, for instance, transforms into it’s angelic form, like the show, an angel hunched into a small kart.

As a kart racer, it makes a little sense thematically. Gameplay wise it’s passible. This is a solid middle of the road game and if you’re a fan of digimon and kart racers, there is something here for you. In that way, the game succeeds what it sets out to do.

**Lego Racers 2**


Is it nessicary to beat Lego Racers 1 to get the story? actually it is. Rocket Racer loses in Lego Racers 1, and in the second game he goes to another dimension to race.

You yourself go from town to town doing races, not really upgrading your car. you can customize your mini-fig but this doesn’t change in game visuals anywhere I can tell.

Tracks are boring, racing is frustrating. There aren’t any landmarks, you can’t customize your car, and the game’s campaign drags on and on. I went to 2 and half areas before giving up.

Controls are difficult. To attempt to add a feeling of weight to the vehicles the steering is gradual at first before speeding up, which creates instances where you will turn off the road. In a lot of levels, especially certain ice levels, it’s very easy to not actually know where to go as the draw distance is so terrible and tracks veer off unpredictably. There’s no track map either, so it’s basically guesswork. I’m not sure what the weapons do either.

The game has a sort of RPG to it, in that you go to areas and talk to NPCs to start a race, when all the races in an area are completed, you go to another area. These areas are themed around lego sets, like Jungle or Ice.

The central appeal of a Lego Game is to make legos, and then customize those legos. That is the whole point, to build things. In previous lego games you had the ability to build a lego car, which you could then race, and this was extraordinary at the time. But here that customization is mostly gone.

**Cartoon Network Racing**


Race as the sheep from Sheep in the City! really that’s all there is to this game. Sheep in the city is a forgotten show but it’s so good here.

Gameplay is pretty lackluster, but there are shortcuts in the levels, which make it very easy to win. Because you’re out in front you don’t really use the weapons very much. In the canon of kart racing games this one is the last one I’d pick up before Shrek. I guess.

**Shrek swamp kart speedway**


Ahghghgh lol what a shit game. It’s good though.

bad music, bad graphics. bad gameplay. sometimes the pickups will flip from bad to good, and you can’t avoid them in time, so you get bad pickups. It farts constantly. It fits with the IP almost perfectly as with the IP. It’s worth checking out for the mess that it is. Even the menus are all in Comic Sans

There’s four world areas, and there’s four tracks per area. To advance you have to win each one, which can be completed in any order. Which I did with the exception of the last track.

And how to describe this game after playing it 99% of the way through? Garish. The character sprites are all 3D renders down sampled into sprites and they look bad. The opening screen has an ugly rendering of Shrek himself. The music sounds ugly, going for tinny chip tunes that are maybe 4 bars long. The game runs at maybe 10-15 fps, which makes driving seem incredibly stiff and hard to do. I don’t think any other game runs as bad as Shrek racing does.

Shrek is so bad it’s good. I think the ironic-to-sincere qualities of Shrek arc this game back around to being not good

**Antz extreme racing**


Another winner from dreamworks huh.

Normally, yeah, ants in little karts makes sense. I don’t question the logic of Digimon in karts. But what this game does it make cars out of leaves, bolts, and other small items. They all have wheels, but WHY?

Graphically it’s a beautiful mess. A Giger-esque tapestry of gross natural shapes, which is the aesthetics of Antz the movie. What are the inner lives of gross insects? What does the grotesque look like up close.

Every stage in the game is a point to point race, rather than being in a circular track. In between races you can spend currency you earn on powers-ups. One of them is another bug which carries you through part of the level.

During one race I’m trundling along and a huge magnifying glass appears in the sky. It’s the typical recontexualization of when children use a magnifying glass to burn ants, but with things flipped. It is as terrifying as you’d imagine. And when it suddenly happens in game it’s a genuine surprise. I think that elevates it above some other titles.

After a great effort I completed the game’s stages to the very end. The game’s finale landed like a dead thud. A long journey to nowhere.

**Inspector Gadget Racing**


Inspector Gadget is my first Anime. It’s a lot of people’s first Anime. Inspector Gadget has his van, which transforms into the coolest car ever. Claw has a car. These cars have weapons. So you’d think that this would be a game all about driving The Very Cool Car from the cartoon. And this is not that at all. Inspector Gadget drives his van. Penny is in a Truck. The dog is in…another van. You can race as the cop in his cop car. So, you’re a bunch of characters racing each other in each other’s respective cars. This sort of goes against the Kart Racer convention where the characters are all in little carts, and you can see them as you’re driving them. But here, you don’t see your character, you just see the car. Unlike Gadget Racers, where the cars are the character, you just see the vessel the drivers are in. So there’s no point in having characters! If this were a game where the characters were in little karts, it would make more sense. I’d probably wonder why you can’t drive Inspector Gadget’s sweet car, but whatever.

So because they’re in cars, there is an extra layer of game-reality to it.

