During a recent meeting with publisher The Game Factory, we had our first opportunity to check out a playable version of Cartoon Network Racing for the Nintendo DS. The game, which is currently in development at DC Studios, is an attempt to re-create Mario Kart DS, with a roster of popular Cartoon Network characters in place of Nintendo's usual suspects. After spending an hour or so test-driving a number of wacky vehicles, we're certain that Mario and company have little to fear from the likes of Johnny Bravo, Dexter, and the Power Puff Girls, but the game is looking quite promising nonetheless.
Cartoon Network Racing boasts a roster of no fewer than 20 different drivers, so in addition to the aforementioned characters, you can look forward to getting behind the wheel as Cow, Chicken, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and I M Weasel, to name but a few. Each character's vehicle will handle differently, and your choice of character will also determine which special power you can use after collecting a number of awkwardly positioned stars throughout the course of a race. As in Mario Kart, power-up items and weapons play a big part in the outcome of every event in Cartoon Network Racing, and if you're familiar with Nintendo's popular racing series, you'll certainly have no trouble figuring this one out.
Colorful boxes scattered liberally around each of the 16 tracks contain random power-up items, and although they look quite different to those in Mario Kart, many of them function in much the same way. Missiles (green shells), homing missiles (red shells), speed-boosting hot peppers (mushrooms), and smoke screens (squid) are the most obvious examples, though we should point out that not all of Cartoon Network Racing's items have Mario Kart equivalents. Among the other weapons that we got our hands on, though, were oil spills (bananas), mines (like MK's fake boxes, but less cunning), and wheel spikes (which really have no MK equivalent). In addition to weapon boxes and aforementioned stars, you'll also find "toon coins" hidden on each of the tracks--collecting these invariably requires you to deviate from your racing line in a big way, but they're worthwhile because you can use them to purchase vehicle upgrades and at least two different stylus-based minigames.
The handling of the karts in Cartoon Network Racing is comparable to that of Mario Kart DS, but they certainly don't feel quite as responsive--at least not in the version of the game that we played. One of the reasons for this is that the hop/jump button that you can use to initiate lengthy slides around corners in Nintendo's game has been replaced with a power-sliding button that seems to slow you down and, as such, has very little value. It's conceivable that we might have learned to make better use of it had we spent more time with the game, but the only races that we won on this occasion were those in which we chose to largely ignore the power-slide function.
Cartoon Network Racing boasts four different difficulty levels, though these are largely concerned with the speed and power of the karts rather than with the behavior of CPU-controlled opponents. With just a single copy of the game, you'll be able to play against up to three of your friends, though it seems likely that there will be fewer gameplay options available than if you each have your own cartridge. At the time of writing, the game's official Web site states that up to eight players will be supported simultaneously, but based on our time with the game (and on the fact sheet that we were handed at the end of it), it appears that four is the correct number. Other features of the game that might be of interest include three full-length cartoons to watch (one episode each of Dexter's Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, and Power Puff Girls) and that there are an impressive eight language available in the options menu, including English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish. We'll bring you more information on Cartoon Network Racing as soon as it becomes available.