Today’s review is something a little different—something I hope you’ll enjoy. Way back in January/February of 2017, I reviewed what is, to date, Raw Thrills’ first and only licensed kart racer: Nicktoons Nitro. And for whatever reason—maybe I thought I was being too negative?—I never published the post.
Now, with three additional years of writing experience on my hand, I’ve come back to that review and revised it to meet my current standards, Plus, since I’ve had the opportunity to play Nicktoons Nitro a few more times since 2017, I hope I’ll be able to provide a more comprehensive look at the title.
I really hope you enjoy today’s review, as it was fun to me to revisit a little nugget of Wilcox Arcade history. Something about going back to an old piece of writing—as horrible as it may be, in retrospect—feels almost nostalgic now.
Developer: Raw Thrills
Publisher: Raw Thrills. Chicago Gaming Company
Release Date: November 10, 2009
Nicktoons Nitro is your average karting game, and it’s pretty fun. Assuming the role of classic Nicktoons characters, you and up to five other players speed, drift and jump your way through iconic TV locales.
While in the heat of competition, you can also pick up items to foil your opponents, including Seeker, Shield, Boost, Bomb, Splat, Ricochet, Super Seeker, and “Ultimate”. I honestly can’t remember what all of these items were like at this point, but I do remember most of them being pretty neat.
This fun, however, is largely offset by the fact that this game is way too easy. Throughout each course, you’ll encounter a variety of awesome obstacles that, weirdly enough, do absolutely nothing to your vehicle. There’s no need to avoid these “dangerous” hurdles because you can literally drive right through them. As an added bonus, you can’t drive off the edge of tracks thanks to an invisible barrier protecting you from otherwise fatal ledges.
Listen, I get the justification here: This is an arcade game for children. The intention of these design choices was to minimize frustration. But you know what else kids play? Mario Kart, which is infinitely more punishing. To be perfectly frank, I feel that “nerfing” the obstacles and ledges was lazy above anything else.
The gameplay is difficult to elaborate on, because it’s just that simple. This is a basic kart racer through and through. Is that a bad thing? I’d argue that it’s not.
With seven characters and tracks, Nicktoons Nitro certainly isn’t the worst in the content department, although it could be a bit fuller. At the very least, I appreciate the detail-rich nature of each character and track.
Playable characters include SpongeBob SquarePants, Danny Phantom, Jimmy Neutron, Timmy Turner, Zim, Avatar Aang, and original character Lord Nitro. Courses include Bikini Bottom, Ghost City, Retroland, Fairy World, Irken City, Four Nations, and original environment Planet Nitro. There’s a decent selection of items, too, as I mentioned earlier.
I do wish that a wider variety of Nicktoons properties had been represented, even if Nitro hits all the big ones of the era. Crossovers are just so much more fun with more characters. That being said, I can’t imagine these characters are cheap, so there may have been some financial considerations that led to the use of just six IPs.
Unfortunately—and this has to be said—my biggest complaint is the lack of any means of saving your progress in the game. There’s not even a PIN system for saving track times or unlockables, unlike other arcade racers of that time. Save data may be a really minor point to some, but it’s something I’ve always been really serious about.
If you ever get the chance to open one of these cabinets up, you’ll be greeted by a selection of operator options to play around with. You can adjust pricing, system settings, and game settings, as well as run diagnostics and check game audits. If the operator really feels like screwing you over, they can also disable free races for first place, so watch out for that.
Truthfully, I think Nicktoons Nitro hits all the right marks for a simplistic kart racer. Yes, I would’ve liked more content to sink my teeth into, but what we got is not the end of the world.
I’m having trouble thinking of anything unique to say about the controls because there really is nothing special about them. You’ve got a force-feeback steering wheel, an accelerator, an item button, and a camera button. Everything’s just about as down-to-basics as possible, and I think it works very well.
One thing that may be a problem for some people is the lack of a break pedal. Granted, the game isn’t designed for a break pedal, but I know some people really like having that extra level of control. The option to go in reverse would’ve nice, as well, but the game is good about respawning your kart and soon as you land in some sticky situation.
