Given that Codemasters has change direction to become a developer and published solely concerned with racing videogames, it’s not surprising that the company wants to widen their audience as far as possible. While the official Formula One licence has them an almost guaranteed audience every year on their simulations videogames and the quality of DiRT and GRID gift them a core gamer audience, there’s a big slice of the pie that the company are left to tap into. This is where F1 Race Stars comes in, a videogame designed specifically for the purpose of being ‘family inclusive.’
However you look at it, there’s no denying that F1 Race Stars screams ‘Mario Kart’ from every pour. The track design, the cartoon aesthetics, the boost and weapon mechanics: all of these components are liberally borrowed from Nintendo’s racing opus. However, this is equally due to the fact that the original Super Mario Kart was the pioneer that established the genre as it is to the general acceptance that Nintendo’s pint-sized racer still dominates. Codemasters have insisted that the visual design of F1 Race Stars is of great importance to the product, and it’s true that this may be a defining factor in the videogame’s market presence in more ways than one.
Of course the carefully handled ‘cutifying’ of the Formula One stars, teams and vehicles is an attempt to capture the imagination of those already involved with the global racing franchise, but for the uninitiated there’s to position F1 Race Stars ahead of SEGA’s forthcoming Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed. Instead it’s the responsibility of the track design to promote F1 Race Stars is this regard, with the pastel coloured designs appearing similar to those of Microsoft Studios’ JoyRide, but significantly more eccentric in play.
F1 Race Stars attempts to make its mark on the genre with a number of new ideas, mostly based around the Formula One theme. The most original is the pit stop mechanic, which sees players repair accrued damage in exchange for a small strip of track travelled at a limited speed. Working in conjunction with this theme are the Safety Car and Champagne Bottle power-ups, which slow every other driver down and act as a speeding bullet to knock out other racers respectively, and the boost mechanic. Having more in common with F-Zero than Mario Kart, the boost system sees players store up to three boosts in their vehicle. Each boost can be used individually or all three can be used at once, the latter of which is sometimes necessary to access hidden routes and secrets on a track.
Of course, one of the most important areas of any racing videogame is the multiplayer gameplay, which thankfully Codemasters has covered in every possible regard. Though only four player split-screen gameplay was available during Electronic Theatre‘s hands-on time with F1 Race Stars, Codemasters promised that the final build would not only feature a number of customisable online modes, but that also gamers would be able to take their local friends with them into an online match. A sorely underused feature, F1 Race Stars will join the ranks of Halo and Perfect Dark Zero in its multiplayer flexibility, and score one against the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing because of it. At the time of writing, it’s not yet known whether Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed will improve on the multiplayer proposition of its predecessor.
Set for release on high-definition formats next month F1 Race Stars is presenting a similar argument to that of Cartoon Network Punchtime Explosion XL: a much loved genre for consoles on which such experiences are few and far between. Whether or not it can achieve a wider appreciation both critically and commercially remains to be seen, but you’d be wise to put your money on Codemasters hitting a home run with F1 Race Stars.