I have nothing against the M&M’s candy brand. The regular chocolates are alright, although I much prefer the Peanut M&M’s, and for the stranger variations out there… well, if you choose to live a Pretzel M&M life, I won’t stand in your way. I have nothing against the M&M’s mascots either, in fact, I think they’re rather ingenious. By making the mascots the candy itself, you always know what product they’re pushing, and their simple round design makes them easy for kids to draw and easy to merchandise. They have even done a decent job varying the personalities of the different colors, Red being the cocky leader type, Green being a bit strange in that she’d a hard-shelled candy flirting with you but it apparently ties to a myth of Green M&M’s making you better in the bedroom, and the Yellow M&M sounds like the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond and is the more relaxed of the bunch.
What I don’t understand though is the big push the M&M’s made into video games around the era of the Wii and DS. M&M’s Adventure, M&M’s Beach Party, M&M’s Break ’em… they were slapping the characters into whatever genre they could think of rather than considering if they were even a good fit for them. The M&M characters work as mascots, but I find it hard to imagine a kid looking at the store shelves and begging mommy and daddy to buy them a game that happens to feature the living candy characters. It’s already pretty strange that there is so much demand for merchandise around these characters as it is, as one Green M&M in a Santa hat has somehow found its way into my Christmas decorations despite me having no clue how it got there. Much like Hazelnut Spread M&M’s though, I won’t knock it for existing even though it’s not to my tastes, as I have my own affinity for certain brands and mascots others might not understand. What I can openly knock and mock though is M&M’s Kart Racing for the Wii, because rather than it being a matter of taste or brand appeal, this game is an incredibly poor attempt at a racing game.
APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER… AND THE M&M’S IN CARS
While we’re on the subject of the living chocolates, before we go into the nitty-gritty of the racing, let’s take a look at the cast of this kart racer. This was prior to the invention of the Brown M&M, but most of the M&M characters you’d expect are present and playable. What is a bit less expected is that for this racing game, they’ve decided to come wearing accessories. Blue perhaps pulls off his accessory the best, the M&M wearing a pair of shades to let kids know he’s the cool character, and Green… well, she’s wears shades too, but they’re a more womanly design because she is the token female. Orange gets out scot-free, the nervous M&M probably meant to be playing off his awkwardness here, but the most awkward choices here are the two most recognizable characters, Red and Yellow. Red has been given a cowboy hat to wear for no real reason, and Yellow is wearing a backwards blue baseball cap. These are purely visual touches with no explanation, and if you thought maybe Red would at least act like a cowboy to accommodate his style choice, you’re in for a letdown.
Every male M&M that is playable has the same voice. Yellow M&M doesn’t sound like Brad Garrett, Blue M&M doesn’t sound the least bit cool, and Orange isn’t even slightly nervous. The boys all share the same character voice, one that repeats the same lines over and over during a race. Pulling in front of another racer will get them to say “Look, a nut!” which a Wikipedia editor apparently mistook for them collecting pointless invisible items on the track. The truth is this is just some odd jab at who they are pulling in front of, but if you get passed up, your M&M will almost always say “I need a better engine”, which isn’t actually too inaccurate as we’ll find when we get to the Kart section. I was almost surprised when I picked the Green M&M and she had not only different voice lines, but more. Perhaps the fact they had to take time to record hers separately meant they added in some extra things for her to say, but she prefers to pile them on all at once rather than spread them out for variation.
Also joining our recognizable M&M’s racers are such classic characters as Foxy, Robo, and Cricket! …You mean you don’t know Foxy, Robo, or Cricket? Well don’t worry, I can find almost no information on them existing prior to this game, and the game doesn’t even draw attention to them. They have what I am assuming are generic designs DSI games had on hand, the M&M’s joined in their races by what passes for an anthropomorphic fox, a robot, and a strange cricket man, and the odd thing is, it’s not like they had to pad the ranks. Some tracks in M&M’s Kart Racing will have you race against four other racers, some will have you race against seven, and as you play through the tournament mode, you’ll notice the amount of opponents will keep increasing and decreasing in seemingly arbitrary amounts, making it less a tournament and more a sequence of races. The first thing they do to fill the ranks is not care at all which M&M you picked, as when you cross the finish line, you might just see something like Yellow get first and second place. When they add the unrecognizable faces, they do so without fanfare as well, meaning the results screen at the end of the race might be the first time you even realized you were up against a cartoon fox. I have to imagine that the reason the number of racers varies is some issue with the track design, where some tracks might have visual slowdown or glitches if you pack too many racers in.
