Review | emoji Kart Racer

I remember when we called them emoticons or smileys...

This is a surprisingly busy week for kart racers. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch got its 4th new set of tracks, KartRider Drift finally hit consoles after about 4 years of waiting, the Crash Team Racing-inspired The Karters 2 started its beta on PC… and emoji Kart Racer hit our Xboxes, after failing to impress the few critics that bothered playing it last year when it dropped to PlayStation. I’m a sucker for anything on wheels and kart racers are always a guilty pleasure of mine, so I bought it and finished it 100% over a couple of feverish days of mine (I am pretty ill at the moment, fighting an annoying flu). Was it worth it? Let’s find out.

Kart pour l’art

There are plenty of kart racers that tried to replicate Mario Kart’s “party racer” formula throughout the years, some more successful than others. What makes this genre shine is that it has an easy-to-understand driving model over relatively linear tracks, but then it also features advanced game mechanics, shortcuts, and other tricks that push the skill ceiling through the roof. Well, this really isn’t the case for emoji Kart Racer, because the tracks do feature shortcuts, ramps, and such, but their influence on the results is usually quite marginal. There isn’t even a proper drift mechanic, not one that gives you boosts like you’d expect from such games anyway. It’s a very basic, budget racer feel in its driving model, and the more you try to just drive in the middle of the road, avoiding all obstacles and walls, the better.

And most of the game’s tracks do their best to ensure this isn’t a smooth objective at all. Moving traps, tyre barriers, rock formations, tornadoes, and obstacles of all kinds (some destructible, others solid, some just plain annoying) are a rarity on some tracks while plastered across almost every inch of the road on others. And the game’s physics certainly can’t be relied on, as sometimes hitting an obstacle can stop you in an instant (and then it takes ages to get going again), while other times you can even wallride for maximum reward versus minimal risk. Clipping the corner of a ramp or hitting an obstacle is sometimes irrelevant, other times your kart will turn on its side or fly up like 20 metres, making you lose a ton of time. As said – you’re better off avoiding almost everything on your path.

This also applies to the game’s very limited selection of power-ups, because they also work quite questionably at times. We got missiles to shoot in a straight line, except it’s a literal straight line from the hood of the car – so if the turn is banked, you’re on a ramp or there’s anything other than a plain 0 degrees road, it will either hit the asphalt or fly off the track. Turbo boosts generally work well enough, with other traps like bombs and… the poop emoji that smears feces on the screen (I wish I was joking) working more or less as you imagine. Their presence, on some of the busier tracks, is a bit hard to read. Ultimately, however, there are nowhere near enough power-ups for a game like this, for example, there is virtually nothing to catch up to the pack or to disturb the leader. Not that the AI adapts to you, either.

Karting all over the world

If you’re an expert in budget-kart racers, this game may look or sound familiar. It is made by German casual game company Joindots, who created the probably even more obscure Renzo Racer among others. A lot of these tracks, UI elements, handling, obstacles, and whatnot are very similar to that game, and emoji Kart Racer feels like a slight evolution on the formula. It does also seem to contain a lot less variety in terms of gameplay scenarios, much less identity in the car and character selection, and so on. It’s strange to see a game that iterates on the formula straight-up lose elements of depth like these, though on a technical level, the game has seen some improvements.

And indeed, physics aside, the game’s technical background is more than adequate. Artistically it’s a bit inconsistent, but the levels are cartoonish yet fairly detailed, with good light effects, polished models, many animated elements, and even a surprising visual variety. The game’s 16 tracks bring the players to Mario Kart-esque rainbow tracks in space, to a Jurassic Park knock-off, the unmissable “toy level” that is like in every kart racer ever, to small towns during the night, and more. Each area is visually distinct, and on Xbox Series X it’s all at a high resolution, a seeming rock solid 60 framer per second, and with almost no glitches or issues to speak of at any level. It really feels like the developers took great effort in polishing the technical aspects but didn’t spend that much time on balancing out the rest.

Thinking face emoji

Balance is, perhaps, the game’s biggest weakness, because emoji Kart Racer is just a highly inconsistent racing experience. The track design features ramps, obstacles, and turns without any reason or rhyme sometimes, catapulting the player into the invisible walls that delineate the playable area. Some tracks are insanely slow with obstacles everywhere, others have giant straights and long turns with barely anything happening, with the game’s rather contained maximum speeds making running there a bore. The game’s AI is also susceptible to this issue at any difficulty, because on tracks full of obstacles they often have a hard time not getting stuck for a minute in a tricky spot, while on easier tracks not only they are capable, but sometimes even seem to have higher maximum speeds than the player can achieve on their kart. Because the karts seem to have slightly different statistics too, to be fair, but the game doesn’t tell you this at any point – you’ll find it out yourself when two opponents burn you on a straight.

Content-wise, this kart racer is on the low end of the spectrum too. 16 tracks across 4 cups is not a horrible amount of content for a campaign, with the 3 difficulties however that do not make much of a difference aside from the speed the karts go at. There are a dozen or so emojis to select from, and about as many hats, karts, and colours to use on them, but the combinations aren’t that many in the end, with every unlock achievable after beating the 4 cups in any difficulty and winning on each track. Tracks can also be played individually, either alone against the AI or with up to 4 players locally and with AI to boot, but there’s not much to customize in the settings or alternate modes. Online is missing, battle modes aren’t included, time attacks don’t exist, power-ups aren’t optional – the game’s main mode is practically all it has to offer and at 30 Euros (or your local currency equivalent) that may be a bit steep.

You can’t emoji-ne how inconvenient traveling was before the invention of karts

In the end, emoji Kart Racer is an extremely basic kart racer with not enough content compared to the competition: 16 tracks ain’t bad, but with no online, no arenas, no time attacks, a low variety of karts, an even lower selection of power-ups, 30 Euros is just a bit too steep. And while some of the level design is visually pleasing, with the technical aspects of the game being surprisingly decent for a budget title like this, the actual design of the courses ranges from passable to annoying, with neither the driving model or the physics proving to be deep or reliable enough to bother coming back for more past the quick, 5 hours or so 1000G of achievements you get by completing the 3 cups and little more. Unless you feel the desire to try every single kart racer on Xbox, you are safe to skip this one and go towards the dozens of better alternatives on the market.

emoji Kart Racer

Played on
Xbox Series X
emoji Kart Racer


  • Visually varied tracks
  • Performs very well on Xbox Series X


  • Busted physics
  • Inconsistent track designs
  • Not enough variety or content for the price
  • Power-ups may as well not exist for how little they influence the results
  • No online, only local multiplayer
4.0 out of 10
XboxEra Scoring Policy

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