It’s easy to write off Beach Buggy Racing as a Mario Kart knockoff. After all, it’s a mascot racer with cute characters and colorful tracks. Its biggest advantage over Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is its much cheaper price point, which is probably because this was originally a mobile game. Unfortunately, most of the game’s issues stem from the fact that it’s a cheap mobile port. It’s a shame, too, since the game incorporates some elements that I’d like to see in other mascot racers.
The racing is fairly standard. Choose a character, vehicle, and track, then compete against five opponents in a race to the finish. Just as you’d expect, there are items like missiles and speed boosts littered about the track that you can pick up and use against others. And just like Mario Kart, there is an annoying rubber-banding mechanic that ensures that the first place and last place racers are never that far from each other. It’s a tried and true formula, and it works to an extent.
There are several modes in the package. In Championship and Quick Race, you can set up matches easily with opponents or local friends. Daily challenges grant you opportunities to test yourself and earn in-game currency. But by far, Beach Buggy Racing’s biggest draw is its robust single-player campaign. Unlike in most kart racers, this game’s Career mode has a mission structure, in which you complete challenges to earn stars. In turn, those stars unlock more levels. Most missions are simply races, but other more creative challenges keep the campaign from growing stale. For instance, there are elimination matches, where the race kicks out the last place player every 15 seconds; and follow-the-leader races, in which you must closely follow another racer to collect orbs. The target practice challenges that asked me to shoot missiles into bullseyes while driving were my favorite variations.
At the end of each series, you partake in a one-on-one race with the boss. And if you can win, you unlock that character, which is a worthy reward. The entire single-player experience is reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing’s Adventure mode or Mario Kart DS’ own similar Mission mode. Aside from the performance-based stars, you earn coins that can be used to upgrade your vehicles. There are only nine different vehicles, but you can customize each however you want. Wish you had more control of your car? Purchase an upgrade in handling. Have the need for speed? Focus on increasing your acceleration and top speed. There is an engaging sense of progression that just isn’t present in most kart racers’ single-player offerings.
Even choosing your character has weight to it. Each character has a unique special ability that you can activate once per race, for example, a bonus speed boost or an attack that fires bouncy balls at your opponents. It’s a nice detail that makes each of the ten playable characters stand out beyond their cute and wacky designs.
Unfortunately, as much as I like how Career mode works, the gameplay doesn’t hold up as well. First of all, the physics are wonky. Yes, this is a kart racer, but it’s a problem when my car is literally bouncing all over the place. After any jump, the cars tend to float more than is necessary, and you essentially lose control at that point. I admit I got a rush from flying at high speeds while airborne, but that exhilaration turned to dismay once my character was ejected out of his vehicle. Even the game seemed to get confused when on three separate occasions, my game hard crashed and immediately sent me back to the home menu. Hopefully, I don’t have to say that this kind of glitch is a big problem.
Despite how much I upgraded my handling, I had trouble making sharp turns, which usually led to falling off the track. It’s as if the game was trying to replicate a realistic racing sim like Gran Turismo but included bottomless pits to mess with you. This problem is compounded by the obnoxious screen tilting. In what seems to be a remnant from the game’s mobile roots, pressing left or right tilts the screen along with your vehicle. The end result is a dizzying effect that made me feel uncomfortable, especially on the big screen.
The tracks are decent but nothing to write home about. The layouts are okay, though a lack of an on-screen map makes finding your way unnecessarily difficult. The designs are uninspired and lack the eye-catching hazards you see in other games of the genre. Aside from pits and randomly spawning creatures that block your way, the most notable track element was a low-gravity area on the space-themed track. Otherwise, they’re pretty dull. And since there are a scant 15 tracks, they easily grow tiresome.
And that tiresome gameplay is why you might not get much mileage from Beach Buggy Racing. While Career mode is decent and takes several hours to complete, it’s hard to stay invested when a multitude of items and shaky physics get in the way. Multiplayer-wise, there is a split-screen mode for up to four-players, but there is no online mode, which hurts the replay value drastically.
Overall, the game looks and sounds somewhat cheap. The graphics are cute and colorful but not very crisp. The track visuals and character designs lack detail and end up looking like something from the Wii era. Likewise, the beach rock music wasn’t at all memorable.
In the end, I’m quite mixed about Beach Buggy Racing. On one hand, there are enjoyable elements that I’d love other mascot racers to implement, such as the career mode’s mission structure and the characters’ unique abilities. On the other hand, the frustrating physics and screen tilting make gameplay less than ideal. In addition, the uninspired tracks, dull presentation, and lack of online play leave a lot to be desired. Nonetheless, Beach Buggy Racing is still a decent game that kids may enjoy. As a cheap alternative to the much more expensive Mario Kart, it offers more than its price suggests.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!