This game has more vans in it than should be allowed. There’s Inspector Gadget’s van, Brain the dog’s Van, and a Bad Guy Henchman van. Brain and Henchman’s vans are clearly palate swaps but for some reason the Henchman’s van has better brakes. However this means nothing since you never ever use the brakes to slow down.

Controls are sluggish. It’s very possible to be at a small angle left or right, but your car sprite indicates you’re going straight, so it’s hard to tell what direction you’re going in or how much steering to correct. Weapons don’t seem to do much and due to the randomness and lack of feedback for when something is going to hit or not, it’s hard to use them or counter them effectively.

Critically, if you hit someone with a projectile, you can also run into them, which causes you to stop and spin out. Because the track’s widths are so narrow relative to the sizes of the cars, there’s no room to really pass. Enemies will use weapons on you in an unpredictable way, which are impossible to counter. Most races end up with a computer player winning by a wide margin, and you trade 6/5/4th place with the back of the pack, each hitting each other but never quite escaping each other’s grasp. A veritable bucket of crabs.

Most of the tracks are squares anyway, so you can’t use skill to get around opponents, and it’s difficult to get past them anyway with the random placement of obstacles. I’ve been unable to get to the later sections of the game, because it is impossible to control with any skill, and any proficentsy one gains with the game is countered by random chance.

So there are flying levels, where each car gains wings and flys around a sky themed level. You can go up or down in altitude but this really doesn’t do much. it just makes obstacles harder to avoid because you can’t really tell if you’re going to hit them or not. There’s also Underwater levels. Underwater racing is exactly as sluggish as it sounds, and it’s very easy to overcorrect turns and be unable to get back on track. In addition to the bad controls it’s possible to run out of gas in these levels, you must constantly pick up energy sources on the water and flying game maps. If you run out your craft screeches to a halt until it gets refilled to half. So you are constantly having to memorize pickup locations along the map to stay ahead. For the underwater level, you have to run over bubble pickups for fuel…which makes no sense. And because there’s no real feedback for fuel/fuel pickups, you have to basically hit things while watching the fuel meter, and when it’s refilled you can try and piece together what thing you have to hit to keep going. It’s confusing and dumb and really doesn’t add anything to the game.

So does it make sense for these characters to all be in cars? to race in the sky? underground? No. And the bizarre qualities thereof aren’t enough to carry it. The game’s systems and driving model are terrible, but at least they are trying something, even if it failed. It’s got pretty decent sprite and background art, and some of the levels look pretty good too.

**Cocato Racer**


cocato is an example of a very bad kart racer. In my research I couldn’t find if Cocato the characters were attached to anything, they seem to be an original property made for a kart racing series. Even more bizarre is that there’s a DS version of the game, and a PS2 version. As they run on very different hardware, 3 wholly different games were created around this same property. Wh-why?

All these characters have names and art associated with them, but no backstory. We have no context. The entire pretext of a kart racer is playing as your favorite character in the context of racing, but we have no favorites here. Cocato betrays the very conceit of what it is by trying to make a kart racer from original characters. The setting makes no sense.

There’s the titular Cocato, and then there’s an entire cast of weirdly shaped animals with large eyes. There’s nothing to get attached to. The salamander who appears last among the default unlocked characters has more personality. Who are these creatures?

Who would buy this game? In a lot of video game magazines, the assumption is a parent, because a kid is too smart to choose one of these crappy games. This assumes a parent won’t ask the game store clerk for a recommendation and is inside a game store with no idea what to get. This is a hypothetical situation and assumes moms are stupid. Your mom’s going to get you a gift card so you can get what you want.

Cocato does a thing most bad kart racers do, where if you hit another player you stop immediately. this is annoying. There’s boost and jump pads around tracks, and to maximize speed you memorize where these are and try to hit as many as possible. I don’t think rubber banding happens in this game. It does appear that even though there are multiple kart racers, they all behave the same, so you can’t choose one with higher acceleration to fit your play style. There are no added systems beyond driving and weapons. Even though there’s jump gaps, it doesn’t do what more clever games do and have tracks loop over themselves. Or maybe it does and i’m forgetting.

With lackluster characters and gameplay, the game fails at being a kart racer.

**Crazy Frog Racer**


Crazy Frog is simply the worst GBA Kart racer. Were this based on any other IP it could elevate it above Cocato, but the association with Crazy Frog drags this game to the depths of hell.

Crazy Frog is a mascot for a ringtone, a ringtone of someone imitating the noise of an idling 2-stroke motor. This was back in the day when you’d text a number to another number, and a ringtone would change on your cellphone. you’d be charged monthly for it, but when your phone rang around other people you would audibly flaunt how savvy you were, custom ringtone haver.

The ringtone made money and therefore the frog had to be everywhere, because that’s how capitalism works. It makes money so it must exist in more places to make more money. It reveled in it’s own annoying nature. It exists to annoy. It succeeds at this greatly.