While you can’t play as these cartoon critters invading your candy game, you can pick from a few karts for your M&M of choice, but once you have picked which color you prefer, you might as well get down on one knee and present a wedding ring. For some reason, M&M’s Kart Racing ties its kart unlocks to specific characters, meaning that unless little Susie wants to put in the time playing single player, she can’t pick Green if you went through single player and got all the unlocks with Orange. Well… technically she CAN and just play with the worse karts, but that is where we get to have our first real brush with the way the game handles racing…
APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER… AND A KART RACER WITH NO KART RACING CONVENTIONS
If you play the DS version of M&M’s Kart Racing, this might sound a little strange so far. That’s because despite featuring the same name and brand and concept, they are not the same game. The DS version might be awful in its own right, but it has a few things the Wii version doesn’t.
You see, when Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, or most anyone sets out to make a KART racer, they aren’t just designing a game about driving. Kart racers typically have something that helps even the odds incorporated into the design. The DS kart racing M&M game knows this. It includes boosts on the track that can speed up your Kart if you drive over them, and it features what might as well be what makes a game a kart racer: items. Items can be picked up and used to give you an edge or interfere with other racers. M&M’s Kart Racing on Wii though has neither of those features. It’s an incredibly straightforward racing game, where the goal is to drive to the end of the course to complete laps. The tracks aren’t traditional race courses at least, although the M&M’s seem to much prefer racing through people’s houses and farms rather than much associated with their brand save for the logo being slapped on any surface they can justify. You’ll eventually hit the candy lands of later courses, but that’s after you go through forests and beaches that might be a better race course for a game that features cartoon foxes, robots, and crickets as the main characters… Hm.
There ARE some boosts to be found on the track, the only real change to regular driving the game offers. Cups of coffee can be picked up for an immediate speed boost, after which you are most likely to hear an announcer type character yell “APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER”. You might also hear “APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER” if your car is just naturally fast. As in, once its reached its maximum speed, you’ll hear that as if you are going at an incredible speed, and the counter at the bottom of the screen sure is trying to tell you that you’re going fast, hitting the high numbers of 200 or more! 200 of what is the question. Maybe it’s meant to be Miles per Hour, but the characters certainly aren’t driving that fast, with even the highest base speed feeling like a somewhat leisurely drive. The coffee does give a feeling of speed, but otherwise you are moving at a manageable pace through tracks that you don’t seem to be moving through too quickly. I’m forced to assume that number must be something like Meters per Hour, since I wager a regular human running on foot could outpace these kart racers with ease.
When it comes to the actual go-karts, some do feature the M&M’s in their designs as decals and such, but while picking a character has no impact on the race, the vehicle certainly does. In fact, more than anything, your victory in a race is tied to your kart choice. Pay no attention to any real stats outside of acceleration and speed, as these are the only ones that matter, and if you have a better kart than the opposition, you’ll really have to drive poorly to lose. Many karts are just objectively better than others, and these are of course the ones you unlock, but again, only for that character. If you play through the single player tournament, gradually, the opponents will be driving better and better karts themselves, and there are actually points where victory will be impossible if you aren’t using one of the better vehicles. Every vehicle has a speed cap, the courses have barely any obstacles the computer racers fall for, and even if you go off-road to take some of the few shortcuts that exist in the game, the rough ground does not impede your speed at all. Some courses though are too simple to even find a shortcut or corner to cut, meaning that if you don’t have a machine with the right engine, characters will gain leads and never lose them. Driving well isn’t rewarded in any way and since none of the comeback mechanics you’d usually consider endemic to a kart racer are present, you better hope you have unlocked something to make yourself competitive, and if you’re playing as a character who hasn’t been working towards unlocking karts… well, prepare to lose. It’s as simple as that.
APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER… AND THE RACING
Looking beyond kart choice for the moment, the racing in general is horrifically flawed. First, as a Wii title, it naturally wants you to engage with motion controls, offering no other options for how you control the race. This isn’t a deal breaker on its own, but when the game is starting up, it will briefly flash the controls to you, making it easy to miss certain functions that your kart has. Among them is a hop you can use to brake turns, a way to build up speed at the start of the race that is also bound to the hop and you might just waste that speed boost by accident by hopping in place instead, and of course, how you drive in general. You might expect it to try and mimic how a car’s steering wheel works. After all, the Wii has an official Wii Wheel peripheral you can pop your remote in to make it seem like you’re driving. However, in this game, you hold your remote sideways, tilting it up and down to turn in the directions you’re tipping it. It’s awkward, but you can get used to it, and once you have, you’ll notice it’s not very demanding either. There are times I could play the game one handed while typing on my computer with the other and make it through the race fairly easily, because the courses in the game are either so easy to navigate it’s silly or full of sharp 90 degree turns where you’ll have to release your acceleration to take them properly.