Overall, there’s nothing revolutionary here. You’ve got all the necessary racing controls and two big buttons for the kiddos. The game feels right.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Nicktoons Nitro doesn’t look very good. Heck, it didn’t look good in 2009, let alone in 2020. When I first played this game, I was honestly under the impression that it was released in 2007. The ugly, low-poly character models aren’t terribly appealing, especially when many of these characters have been better rendered in previous home console titles.
That being said, I think the environments are positively phenomenal, regardless of technical shortcomings. It’s very clear to me that a lot of love went into recreating iconic Nicktoons backdrops in a video game context. Keen-eyed players will surely spot some fun callback to the represented TV series throughout.
Also, I can’t in good conscience say that the actual character animations are bad either. I find it amusing that the characters like to stand up and dance while driving, apparently just because they feel like it. All the movement in the game is really smooth and cute. (Just beware that something about Jimmy Neutron looks very…unsettling.)
Unfortunately, there were also glitches here and there that interfered with my gameplay. This was not ideal in an arcade setting where my game was hinged on how much money I brought that day. (Fun anecdote: I once had to throw the final race with Nitro because I got stuck on level geometry for, like, half a minute. That was so great.)
The one bit I’m kind of mixed on are the cutscenes played during the attract mode and at the end of the game. To be quite blunt, these movies have slightly better production values than a PowerPoint presentation, utilizing still images and text to tell the story. However, I like the 2D art a bit more than the 3D models. These cinematics aren’t perfect, but they get the job done with some semblance of flair.
To offer one final positive to atone for my many criticisms, I’ll say this: I dig the promotional flyer. Modern arcade flyers are just so boring, but this one still has a bit of that old-school spirit to it. (See the flyer at the top of the article.)
Listening to some of the music online—because let’s not even pretend that I can hear it well enough for impartial review at an arcade—I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the compositions.
Nicktoons Nitro, contrasted with the Fast and the Furious series, isn’t filled with a bunch of looping techno music from Killer Tracks. (At least I hope it’s not from Killer Tracks.) The soundtrack complements the experience superbly, drawing me deeper into the Nicktoons multiverse.
Something worth mentioning is that we just don’t get to hear enough from the characters throughout the game. Yes, there are some clips from the original voiceover artists—including Tom Kenny, David Kaufman, Tara Strong, Debi Derryberry, Richard Steven Horvitz, and Zach Tyler Eisen—but I never felt like it was enough to really “seal the feel.”
Beyond that misfire, I think the audio design is pretty all right all around. I enjoy the music, the sound effects, and the limited sampling of voice acting.
The Nicktoons Nitro cabinet is more or less the Fast and the Furious: DRIFT cabinet with a different marquee and some nice Nickelodeon thematic elements. It’s simple build that gets the point across that this is a sit-down racing game. Could it have been a little fancier? For sure, but the simplicity doesn’t hurt the experience a bit. I think there’s still a place for modest cabinets in today’s arcade landscape.
I do find slightly odd the choice to use a CRT monitor in 2009. At that point, HD video output was already, without a shadow of a doubt, the norm for gaming—yet here Raw Thrills was dragging their feet on implementing modern hardware. (Where have I heard that one before?) If you’ve ever wondered why a large swath of gamers no longer consider arcade relevant, maybe you ask yourself why even the most prominent arcade game manufacturers fail to get with the times on ridiculously simple stuff.
Overall, I don’t dislike the cabinet by any means. The mold is slick, the design is ergonomic, and the art pops. I actually hope that Raw Thrills circles back to these simpler cabinet types moving forward. There’s a real charm to them.
I genuinely feel bad for being critical of Nicktoons Nitro because I can tell that it was crafted with some level of care. It’s just that, compared to most of Raw Thrills’ other licensed titles, Nitro falls short in many regards.
This is a fun enough kart racer entrenched in the wacky world of Nickelodeon TV animation. If that’s all you want, then this is no doubt the game for you. However, if you want something with a little more substance, stick to the “Daytonas” of the world for now.
Now that I’m three years removed from the original draft of this review, I’m proud to admit that I still enjoy popping a few credits into Nicktoon Nitros whenever I stumble upon it in the wild. Here’s hoping you will, too.