Virgin Interactive's Manic Karts is yet another entry into the already crowded go-cart racing genre. A sequel to the moderately successful Super Karts, released by GT Interactive, Manic Karts attempts to breathe new life into a tired concept. Touting many new features and improved graphics, the box would have us believe the game offers a state-of-the-art gaming experience - sadly, however, this is not the case.
Even in 1994, when Super Karts was originally released, the game engine did not represent the pinnacle of software engineering. Limited to a perfectly flat driving surface and 90-degree corners, the tracks in Super Karts more closely resembled rooms in Wolfenstein 3D than outdoor rally courses. Back then, this could be easily dismissed given that the typical computer was a 33 MHz 486, and the selection of quality racing titles was sparse at best. While the world of PC gaming has matured greatly in the intervening years, Super Karts has not. More specifically, the underlying game engine remains fundamentally unchanged in this sequel.
Manic Karts is limited to the same planar floor surfaces and simple rectagonal track structures as its predecessor. In a genre populated by complex polygon worlds (such as those found in Screamer and Formula 1 Grand Prix 2), it is inconceivable for a company to release a title with such an outdated rendering system as anything other than shareware. On a more positive note, the simple rendering engine does provide for lightning-fast redraw rates on Pentiums, and even owners of slow 486 machines can play the low-resolution mode.
As far as the gameplay itself, Manic Karts is neither exciting nor inspired. It is an average arcade-style racer that rarely strays from the tried and true formula found in countless other games of this type. Would-be karters can choose to race any of the 16 tracks individually, or compete in a championship season. If you choose the latter, how you finish doesn't only determine championship points, but also earns cash that can be used to upgrade your kart for the next race. Perhaps the game's most original feature is the option of bribing officials to add points to players' tally. Unfortunately, even this form of regulated cheating won't hold racers' interest for long.
In conclusion, Manic Karts is best described as "been there, done that." While some may enjoy its simple and straightforward gameplay, most people demand more for their gaming dollar. Those looking for a quality arcade racer should try Virgin's own Screamer or EA's Need for Speed instead.