Platform: Nintendo 64
Release Date: Oct. 1999
Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Lego Media
Players: 1-2 (simultaneous)
Special Features: Controller Pak Save, Rumble Pak
This third-person arcade kart style racer takes a tied and true formula and adds a creative element that was new to the genre upon this game’s release. Players race across 24 unique tracks that are broken down into six competitive circuits. The game features a single race, circuit race, time race, and versus race (2-player mode) modes of play. Each circuit has a unique boss character based on unique lego playsets including pirate, adventure, castle space box sets. As is traditional with the genre, racers can pick up unique power-ups and weapons. These items can help or in some cases, hinder your chances of success. These power-bricks all fall into one of four categories: projectile, hazard, shield, and turbo. The power-bricks can also be enhanced by driving over a white, power-plus brick that levels up the item. Each item can be enhanced by a max of three power-plus bricks that result in more powerful items.
The tracks in the game are all relatively small in scope but offer a unique theme based on the lego playset that is being utilized. The tracks resemble something that a child could only imagine making if given an infinite supply of lego bricks. Overall gameplay is solid offering lots of originality and character. Shortcuts must be discovered and utilized to have a legitimate shot at beating the game.
Graphically the game stands out with vibrant colors and phenomenal lighting effects. The game features a create-a-cart mode and allows you to create your own lego mini-fig driver. Beating circuit bosses allows the player to unlock more unique brick sets to construct your kart. Constructing your own kart is not merely a cosmetic exercise; the build impacts the handling, speed, and acceleration of the kart. Lots of trial and error can be used to build the perfect machine. The gameplay loop of unlocking additional bricks and remaking your kart is very satisfying. With all this praise, there are two things holding this game back from being an instant classic. The lack of four-player multiplayer and rough controls keep it from being considered a standout on the Nintendo 64. There are other kart games that feature four-player action and tighter controls that simply feel better. Occasionally the player will find themselves wanting to throw their controller down in disgust because loose steering controls resulted in them missing a shortcut and losing the race.
Kart racing games took off in the mid-to-late nineties and this particular title brought something new to the table by adding in sandbox-style elements to the tried and true formula. Lego bricks are inherently a tactile medium that anyone can figure out how to construct with simply after a few minutes of playing around with the blocks. I found myself spending more time tinkering with the kart construction “build” mode than actually racing. This was perhaps a glimpse into the future of what gaming would have in store for us in the decades to come, featuring endless character customization and cosmetic upgrades. The late nineties were a simpler time in gaming and free-to-play models and DLC concepts had yet to be developed or fully realized. In today’s modern era, this title would likely have ended up as free-to-play shovelware on app stores everywhere.