It’s been nearly 15 years since the beta for the original western KartRider release came and went. What should’ve followed after was an official launch of the game in the west, but instead all traces of it packed its bags and went with the wind, never to be seen again. That’s not all too unlike for its developer and publisher, Nexon Games Korea and Nexon as a whole, who are well-known for slapping fans of their games with a glove and followed up with a very blunt shovel. Short of visiting South Korea I don’t think I was ever going to play KartRider again, but not until this lovely little reboot, KartRider: Drift, finally made its way not just out of its many betas over the years (a bit touch and go there again, ey?) but into an official release.
A bit of background on the company since I’ll likely touch on them a few times. Nexon is one of the largest free-to-play developer and publisher of video games in South Korea. See back in the day if you were short on cash (read, none) you didn’t have to fret because there were many a F2P title available for you to play. Many of these games were designed to run on the shabbiest of 3D accelerators, but most importantly they were fun—Maplestory, Combat Arms, Mabinogi, and the few beta runs Nexon had of games they never released were all fairly unique games and I can’t say I’ve experiences anything like those titles since.
Unfortunately, although they were great games, the publisher was more than happy to implement many pay-to-win elements in their games, shuttering game services without much warning, and other bad management practices. I haven’t touched their games in years up until the release of Blue Archive, which has been handled (in my eyes) very well and has been successful for it. Maybe Nexon has learned their lessons, I wondered, but it’s always wise to be a bit cautious; lest you endure a sudden slap to the face and a whack to the cranium when the company decides another gameplay mechanic needs a massive overhaul out of the blue.
With that covered, I am happy to say that KartRider: Drift is a really fun racing game. It entices players with its colourful visuals, keeps you engaged with its many modes, and hooks you with its rather difficult to master drifting system. This is important to note because kart racers are a difficult genre to pull off: you either end up with complete rubbish or a game that gets it but not really (and then its sequel just ends up confused). Getting a good one, for free at that, is pretty amazing.
The Little Dao That Could
KartRider: Drift actually came out back in January, but now the game is officially live on consoles with its ‘first’ season pass and official story beat. At its core, it’s all about (of course) getting to the finish line in any of the modes you choose. There are multiple game modes to choose from: Item, Speed, Time Attack, License Mode, Grand Prix, and Custom Races to play any track you’d like with your mates. There are plenty of adorable little characters to choose from with about a third of the cast being Grade-A hackers, the other being engineers, and the last bit your normal happy-go-lucky group of squares (and Normal McNorman). Choose your kart, customise it with a fairly well in-depth livery editor, and drive.
Well, that should be the case anyway. You’ll need to go through the game’s tutorial mode to get started and if you want to unlock access to the higher-level racetracks, you’re going to spend an hour or two in License Mode. This is where the game tosses many a challenge at you in an attempt to teach you the game’s mechanics such as its drafting, item, and drifting systems. Some of them are straightforward, but many will have you banging your head on a wall as you try to max star them. You don’t need to do that to unlock the tracks, mind you, but there are rewards you’ll want such as the almighty Lucci—one of the game’s currencies.
But let me focus on the drifting system for a moment. This is something you’ll want to get a handle on because it’s fundamental for going fast and without it, you’ll find yourself driving straight, no movement, for long stretches of time and that’s a death knell for interest in a kart racer. Drift teaches you the idea of drifting, but not how to use it beyond turning a tight corner nor does it explain how important it is to maintain a constant chain of drifts to fill your nitro gauge and to keep going fast relative to the map you’re on.
Tyre Marks Are Hard to Clean
Like its aforementioned competitors, drifting is key to going as fast as possible but comparatively, drifting in KartRider is challenging to grasp much less master. And I didn’t learn how to grasp it through the game’s tutorials but through the community, who have produced a many a video on how to get good no matter your input device. That’s great, but there’s an instant barrier to improving in my eyes. A good tutorial would ensure that players are almost always on equal footing, but in my case a YouTube video and a half has me a good twenty second distance from the poor sod in second place.
That being said, the game’s driving model feels good. Physics make sense and you won’t find yourself launched into the ether like in many cheap kart racers, nor will you suddenly be slowed to a complete stop awkwardly in other certain racing games. Players can modify one of their karts with different attributes too, complementing their playstyle and give them a better chance of winning a race.
