The F1 series is designed to be a technical simulation racer. Its very core is to appeal to fans of a certain type of racing. But what if you wanted to attract a different type of gamer to the series? Ones who are put off by the technical aspect? Codemasters recently saw to that in F1 2020 with the casual mode, but almost a decade ago they went beyond expectation with a new type of F1 game. A kart racer.
It might have been an odd combination, but it worked. And it worked because it was different. The items are still here in full force, and while they might not fully draw from the F1 theming (I guess the bubbles come from the champagne?), they still provide plenty of chaos on the track. Gone is the drifting, however, which brings a greater need to use the brakes.
But also, there’s the KERS system. On certain corners of the tracks, there’ll be striped blue and while panels on the ground, which will accumulate a boost level of up to three upon hitting the accelerator that number of times. Then once you hit the end of the panel, the stored boost will be unleashed. Some are placed near shortcuts, so if you can get the highest boost level, and get the positioning right, it’s possible to use those shortcuts without a boost item.
And speaking of shortcuts, there’s also a hidden locked shortcut on each of the tracks. Each track has a key on a certain position that will appear after a certain time after each lap starts. A racer can grab that key and take it to the gate, which will be unlocked only for them.
However, keeping it can prove difficult when items are within the mix, as while everyone can fire at you, your own item usage will be disabled for as long as you hold the key – even if you pick one up. One hit of an item (or stage hazard) will make you lose that key, which makes awareness of what’s happening around you important. And you’ll want to be fast, so that the shortcut has impact when you use it, rather than just placing you slightly in front of the leaders.
A kart racer is also only as good as its modes, and while they can get away with only standard racing and battles, F1 Race Stars went beyond the norm with modes, as well. Along with the standard race and elimination, there’s those which take inspiration from real F1 racing, such as Refuel – where fuel is added to the mix of racing, with a full tank causing the car to run slower, and Sector Snatch – which times racers to complete set areas of the track in the fastest time.
Slalom is one of my favourites (as is Refuel), which places plenty of gates around the track in three colours. Chain the same colour together to build a points maximum of 500 per gate and be the first to hit the set total points needed. Sometimes stars will appear on those gates, which will automatically boost you to the 500 maximum. The order of the colours change, which brings in a level of tactical positioning.
Trophy Chase is much the same, but instead will see many trophies scattered around the tracks, with the aim to collect as many as possible. Exhibition makes use of the badge system the game has in place, whereby earning a variety of badges for doing anything – whether hitting an opponent, overtaking, jump boosting, or even making use of the KERS panels – will earn you points. The same as Trophy Chase and Slalom, the aim is to be the first to hit the total points needed to win.
All of these can be run with standard rules or by applying some custom additions. Mirror mode can be applied, as can an always boosting mode, and many more. Three of these can be applied together, to make for some crazy combinations of racing. The lap count can also be changed for each track, meaning if you really wanted, it’s possible to turn the game into a kart-based version of real F1.
If you’ve seen my Future of Mario Kart series, you’ll know that I’ve taken inspiration from this game, and it’s because this game is different, yet fun. There’s variety, there’s customisability, and despite it being more technical than other kart racers, it managed to keep the random chaos and skilled play balanced much the same as the best kart racers do.
It doesn’t really matter with this one if you don’t like F1. It’s set dressing much the same as Crash Team Racing or the Sonic All-Stars racers. Plenty hold those as contenders to Mario Kart’s throne, but for me, it’s F1 Race Stars. I can fully recommend that you check it out, as I’m sure you’ll have a good time with it. Just be aware that you might not get any online matches.
Images taken from: F1 Race Stars - Cartoon Chaos on Technical Tracks