Atari Karts was the first game of this type that I had ever played. I knew that Mario Kart was a huge success and wondered if this version would be any fun. At the time, I wasn't disappointed. Atari Karts has beautiful (although 16-bit looking) graphics, some nice music and sound effects, and good control. Oh, and one more thing I like about it is that I got this "Extremely Rare" game for a measly $15 during EB's Jaguar closeouts. Woohoo!
The graphics are nice, however, they're barely above what a 16-bit system could do. The characters are sprite based instead of polygons, which really isn't that big of a deal. But it does remind the player that the Jaguar is not a polygon pushing monster. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and even include some very slick parallax scrolling. The Jaguar's high color palette is put to good use as you can tell from the screenshots.
Atari Karts' power-ups didn't begin to bother me until I saw how Mario Kart's power-up were handled. I then became quite disappointed that the power-up icons in Atari Karts were flat on the road as one would find a roadkill. These flat icons make it significantly more difficult to see exactly what icon you are about to pick up. If you can pick them up at all.
In addition, the power-ups included in Atari Karts are quite lame in comparison to the competition. Mario Kart includes power-ups where you can "attack" your opponents with missiles (shells), defend yourself with a shield, and use other anti-social weapons against your enemies. Atari Karts' only offensive weapon is the green "Reverse Opponents Controls" power-up. Which will hardly even affect a computer controlled opponent. Other power-ups include the required speed bursts, improved handling, and extra lives. The most frustrating "power-up" is the reverse controls. Trying to train your brain to hit the opposite direction will almost always cause you to turn the wrong direction thus permitting the other racers to beat you to the finish line.
The few sound effects during the game are quite appropriate in a cartoony way. There is the "bumping" of the Karts, the spin-out sound, the "use power-up" effect, but not much else to speak of. However, this is one Jaguar game where you'll actually find music playing during the game. Again, they are of a cartoony nature, but they are well done and there is a nice variety of them.
Gameplay is almost good enough to make you forget about the power-ups. There are two types of turns you can perform: The standard turn which is done by moving the joypad, or the hard turn done by pressing the shoulder keys (or the 4 and 6 keys). But be very careful. Turning too hard will stop you dead and cause you to spin out! Another chance for your opponents to pass you.
Most of the tracks are a joy to play and there are several shortcuts you can use to get ahead of the racers. However, the Castle tracks will cause you a great deal of dread every time you play them. You see, the other tracks are quite forgiving when it comes to driving off the road. Your only penalty on those tracks is that you may slow down a little. However, if you are not a perfect driver in a Castle race, you will crash into a wall stopping you dead in your tracks. In the meantime, while you are trying to back up and get back into the race, the other racers will zip past you making it virtually impossible to catch up to win. Arrrggghhh!!!
Computer AI is minimal at best. They never make a mistake when it comes to driving. They never spin out. They never crash. They never pick up power-ups. It really doesn't feel like you are competing with anything besides a computer. Which leads me to believe that they are simply on a pre-programmed path for each of the tracks. All the fancy character graphics can't reverse the fact that we are playing against "perfect" opponents.
The inclusion of Bentley Bear (from Crystal Castles) is a real treat, however the other characters leave a lot to be desired. Doesn't Atari have any classic characters they could have included besides Bentley? What about Kangaroo? Arabian? The Centipede? The Cyberball robots? Charley Chuck (from Food Fight)? The Paperboy? The Red Baron? Anything would have been better than the freak-show characters that were included.
Overall, Atari Karts is not a bad
game, but it's not the best either. It's fun to play for a while
until you begin to notice the flaws and
showstoppers (ie Castle wall, reverse, spinning out, etc.) Like so many other Jaguar games,
Atari Karts could have used a bit
more development time. A few more weeks could have made this
average game outstanding.