When you’re looking at a free-to-play game, you can often spend more time on the monetization model than the game itself. After all, nothing is completely free: we need to know what was broken in the free-to-play transition. Is the free stuff enough to make it worth playing? And should paid be unpaid?
We would like to take a different approach and consider a game rather than a payment model, but Starlit Kart Racing makes it incredibly difficult. It’s a racing card game that, like the studio’s other games, Star adventures – jealously guards a lot of content behind a paywall. But it’s what he chose that raises our collective eyebrows.
Imagine Mario Kart, but fifty percent of the cards lag behind real currency. Now take it another half the list of karts, and make them prohibitively expensive for in-game currency. You’ll need to work for a few hours to unlock each one. We played enough to review Starlit Kart Racing, but only managed to unlock one racer aside from the first three.
Now cut 150cc and put what behind a pay wall. Yes, do speed and difficulty of the game buying MTX. Finally, require the player to pay for the game’s “grand prizes,” cups, with in-game currency. You’ll unlock the first half of these cups almost without noticing. The last half should be ground. The curve of this grind gets steeper as you play each cup multiple times to unlock the final races.
That’s what makes reviewing free-to-play console games so incredibly difficult. Defense wise, this is a completely free karting experience. There aren’t many, if any, 1-4 player karting experiences that the family can just pick up and play together on the couch. With a bit of family teamwork, a healthy list of tracks is available: as many as a full RRP go-kart game. Eager players may even find the odd racer becoming unlockable.
But the argument against? Starlit Kart is made in a most unusual and, to be unkind, anti-player way. You start with three different go-karts, but that’s not enough for all four players to choose someone else. Sorry little Amy, you’re playing the same character as Jim-Bob. And we’re hard-pressed to think of a game that monetizes its difficulty modes. If you are good at Starlit Kart Racing, you will have to pay more because the lower difficulties will not be difficult. It might just be a cheap £4.99 purchase to unlock it, but something – anything – would be a better choice, amirite?
As a value proposition, Starlit Kart Racing is a mess. The amount of stuff you get for free is great, but there are some weird compromises in how you’re allowed to play them.
But we should probably dive into the important stuff: does Starlit Kart Racing rank high, or is it far enough behind the leaders – the best go-karts – what is it rubbed off?
For all our free-to-play stuff, Starlit Kart Racing is a half-decent little kart racer. At a basic level, it’s fun to play. Especially at the higher difficulty levels (starlit kart microtransactions be damned!) there’s a real burst of speed and you have a great degree of control even if you don’t have all the stat points in control. It’s a high-octane karting game with as much emphasis on driving as it does on weapons.
The controls have their own characteristics. The collisions between the maps are weird, you can’t crash into someone because instead you kind of merge with them and then get thrown in different directions. We lost the race when a boss passed us and then sped off the front like we had shelled them out. And drifting in Starlit Kart Racing isn’t really drifting. You don’t get any control improvement while drifting and you can move left or right while doing it. So it’s more of a boost system: you hold down the drift button and release it to get a boost. You get used to it, but it’s a strange take on traditional drifting.
Plus points go for weapons. To begin with, there is an absolute metric tone. Clicking on the question mark blocks gives you two weapons, and they come from about twenty different species. This is in addition to map-specific weapons being on cooldown, which would be great if unlocking different maps were cheap.
We can be cheeky and say that there are really only a few different weapon categories: there are red projectiles, mines, boosters, and pulses that hit everyone around you. For example, we couldn’t tell you how some amplifiers differ from each other. But they look good, and there’s still room for weird curveballs like a lightning-style boost that shrinks everyone. Although, for the love of god, never put another weapon in a kart game that switches controls. Starlit Kart Racing has a “tangled beam” that switches left and right, and by Jupiter, there’s nothing more damning than banging against the walls when the weapon starts and ends.
But the main feeling when we played Starlit Kart Racing was that the races felt, well, fake. It’s an odd term to use, but the only one that really fits: we didn’t feel like the racing was fair or believable, especially against CPU racers. It felt like we were racing against a fast moving board with riders glued to the top. We’d knock down a rider, but they’d superaccelerate back into position. There was no real gap between first and eighth place: they were all the same distance apart, like a permanent peloton. And the board will keep up until the last lap when it finally loosens up and lets you win – especially on the easier difficulties. Something just didn’t seem… right.
Levels receive a passing grade. Each cup introduces new mechanics – like conveyor belts and bouncy pads – but then Starlit Kart gets a little too enthusiastic and adds them to every race in that cup, with slight variations next to them. It gives the cups an identity, but tracks less and it’s on the verge of gloss. Otherwise, everything here is a little flat, a little ordinary, and shouldn’t give Mario any disturbing nightmares.
Finally, the game modes are fit for purpose. Cups and Versus provide traditional Grand Prix and single-player racing for one to four players, while the Boss mode pits you against a Chase HQ-style villain. These boss modes really highlight the lack of racing believability as the boss never stops overtaking no matter what you do to him. However, stay behind and they will stop and wait for you.
Finally, the ranked mode allows you to race against other players (many of whom have never had a problem with the game), but – yay! – does not give you in-game currency for finishing. Instead, you get ranked crowns that help you match up and unlock cosmetics. Just when you find a game mode that’s worth replaying, you can’t use it to grind grindy. Gadzuki!
Heaven knows what rating I should give Starlit Kart Racing. Being a free-to-play game, it’s generous with its tracks and stingy with everything else, slapping price tags on things that aren’t really worth it (complex settings? Really?). As for the karting, it’s surprisingly solid, with plenty of weaponry, but it does feel a bit unoriginal, with the rubber bands pulling CPU opponents back into position right after you’ve thrown a mine in their face.
If times are tough and you’re looking for a free local four-player karting experience, then Starlit Kart Racing will serve you, and serve you well. For everyone else, it’s too wrong, too penny-pinching to really consider.
You can buy Starlit Kart Racing at The Xbox Store
When you’re looking at a free-to-play game, you can often spend more time on the monetization model than the game itself. After all, nothing is completely free: we need to know what was broken in the free-to-play transition. Is the free stuff enough to make it worth playing? And should paid be unpaid? We’d like to take a different approach and rethink the game rather than the payment model, but Starlit Kart Racing makes it incredibly difficult. It’s a racing card game that – like the studio’s other game, Starlit Adventures – is jealously guarded…
Starlit Kart Racing Review
Starlit Kart Racing Review
- Reliable and fast driving experience
- Cart-load weapons as standard
- What’s paid and what’s free is crazy weird
- CPU races never seem plausible
- The levels are somewhat similar to each other
- Thank you so much for the free copy of the game – purchased by TXH
- Formats – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
- The version reviewed is Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date – September 1, 2022
- Starting price from – £ free