Here's a positive spin: there are definitely kart racing games on the PlayStation 4 with worse concepts than one based on Nickelodeon cartoons. It's sadly a sub-genre criminally underserved this generation, and most of the examples on offer don't exactly fire the imagination. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon Kart Racers falls into this camp as well. Despite the huge potential and wealth of material to draw from, it fails to deliver a game fans of Nick's shows or kart racing will enjoy.
The main attraction is obviously meant to be the characters from various shows and courses inspired by them, and while a few Nicktoons favourites are included, we were ultimately left disappointed. Obvious choices are here, like SpongeBob and Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants, Tommy and Angelica from Rugrats, and Arnold and Helga from Hey Arnold. However, a third of the roster is comprised of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which, while fair enough, ends up feeling like somewhat of a cop-out when you consider what's missing.
The tracks at least do show a knowledge of the cartoons represented. Environments from all four shows feature details like SpongeBob's pineapple house, Arnold's Hillwood school, and the Pickles household starring lots of Rugrats side characters. While some effort has clearly gone into these, the courses aren't particularly varied. They're also wide and offer little challenge, although some fierce rubber banding prevents the game from being too easy.
Tying everything together is Nickelodeon's iconic green slime. On each course, there will be areas covered in the goop or points you'll need to hit to unleash more, and driving over it fills a boost meter. Some tracks even feature large segments where your car will transform into a boat as you sail across lakes of the stuff. It's a nice way to unify the game, although there are of course plenty of pick-ups that you'll recognise from the shows themselves. Tommy's milk bottle acts as a basic rocket attack, a TMNT-inspired pizza will blind opponents temporarily, and SpongeBob's karate glove shields you from projectiles.
The game has an extremely simple setup -- you can compete in a grand prix, single race, or time attack, and tackle these alone or in split-screen. Grand prix is the meat of the game, and each one is named after elements from the shows, like the Cynthia cup, or the Pineapple cup. There's a possible three stars to earn in each, and you can find coins across each track which allow you to purchase new stat-altering car parts from the shop. It's all by-the-numbers stuff, and it's all presented very plainly. Menus are very static, and can at times be a little confusing to navigate. It feels a bit slapdash. Visually it's serviceable but nothing to write home about, while the sound design and music are pretty poor across the board.
Luckily, the racing itself fares a little better. Cars can feel a little heavy but drifting is easy and fun to pull off, and the controls are simple enough that fans young and old will be able to get to grips with it immediately. The power-ups are what you'd expect but make some good use of the licences.
It's just a shame it all rings so hollow. With no voice work and some ever-so-slighty-off models, the characters fall flat. The lack of represented shows smacks of a low budget, and what is included is underwhelming in nearly every way. It feels like a huge missed opportunity to make the most of Nickelodeon's enormous back catalogue, but more importantly, the end result doesn't provide the fun you'd expect from a kart racer with a licence like this.
Fairly decent handling isn't nearly enough to save Nickelodeon Kart Racers. Even if you ignore the squandered potential of a game featuring the network's biggest cartoon stars, this is a shallow racing game that underwhelms at every turn. Tracks have some nice details but aren't particularly imaginative, the presentation largely falls flat, and the whole thing feels undercooked. If you're a die-hard fan, it might be worth a look, but it's hard to recommend this to anyone else.