Slopes are the only real impediment to racing at all, and I’m not sure the game’s creators have ever built video game slopes before. If you go down a slope in real life, your car might build up speed, but it will likely drive smoothly down the decline. In M&M’s Kart Racing, going down the decline confuses the game. It seems to have no idea how a kart can move downward fluidly, so instead, your kart will repeatedly do small drops down it as if it was going down stairs, loud slamming noises accompanying each impact with what looked like a smooth decline. You can lose a lot of speed as you bounce down the hill like your car had its tires replaced with springs, and any attempt at turning during a downward drive is bound to not go through as you can’t find the traction to execute it. The really odd thing about slopes is, while the developers seem clueless how the physics of going down one works, going up one is one of the few times you might find your kart slowing down. It actually has the understanding that going up a hill will require more force from an engine, thus making your near constant speed diminish as it has to push against gravity, and if you don’t have enough speed approaching a slope, you can’t actually climb it. Incidentally, while this game is poorly constructed in general, most of the glitches I encountered in the game involved falling through slopes and ending up beneath the level before it teleported me back as if I had fallen off the track normally.
Perhaps more prevalent than slopes though are the barriers and hazards found in levels. There’s nothing so interesting as monsters or moving objects, and ground like ice and sand has no actual impact on your driving in the slightest, but if you manage to make contact with a wall or some part of the environment, prepare for an ear-splitting banshee shriek. Sometimes, you just glance off that wall and can keep driving, other times, you car will briefly fuse with it, all momentum immediately lost as you are unable to drive, but hitting the ignition will cause your tires to squeal obnoxiously loudly, the sound all too happy to loop instantly to pile on the repeated shrieks. You need to reverse to escape this inconsistently occurring torment, but so long as your kart is good enough, don’t worry about losing your lead to this. A typical race will likely consist of a couple “APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER”s, maybe the slams of going downhill, a few early utterances of “Look, a nut!”, and the banshee shrieks if it’s a level with many on-track hazards or absurdly sharp turns.
APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER… AND “ARCADE” AND “TOURNAMENT”
As you might expect, M&M’s Kart Racing does have multiplayer racing options, but there’s not too much new here that isn’t covered before. There is a Quick Play mode where… you play one lap of a track in a race that’s over too quickly, and Training where you play one lap of a track on your own that’s over too quickly! Arcade and Tournament are the main modes to play though, as they actually feature full-bodied races and some progression to follow.
…Well, Tournament does. Arcade actually is one lap tours of tracks as well, but it has a goal to overcome in each one. You see, every track in M&M’s Kart Racing has chocolate coins floating in the air, the player able to collect them by driving into them. These are what the game uses for unlocking karts, with each character’s individual count increasing as they pick up more of them. The main way to earn coins is certainly picking them up, but to unlock the best cart, you need 1,000 coins. Thankfully, you don’t spend coins to unlock things, you just need to hit that mark in your total collection for that M&M, but a track might have 30 if you’re lucky, so to supplement that slow income, you might have to pull off… TRICKS!
Or, one trick.
And it’s really easy.
This single trick is… driving two-wheeled instead of four. While driving, pressing right or left on the D-pad will tip your kart, your driving and speed not at all impacted by this maneuver. In fact, you can hold this pose as long as you can get away with it, the game sometimes forcing you out with uneven track, but for the most part, you can hold the trick and when it’s landed, you get some chocolate coins. The trick is a bit inconsistent in execution, the player best off pressing right and left to see what mood the game is in and whether it will allow you to pull off the right or left version. This is a decent coin-collecting method for unlocks, and it gives you something to do while you maintain an unopposed lead on even the hardest difficulty, but it doesn’t feed into the goal of Arcade mode, which is to collect a certain amount of chocolate coins on each track.
Usually, the amount needed is equal to or slightly less than the total amount of chocolate coins, but since there are no shortcuts really, they’re all along the main track and pretty easy to see coming. The challenge of this mode comes from the time limit given to it, in that if you miss a coin, you don’t really have too much time to turn around and grab it and continue. Don’t let that build any hope inside your heart though. This may seem like the first real time M&M’s Kart Racing requires you to be good to win rather than have the best kart and be somewhat competent, but the best way to win here is… just don’t drive too fast. Avoid the coffee cups on track because they’ll basically send you rocketing forward and potentially past coins, but so long as you mosey through the track, you can easily pick up coins and make it to the end before time is up. What this mostly manifests as is gradual engine spurts to push you forward without building up speed, meaning your kart is just farting along and doing a fairly easy task.