The game does a good job of helping players recover from their mistakes as well, which tends to the pace of the game very well. Item mode, for example, will give harder hitting items and more speed boosts to get players back up to speed, much to the dismay and rage of everyone in front. But just about everything can be countered with the right defense item, which I feel makes things far fairer than getting blue shelled and thrown off the stage. The latter still happens, but more so due to physicality and shenanigans of kart racing. I’ve screeched my fair share; I’ll tell you that. The game offers a ranked mode in the form of the Grand Prix mode. Not much I can say on that, I’m not really looking to perspirate more than I already do.
Win races and make Lucci. Which you’ll need a surplus of to upgrade your karts and potentially reset a kart’s attributes if your current set up isn’t resonating. And I mean race a lot. I do hope that gets its price brought down a fair bit, because making 14k to reset one kart’s settings just isn’t very nice.
In this latest season, Drift got a new set of stages added to its already large roster of tracks. I love there are many different settings of stages, ranging from the hot dunes of the Egyptian deserts, the calm groves of the forests, the bustling streets of Turkey and South Korea, and more. These tracks are complimented by fast-paced beats of various genres and strong audio direction, helping you keep your speed and adrenaline up as you scream for the umpteenth time after hitting a corner or getting clobbered by an item.
The tracks themselves range from wide open spaces of tracks to tight corridors and shortcuts that require a good amount of drifting. Stage hazards are easy to spot ahead of time and avoid, even on the hardest of tracks. Many tracks loop around for three laps, some two, and a few are a mad dash to the end of the stage with one lap. Lap durations being split up like this is really nice and helps make sure that no race be longer than three or so minutes. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the selection, and some of my favourite tracks are the visual standouts such as ‘Istanbul Market’ and the new ‘Brodi’s Gloom’ track.
Now with any online, games as a service title, there’s always something to work toward to. In Drift’s case, there’s a battle pass which gives a set amount of Lucci, K-Coins (the paid currency), stickers, emotes, characters and their skins, and so on and so forth. Some of these make sense, others do not. For example, Nexon has gotten into the habit of giving coupon codes for free sticker packs of characters, and for the last few weeks they’ve been running a ‘Smiles for Miles’ campaign that gives you emotes for specific characters just by playing. These rewards feel superficial because they’re for characters you get off the bat, ergo stuff you should already have access to instead of trolling away the game’s social media pages for. But fine, KartRider, I’ll let the client idle while I get my dailies done in Blue Archive and the like.
Feel free to groan at the season pass stuff, I can’t blame you, but on the bright side I feel this one is easy to complete. You level them up simply by doing daily and weekly challenges, consisting of simply playing a game mode a certain number of times. Nothing like 343i’s “capture a flag while doing a handstand and committing tax fraud”. The pass is a fiver, easily covered by Microsoft Rewards, and you’ve got about 60 days to clear it. The shop also has extra skin sets and emoticons that can be bought with either K-Coin or Lucci. All cosmetic, which is a nice breath of fresh air from the company that sold air strikes and flamethrowers for real monies.
And I do have to appreciate cross-region, playing, and saving all being present at launch. Log in with your Nexon account and your progress carries from console to mobile and PC. Matchmaking is a bit rubbish because no one has bothered with license mode to unlock the other tracks? Don’t fret, crossplay and regional matchmaking hooks you up with the folks that bothered! Though you’ll soon notice that the game is far more popular in Asia at the moment. No surprise when your first chance at building a worldwide audience is swept under the rug.
Threading the Needle
KartRider: Drift is an interesting launch in that not only is it launching worldwide, but Nexon is also taking the extra step of shuttering the original game’s service in South Korea. Mind you this was an extremely popular game over in Asia, with hundreds of millions of accounts registered for play, so Drift is a bit of a fresh start much to the dismay of many who will lose out on everything they’ve worked on for the last fifteen or so years. That’s the thing with live services though, kind of a ‘live in the moment’ sort of thing. Easily could happen with this game or the many that litter the gaming landscape. Something to always keep in mind, but I digress.
For a full launch, I think there’s plenty of content that’ll keep you entertained. It has a strong driving model with interesting mechanics and plenty of modes to tackle alone, with a pair, or a group of mates. I find KartRider: Drift to be very addicting, seeing as I’ve put well over 50 hours into the game already, I can easily see myself putting more than double over the coming months.
Review | KartRider: Drift
PC, Mobile, Xbox Series X
- Strong driving model and mechanics.
- Varied selection of stages and game modes.
- Colour and gorgeous graphics complimented by good audio direction and music.
- Tutorials are weak and License Mode requirement limits tracks off the bat.
- Progression and rewards are a mixed bag.