Crazy Frog’s movement system is a good example of what not to do: all kart accelerate to to speed in a very short amount of time, but most tracks are a folding series of hairpin turns and long straightaways, so you are at top speed most of the time, and that becomes very boring. There’s no fidelity of motion. You’re either at top speed or braking. There’s no hopping or jumping or drifting, there’s only driving. So the tracks can’t loop over themselves, have water hazards, or sweet jumps. There is, thankfully, no spinout hazards on the tracks either.

I am certain half the weapon pickups do nothing. You deploy them and nothing happens. Most of the time you’re in front of the pack anyway so there’s nothing to shoot at. The opponent cars all follow the same path. There’s 3 championship series of 4 tracks each. A lap will take 1:30 seconds, which is an eternity. The tracks are set in generic city and park settings. There is no character to anything.

The complete dearth of character and the lack of any interesting gameplay create a game version of a desert. A Dead Mall. A great nothing. Playing it gives one a palpable sense of dread.

Both Crazy Frog Racer and Shrek Racing have this ironic early 00’s CGI vibe to them, but because Shrek is fundamentally likable in some way he has a lasting cultural legacy. So much so that if the gameplay were swapped between Shrek and Crazy Frog. Crazy Frog would rank higher than Cocato but lower than Shrek still.

I’m not sure if Crazy Frog can really be blamed for being so bland as there isn’t much to the IP except for Crazy Frog. But, Crazy Frog is Europe. Crazy Frog is late 90’s early 00’s. Crazy Frog is steeped in early cellphone culture, when normal people could start communicating with each other anywhere. This could have been an opportunity to take the world around it and put it into the game, creating a cultural snapshot of the era. But it does none of this. It doesn’t even create a good game, or anything passable.

Crazy Frog is the ur-example of a slapdash adaptation of a franchise to a game. Crazy Frog as an IP sucks. It’s the worst kart racing game. Here we are, at last, at the bottom. There will never be a bar lower than this.


Thank you for reading this very disorganized essay that had been kicking around for some time.

In playing these games I've come to several conclusions
1) It's important to have a *spectrum of movement* when it comes to racing games. You need to be able to have several options for top speed over acceleration, and be able to have tradeoffs in drifting/sliding/steering, as well as jumps. You need to have jumps dude. Also the player should only reach top speed in limited circumstances. If you're WOT for the entire corse, you got problems because it will be very boring.

2) Cuteness matters. You can't have a kart racing game without cute characters, bright pastel colors, and good music. Konami Kart racers is a testament to this. Using 3D rendered to 2D images almost never works here. It's better when games play to the limitations of the platform.

3) Weapons should make a noticeable difference in gameplay, and it's better to have fewer weapons that do more vs more weapons that have dubious effects.

4) You need jumps and drifting dude. These will give track designers much more layouts to work with since you essentially only have a 2d plane to work with and levels therefore can't have any verticality to them.

I think I missed a few games, so if you got any more suggestions to look at that I should check out leave em in the comments.

I want to check out that gadget racers thank you

@marlfuchs2#11113 where does Mario Kart Super Circuit fit for you? The top?

@beets#11125 When I wrote all this up several years ago I didn't have access to Mario Kart Super Circuit but I would rank it above Konami Kart at #1. They did it first and they did it the best.

I love Waiwai Racing (Konami Krazy Racers) because

  • - It was the only localized game with Popn Music characters at the time
  • - It has a track ripped directly from Pop'n Music GB
  • - It's a Spin off of WaiWai World for famicom
    So the two I play are Super Circuit and WaiWai Racing. I'll give nitro cart a try someday, maybe.
  • this is amazing

    This is why I go online. Thanks for posting.

    This is excellent work, I have a question and a clarification.

    What about Lego Racers 1!? is it not a cart racer or does it just not place on the list?

    Cocoto is, I believe, Neko Entertainment's own mascot. They put him in tons of games with different publishers so that seems to be the case. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoto_Platform_Jumper

    I don't know that Cocoto was ever particularly popular but just by looking at it you can FEEL the frenchness.

    @exodus#11146 on Lego Racers, near as I can tell 1 is a Gameboy color / n64 / psx only, Lego Racers 2 being the one I could find for the platform

    I didn't know that about Cocoto! I had a feeling it was a developed character but couldn't find anything!

    haha dang, poor Inspector Gadget :frowning:

    I've been hunting for a copy of Konami Kart for a while actually! Did find one a few weeks ago but it was $40 cart only. The ebay price is half that for cart so the hunt continues I guess lol

    dude this rendering of shrek is sickening


    I might be the only one, but the Antz graphics have me absolutely captivated. There's something bizarre and surreal about those backgrounds in a way I really love.

    I've heard good things about Konami Krazy Racers before, and that one and Gadget Racers have bumped straight up to the top of my to play list. They both seem like a really interesting time.

    Thank you so much for this write up - it's an incredible window into a genre niche I only vaguely realized existed!


    Looks like fat yoda

    @CidNight#11185 yeah it does

    @tapevulture#11178 the 360 renders for most of the characters look horrid but Shrek‘s is especially bad. but it’s bad in an interesting way to the point where it's funny.