A whimsical, fun-oriented arcade take on F1 with all the genre's highs and lows intact. Bring friends.
Let's look at the content first. We have all the F1 teams and drivers, each and every one a witty, charming caricature of the original, plus two original teams. Each team has a unique feature, such as a powerup chance at an infinite boost, better off-road handling, triple version of a powerup, and so on. A small difference, but it makes it worth to try playing as another pilot than your favourite.
The game boasts eleven tracks, with a twelfth one as a preorder bonus, and probably others in future DLC. While compared to the Nintendo rival's 32 tracks per new game, this might sound measly, but even the shortest of the bunch (the Belgium one, ironically the longest track in F1 real-life) takes more than a minute for all but the most expert gamers to circle, and the longer ones can take upwards of two minutes. While this provides space for more trials, it makes the tracks more difficult to memorize. And the tracks are full of uniqueness and style. Each country has a few landmarks you can blaze past - or through - between the sections that actually at least look like a real F1 track. From a roman city and Siena in Italy to a wild-west landscape and the Hoover Dam in the U.S, it provides a nice variety for the long minutes of racing. Luckily, the races are often only two laps long, making restarting when hit by a powerup in the last turn just that little bit less painful.
And by powerups, you'll be hit by a lot. Races have 12 pilots in them, and it often turns into an all-out powerup melee, with bubbles, rainclouds and balloons flying left and right. The plumber's shells are substituted by bubbles - a ricocheting yellow one, a homing red one, and a blue one that you leave on the track for the followers to hit. You can call a small personal stormcloud on the one in first place to slow him down, call in the safety car to hold up the front of the pack, leave balloons on the track that spray confetti on the screens of the unlucky souls that hit them, or even turn the race into a rain-run for about twenty seconds, slowing everyone but you. It's frustrating as always to get hit by an item right before crossing the finish line, but F1 Race Stars adds insult to injury in the form of car damage. Your car can only get damaged by items, but when it does, it'll slow down, forcing you to go for a pit stop, taking away valuable seconds. Opponents have to take the same stops, but still, those few seconds can mean the difference between first and tenth place.
In some turns, you have KERS fields. They work nothing like real life KERS though: when you drive on them, releasing the gas for a moment then hammering it to the metal charges the KERS battery, which will unleash a boost on leaving the KERS field. The more times you charged the battery, the bigger the boost it'll give. Failing to stay on the KERS field, however, can drain the boost you've collected, so you'll have to manage your speed in corners - which brings me to the next point.
Have you seen a Formula-1 car drift ever? No, Alguersuari's maneuvers don't count, sit down. Long story short, you won't see it in this game either. Unlike the plumber's take on arcade racing, in this game, you'll actually have to brake to keep the car on the track, because leaving it not only gets you a funny quip from the driver in his/her native language, but also slows you down immensely. Adapting to this can take a while and can cost you many races in the beginning. That "restart" button will take much, much punishment.
The visuals and sound are likewise solid. The game is bright and colourful, with a quirky, whimsical take on drivers, cars and objects. The background tunes are almost cutesy, and fit the mood nicely as you blaze past those cartoony landscapes. The pilots' little quips with an accent or in their own language can and will bring a smile to your face.
Of course, as a casual-oriented game, you can play with up to 3 friends in split-screen multiplayer, and with up to 11 others online - one of which can be a friend playing with you on splitscreen. Also, as with most other powerup-abuse games, prepare for a lot of... "arguments", the wording of which would no doubt push the game far into the "M" rating.
In conclusion, F1 Race stars is a mostly positive experience, with a dash of frustration here and there. If the thought of restarting an almost-finished race because of an unlucky item hit, you might want to look elsewhere. However, if you don't mind this or are addicted to the fat italian plumber's motorsport outings, and you like Formula 1's iconic atmosphere, it would be worth giving this game a try.