Last month I reviewed The Karters – a kart racing game so anodyne, unfinished and unloved it was one of the most frustratingly disappointing gaming experiences I’ve had in quite some time. Meow Motors thankfully goes a very long way to show me exactly what a kart racer should be like in 2018 by giving gameplay and fun by the bucketload and plenty of character too.
Meow Motors gives you a selection of cats in cars around various tracks across three different event types – race, time trial and strike. Initially, when you start the game you only have access to one kitty, one car and one weapon and you’ll be asked to play the campaign mode to unlock all the other characters, cars and weapons. It’s a bold move but what this does is allow you to focus on the driving mechanics first – the key to making a good kart racer.
The handling and speed are predictable and steady. You press a button to enter drift mode and initially because there’s no kick into the drift, you are instantly in it, the drift feels a little bit floaty. After a couple of races though I had the hang of it and everything felt natural. The cars themselves are more aesthetically different than performance different but each kitten has their own special trait such as immunity to a stalling start, less slow down when driving on the grass edges or immune to sliding off on oil slicks for example. There’s room to pick not just the cutest, but the one that helps you out most. It does make me feel like the cars are a bit arbitrary though – but at least you can choose their colour.
Meow Motors may not innovate in the tracks, cars or characters – although they are all well done – it does, however, make some great game design choices that I absolutely love. Firstly race starts require you to feather the throttle in the green area of your tachometer to get a perfect start. Just fully pressing the right trigger means you’ll overheat and stall. Each character has 5 hit points and some weapons may take several hit points away from you if timed well. Each hit makes your kart more damaged and therefore slower on the straights. I really liked how F1 Race Stars did this but with Meow Motors, the 5 tiers of damage are a bit more subtle. It makes the strategy of health kit versus weapon choice all the more pensive because you might be able to hold the others off when wounded.
The other great thing about Meow Motors is how the boost can be used. You can use it to simply boost which is handy for catching up, but if your at the front of the field, you can also convert your boost to oil and spray it behind you to throw others off the track. So often it feels like kart racers are unfairly weighted to making the leader fail – and this small tweak makes things feel a little evener. You can also save a full boost to make a boosted version of your power-ups or weapons. These all sound small but in a game where you will be throwing weapons at each other like crazy, these game design choices enhance the experience so much.
The game is local multiplayer only and having played some split-screen, it works really well. Just be advised to play some single-player first to unlock things to make the races more interesting. The AI, in general, is tough but fair. Rubberbanding is definitely at play here but instead of an unfair barrage of attacks right at the last corner so you lose (looking at you Speed Freaks!), the rubberbanding seems to bring the AI right up behind you so you still have to make a mistake to lose. Graphically the game was mostly smooth although steam achievements seemed to freeze the game momentarily at times. Literally, the only negative I have is that some of English language has spelling or grammar errors but it doesn’t affect the superb gameplay at all as there is no story – it’s just menu typos.
A PC copy of the game was provided by the developer for review. I also bought the PS4 version personally.
With a small collection of kart racers all releasing at once, Meow Motors is by far the best. It's cute, fun, well thought out and really nicely balanced. Whilst we wait for Sonic Team Racing to come out - Meow Motors should absolutely be your jam. Very surprising!
Frantic fun both in single-player and local multiplayer.
Excellent boost energy tactics to either boost or drop oil.
Handling is sturdy and predictable making the game much more enjoyable.
KITTIES ARE CUTE AND SASSY!
A couple of typos.
Tracks all have the same trap objects reskinned so they lack some variety.
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