Mario and his pals have dominated the kart racing scene for as long as we can remember, and while other games have tried to duplicate its magic by mimicking the formula in its simplest form, very few have managed to offer something different. Beach Buggy Racing on Xbox One lies somewhere in the middle, and for a developer that primarily focuses on mobile games, that’s in no way a bad thing.
Beach Buggy Racing is Vector Unit’s 2nd mobile-to-console port on Xbox One, following the hydro-jet racer Riptide GP2 (which I never actually played). While some games fail in their transition over from the mobile platform, this one is actually pretty solid; the graphics aren’t gag-inducing, and provide a decent upscale on the Xbox One, and while the once touch-based controls can feel a bit floaty at times, it only took a few races to get acclimated.
Vector Unit’s kart racer offers a ton of upgrades and racers to unlock throughout its somewhat punishing career mode and daily challenges. There’s skeletal pirates, creepy dude’s in bunny suits, and Mexican luchadores to play with, and each racer has their own unique power-up that can be used once per race–like using a UFO to switch places with the person in front of you, or becoming a ghost to speed through nearby racers untouched. I enjoyed playing around with each of the characters and felt their own respective power-ups were a neat feature that helped the game stand apart from other kart racers.
“…the AI controlled opponents are relentless and will take any chance they get to make your life miserable.”
There’s a pleasant variety within the dozen tracks that are available as well, and if Mario Kart taught us anything, it’s that track design is extremely important. This is usually where the other guys fail, and while Beach Buggy Racing does offer an all-too-familiar track selection, like volcanoes, forests, and snowy locales, they’re all relatively well designed and had me cursing my opponents all the way to the finish line.
Speaking of which, the AI controlled opponents are relentless and will take any chance they get to make your life miserable. Basically they controlled as well as any real-life player, trolling me at the finish line with the game’s answer to Mario’s blue shell–the Deathbat–but Beach Buggy Racing ramps up the difficulty in the early goings and it never lets up. I would rarely stay in first place for more than 5 seconds before a power-up came crashing in to my bumper, and this was commonplace whenever I moved in to the top spot. With the AI rarely making mistakes and the sheer randomness of the power-ups, it became even more frustrating when playing catch up.
I wish the RNG of the game made sense, rather than receiving pointless power-ups at inopportune times. In last place I’d often receive items that needed to be dropped behind me, or shield me from damage, while in first place I rarely got anything that helped me hold my position, like oil slicks or trick boxes. Every time I lost my position from another Deathbat, it felt like the game was saying TROLLOLOLOL as I picked up an oil slick and watched my opponents skyrocket ahead of me. I also wish I had the option to throw projectiles behind me, so I didn’t have to waste them in first place just to fish around for something more practical.
I feel like I should be praising this type of AI in a competitive kart racer, as the competition is so fierce, but it often felt more like luck than skill if I could finish in the top 3. These are the types of people who would cut you off in a drive-thru, or swoop in and steal your parking spot at the supermarket. I could just be god awful, and that’s entirely possible, but by the fourth career cup every other word out of my mouth was a curse word and my heart sank whenever I heard the approaching howl of yet-another Deathbat.
Online play is a feature that could greatly extend the game’s lifespan, but it’s completely absent on the Xbox One. It supports up to 6 players with local split-screen play, but you can only race against each other, not the AI. With only two players, races frequently became lonely affairs as we’d rarely see each other when one of us made a mistake. Adding in AI-controlled opponents would have made split-screen far more interesting, especially if you don’t have 5 other people to play with.
“… it’s a good arcadey racer that stays true to the Mario Kart formula without living too far under its shadow.”
The game still runs flawlessly in split-screen, which is awesome, but without the ability to play online or against the AI alongside your friends, I’m pretty sure many of you won’t be playing longer than a few days unless you have local competition at your disposal. I do not. This turned Beach Buggy Racing from a “should buy” title to something I’d only recommend if you have extra controllers lying around and just want to kill a weekend with a case of beer and some friends.
Overall, Beach Buggy Racing really isn’t a bad game. I was pleasantly surprised when it exceeded my initial expectation of being a generic kart racer with a hokey name, although it’s still only above average. I obviously found flaws, like the frustratingly problematic AI, the lack of an online component, and its ear grating loop of generic surfer rock music, but thanks to the variety of racers, tracks, and fun power-ups, it’s a good arcadey racer that stays true to the Mario Kart formula without living too far under its shadow.
Recommended for fans of: Mario Kart, or just about any other kart racer on the planet. It’s fun, it’s cheap, and worth checking out.
*This review is based on the Xbox One version of Beach Buggy Racing, which is also available on PS4 and just about any mobile device. Consider this our definitive console review.