If you think completing Arcade mode will give you enough coins to unlock everything, you’ll be disappointed again, as you might have been with a mode named Arcade that doesn’t really have any true ties to how you’d expect an arcade game to play. Tournament probably offers the best place to grind, that being it’s the only mode that mixes multiple laps, chocolate coins you can pick up, and the trick system, and if you want the best vehicles, you better be doing tricks as often as possible during your races here. As mentioned before, Tournament features you racing a nebulous number of other racers who may or may not be hard-shelled candies, the goal being to get first place to move on to the next track. You can keep retrying if you fail and if you exit you can start where you left off, but grinding coins if you need the next good kart can be grueling if you don’t do so from the start.
While I won’t cover all 15 tracks you’ll encounter in the tournament, I will note some “highlights”. The first track the game throws at you is a “chocolate” factory. You know it’s a chocolate factory because the game tells you it is and throws an M&M’s logo on the wooden crates around this otherwise generic industrial facility. The game, for some reason, starts off with a stage with 90s degree turns and little ramps that if you don’t approach right your character won’t drive up at all, but while it is a bad first impression and one that will trip up kids perhaps, soon, like every level, you can breeze through it with little thought so long as you slow down at the right parts. Between races, expect long loading times even if you didn’t alter anything like your kart choice. The House is perhaps the worst level when it comes to the turns, because you need to squeeze through doorways where you need to take immediate sharp turns repeatedly to quickly navigate them.
The Farm is uniquely bad though. It’s got some abrupt turns yes, but it’s probably the ugliest level in the game. The game in general has very basic graphics, but The Farm tries to apply grass textures and stone road textures to its environment, leading to a muddy mess that the game can’t even render right. A small space in front of you looks almost decent, but maybe one and a half kart lengths ahead, it abruptly becomes a blurred mess of colors. As you drive, the track continues to update like this, the space immediately in front updating to look better while the space up ahead continues to look terrible. Your presence is basically determining which space of ground looks the best, and the best isn’t even that good.
Mountains has the most slopes to contend with, and is perhaps one of the stages where its easiest to notice draw distance issues. Much like The Farm can’t render decent looking grass a stone’s throw ahead of you, most tracks with large environments can’t draw in the visuals until your kart is close enough. Most of the track you need to see will be present though, but the developers don’t try to mask or hide the fact that the area up ahead is going to be blue sky until you reach the point it can afford to draw in large models, and while this is an issue older games have, this is also on the Wii, which while not the most powerful system, features other racing games that don’t need to hide entire mountains from view until you hit a certain point in the stage.
Surprisingly, near the end of the game, there are a few Alien courses that don’t look bad and have decent track design. The background is basically one giant image of space wrapped around to make the sky, but it feels like this could be in a better game and actually evokes memories of Diddy Kong Racing’s space levels, albeit not with any of what made those interesting or challenging. Abstract World is where we finally see M&M’s really make their mark on course design besides being labels on boxes. Abstract World and Chocolate Volcano both take place in food themed areas, mostly indicated by colors and M&M’s being lodged into the walls. And then you go to a Roman Coliseum right after? Despite being mostly a giant circle with a large dirt center, the draw distance really has trouble here, as you can see the stands spawn in gradually as you go around the circle. The image below actually shows it in action, where it shouldn’t just abruptly shift into blue sky, because as you draw closer the stands just continue to pop in to create a ring that really shouldn’t have been that hard to render considering how it can’t be that graphically intensive when everything else looks so bad.
But the finale for the Tournament mode is… The Stadium. Which is… just a normal race track like you might see in NASCAR. And there’s so little turning here or anything to impede you or the other racers that this, more than any track, is really a “have the better kart or lose” track. Easier difficulties you might make it through, but since there’s not much to slow you down and only a few coffee boosts, it’s basically a game of addition. If your kart moves at 200 unexplained speed indications and another racer moves at 240 mystery measurements of speed, they’ll overtake you by definition, and you have no real means to close that gap after its been made.
APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER! …AND THE END!
