Upon first sitting down with Muppet Race Mania, it's expected that the game would earn a couple of extra bonus points for its use of the Muppet license. As it turns out, though, the nostalgic appeal of the Muppets is the best thing the game has going for it. Remove the Muppets from the racing mania, and you're left with no better than an average kart-racing game, which any discerning gamer knows are already plentiful.
Muppet Race Mania does get a nod for its comprehensive look at all six Muppet movies. Every movie is here: The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, Muppets Take Manhattan, A Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, and Muppets From Space. Each movie has four tracks assigned to it, including two standard kart-racing tracks, one "battle" course (as seen in Mario Kart), and one "stunt" course, which is played from a side perspective by a single racer (who must overcome stunts, obviously). [QUERY: "perform"? If that's not right, you need to change "stunts" to something like "obstacles".] You pick one of these types of tracks, and you then play that track in the chronological sequence of the movies, gaining points based on positional standing at the end of the race. After the final track, the Muppet with the most points wins. It's pretty standard kart-racing fare.
There are eight Muppets available initially - Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, Beaker, Animal, Rowlf, and Rizzo the Rat - and each one drives an appropriate vehicle. Gonzo pilots a miniature flying saucer, while Rizzo drives a car made of cheese. As you complete the tracks, a huge number of new Muppets can be unlocked and used in the main game, and each Muppet's vehicle can also be made available to be driven by another character. Unlocking all the Muppets and cars provides a huge number of combinations, but each one plays similarly enough that novelty is the biggest incentive to actually obtain the hidden characters. Several other secrets are tucked away inside the game, such as a few extra tracks.
Though Muppet Race Mania is set up nicely, with plenty of classic characters and a variety of tracks, the actual gameplay isn't anything we haven't seen before in other games. The premise is the same: race around a wacky track for a set number of laps; collect power-ups that give weapons, speed boosts, and other advantages; and try to come in first place. Race Mania's racing is marred by very difficult controls and a sometimes spotty frame rate, though, and its battle mode isn't at all innovative (or much fun). The stunt mode is admittedly unique, especially since it's viewed from a side-scrolling perspective, but the game's control makes it more frustrating than amusing. Frankly, neither the single-player nor the multiplayer modes are much fun to play. The game utilizes a standard concept and mediocre execution, and there's nothing here to grab the attention of an experienced gamer who's tired of kart games.
Muppet Race Mania does have a few cool points, but they're superficial ones. Full-motion video from the six movies is plentiful, and there are clips (including the famous Rainbow Connection) interspersed between each track in tournament mode and other places throughout the game. Characteristic of the Muppet tradition, the music throughout the game is also amazingly well done. These factors aren't enough to save an otherwise middling kart game, though. If you really haven't had your fill of kart racing yet, you're better off with one that's less license and more game.