Day 110: Dirchie Kart

Posted: 2011/02/27 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and no longer appear in the top 50 downloads. Today is day #110, and today’s game is “Dirchie Kart”.

I haven’t played a good kart racer in a long time. The first one I remember was the original Mario Kart on the Super NES, and the most recent one I enjoyed was Wacky Races on the Dreamcast, so I was good and ready for another good kart game, and Dirchie Kart delivered.

The game gives you a large cast of unusual characters to choose between, and the option of racing as your avatar as well. This is a good use of avatars IMO, as a complement to the game rather than as a requirement. More games should take this approach to them.

Once you’ve selected who you’ll be racing as, you have to select your vehicle:

– the truck has lots of armour against opponent attacks, but generates very little boost in the turns (more on this later) and has only one slot for power-ups

– the race car generates a lot of boost in the turns and has three power-up slots (giving you the ability to pick and choose what you’re using and when, rather than simply having to use whatever you have to open the slot up to collect another one), but it has a lot less armour

– the Caddilac is in-between the truck and the race car in every category

As most kart racers do, this game focuses on drifting. I haven’t played every kart racer on the planet, but I don’t recall one that builds up a boost meter as you drift into the turns, unleashing the turbo as you come out of them: that’s how Dirchie Kart plays, though, and I found it to be a neat mechanic that rewards taking turns correctly rather than simply mashing the accelerator for the entire race.

All of this would be irrelevant if the courses were disappointing, but thankfully the courses have a lot of dynamic special features, including (though not all present on every course):

– objects on the side that shoot weapons into the race, and rather than being bolted onto the sidelines they are moveable (I crashed into one and sent it spinning into the middle of the course, shooting out objects in every direction as it spun)

– odd… things… that mosey around, including into the track at times

– courses that are surrounded by nothing-ness, forcing you to stay on the track or fall to your death

– jumps that, if you hit them right and have a fast enough car (or a boost power-up) can let you leap over sections of the track, or throw you into the nothingness below

– there appear to be several track-specific secrets hidden in the game, such as one where if you pick up a truffle hidden on the track then you suddenly get a pack of truffle pigs chasing you down (a ‘feature’ you can pass on to an opponent by hitting them, in classic “not it!” fashion).

The list of power-ups are all things I’ve seen before in kart racing games, but that’s understandable given how many kart racers have been made over the years, and quite forgiveable given smart design and some innovation in other areas. The game has three engine classes (essentially difficulty levels), and you have the ability to pre-purchase power-ups in the shop before the races in some modes of play which adds a strategic element that is not unlike the load-out section in some first-person shooters.

Best of all, I haven’t seen any catch-up AI. If you get way behind, you’re at risk of being lapped, and if you get way ahead and drive smartly then you’ll be the one doing the lapping. I hate games that keep each match artificially close through the AI suddenly becoming skilled or incompetent, depending on what is required for the moment to create the illusion of competition. I want to win (or lose) on my own merits, not because the AI was suddenly lobotimised in the final lap to keep me in the race. Many kart racers are guilty of this, and Dirchie Kart thankfully is not. Another thing many racing games do is offer a reset button, or even an automatic reset, if you get too far off course or smack into a wall. Again, Dirchie Kart doesn’t insult its players with something like that, if you hit a wall you have to damn well throw it in reverse and pull yourself back into the race the hard way. Some people may miss the hand-holding, but I don’t.

In the ’90s when it seemed a new kart racer was coming out every week (most of them bad), many of them suffered for having physics that were really “floaty”, or cars that turned on a dime. This is perfectly in-between: cars feel like they have some weight to them, and you really feel like you’re banking in the turns. The handling feels just right to me.

The graphics remind me a lot of Wacky Races, and the chip-tune influenced classical music complement the package beautifully too. The first time I managed to push an opponent off the edge of the track into the bottomless depth below (a much more satisfying outcome than making them spin out with an oil slick) I knew this game was for me and gladly forked over the measly 240 Microsoft Points the developer’s asking for.

For a second opinion, check out Kobun’s review of Dirchie Kart.

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  1. mrdeeke says:

    Dirchie Kart is great–a classic iteration of Mario Kart 64 infused with Indie Goodness.

  2. I’m partial to a bit of kart racing, so I’ll check out the trial later today.

    Oh, for the record, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing uses that boost system. I imagine that was probably the inspiration here.

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