The back of M&M’s Kart Racing is, naturally a sequence of lies all meant to sucker you into the trap that is a kart racer so bad it holds the Guinness World Record for poorest rated kart racing video game. According to the back, we should have been in for a game that “breathes new life into the arcade racing by combining adventure elements and high speed racing with the funny and parodic style of candy competition”, but there were no adventure elements to be found in this by the numbers racing game that actually forgot some of the numbers, there is barely anything resembling humor in it and the only way it could be a parody is by lampooning the idea a kart racer needs to be competently designed, and who even knows what it’s angling for by acting like “candy competition” is something tangible people would be enticed by. The box doesn’t even get the number of race tracks right, claiming to have only 10 while boasting these stages have “unique bonus items”, which only furthers the idea that probably no one involved in this project really cared enough to even fact check or try and do their jobs properly. Coupled with an in-game font that scrunches letters together to the point legibility can be an issue at times, the developers might not have even expected anyone to care enough to read anything they wrote, knowing full well this game’s sales will likely come in the form of the unfortunate gift some young child receives and the parents don’t know how to return.
M&M’s Kart Racing fails the one thing it had to do, and that’s make driving fun… and work right. Characters drive slowly and success in a race is more about having the right kart and not failing than driving well in any way, with courses only offering annoying opposition like 90 degree turns and slopes that don’t work correctly when you go down them. The only task that asks anything of the player is collecting the chocolate coins for the karts you need to succeed, and this is a grind of a task due to mode structures and it being tied to individual characters. Constant noisiness from tire squealing and the incredibly low bar for “APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER” to play makes the already easy drives annoying to boot, and since most of the game is sloppy, ugly, and barely embraces the brand that made you buy it, M&M’s Kart Racing has little to offer and those offerings are worse than White Pumpkin Pie flavored M&Ms.
In fact, the game is so short and mostly packed with flawed, boring content, that you’d probably enjoy your time more looking up the odd M&M’s flavors. Did you know there are Vanilla Cupcake M&M’s? Real Coconut M&M’s? Chili Nut M&M’s? Easter Sundae M&M’s? There are plenty of weird M&M brands out there that I can’t even imagine the tastes of. Some will no doubt taste awful, but the difference is when you buy candy and eat it, it’s gone. You had the experience, and it’s over, and since flavor is determined by the tongue you were born with, maybe even if it is an odd taste, you might like it. When M&M’s jump into a different world altogether though, things get muddied. To buy a piece of electronic digital entertainment like a video game, it leaves you with a physical good, one that you can get rid of, but not in the same way as food. Throwing it out feels sacrilege here, and selling it will barely net you any cash. This asks for shelf space in your house, this leaves a mark on your Wii’s insides with its save file until you delete that. This is meant to be entertainment, but the M&M’s entered a genre they’re clueless about with developers who don’t really seem to know the hardware well or the physics or design needed for a game built on going fast.
The funny thing about the racing genre in general is it doesn’t exactly have a high bar it needs to hit. Make things feel fast, make the driving work, and you have a decent racing game on your hands. M&M’s Kart Racing doesn’t really succeed even at those basics though. You need the faster karts to win but they don’t feel faster. If it wasn’t for the number at the bottom of the screen I wouldn’t be able to tell it was faster, that and the fact it can win the races other karts can’t. The racing here though is boring when done properly and painful on the ears when it begins to slip up, and it’s such an insubstantial package that there’s not really anything to balance out the failures. I’m hesitantly hopeful the DS version that is entirely different is better, even though it looks flawed and slow as well. It at least looks more faithful to M&M’s and kart racing in general, and if they had ported it to the Wii, maybe we wouldn’t have this game that lacks an identity on top of lacking in design.
M&M’s Kart Racing shows why you can’t just slap any old brand on any old game. The implementation is weak, the game designers are amateurish at best, and you’re left with something that seems to only negatively effect the Mars Brand, DSI games, and any players who dared to trust either of them. If you need a good racer, or even a good car racer, or even a racing game for kids who aren’t up for challenging driving titles… this isn’t it. Your kid will no doubt hit the kart requirements without the coins needed and be stonewalled, and even if they do win the easier races, they won’t find much exciting along the way.
So, to say farewell to M&M’s Kart Racing, I have one thing to say… when the game yells “APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER”, you’re usually at around 200… whatevers per hour. The sound barrier is around 343 meters per SECOND, 767 miles per hour, or 1,125 feet per second. These karts, which barely build up any speed, are not only so far away from it that the hyperbole couldn’t be any more stretched save if they were at a standstill, but if they could conceivably break that sound barrier, at least they’d escape the nonsense lines and frequent cacophony this game has in store for them.