There have been a number of Hello Kitty titles released on Nintendo consoles and handhelds since the days of the Game Boy Color, but what the series of games had been lacking was a racer. Enter Hello Kitty Kruisers for Wii U, a Mario Kart-esque racing game featuring a number of characters from the Sanrio Universe.
Hello Kitty Kruisers has three game modes: Quick Play, where you can do a single race if you’re short on time, Tournament, in which you play four races to earn the most points against your opponents, and Adventure, which asks you to complete certain tasks within a given period of time. In Adventure mode you start with a single task, such as driving through 10 goals within one minute, and once completed the next task is unlocked. Each task has a particular character and course chosen for you, and tasks are always very simple (this is, after all, aimed at a younger audience). Adventure mode seems to not only aim to acclimate the player to the game’s control mechanics, but to provide a break from competitive racing.
Tournament mode is the core of the game and both the racing and control scheme emulate the formula familiarized by Mario Kart: 4 races per tournament, and the goal is to earn as many points to wind up the winner in the end. Racing handles very smoothly and is responsive, and by driving into item spheres you can get offensive and defensive items to protect yourself and get ahead, like pies to throw at other racers or cones to drop behind you. Unfortunately, seasoned racing game fans will find this game extremely easy; it takes seconds (and no items) to find yourself in first, and there were many races were I was almost lapping the person in last. The AI isn’t particularly competitive, so I only experienced the same two items every race because I was either just about to head to the front of the pack and wound up getting pies, or I was in first and kept getting cones. The speed of racing is slow as well, sort of like playing a 50cc cup in Mario Kart compared to Mirror Mode.
Each track provides you with a different racing experience in terms of vehicles, because you’ll either find yourself assigned to a car, boat, or plane depending on what type of track you’ll be on. There are multiple choices of each specific type of vehicle, but it’s really just a matter of visual preference – choosing a different car, boat, or plane over another doesn’t matter because the vehicle speed and handling are all the same. One thing that is pretty cute though is the ability to change your racer’s outfit just for the fun of it. You can power slide, but you don’t get a speed boost for doing it, and frankly you’re going so slow and the competition is so non-existent that there’s really no need for it anyway. I chuckled to myself when I was sliding over water in my boat and I still heard a burning rubber sound effect.
Tournaments end anticlimactically, just sending you right back to the menu to choose another race. Unlockables are treated the same – I wasn’t even aware that I had been unlocking characters and vehicles until I went back to Tournament Mode from Adventure Mode and saw Tuxedo Sam and a handful of new cars and boats were now playable. Quick Play is pretty self-explanatory, as it just lets you choose a single race from each tournament to play at a time as opposed to having to play through all four races. The game can either be played with the gamepad, Wii remote, or classic controller, but disappointingly there is no online multiplayer. It would be nice because it would perhaps offer a more challenging and enjoyable experience for older fans of Hello Kitty and her friends (like myself), but local couch co-op for up to four players is an option.
The graphics really aren’t horrible. Yes, they’re not the caliber of a first-party Nintendo title, but before I put the game in I had actually prepared myself for the worst, and was expecting blocky, fuzzy, and all around bland visuals. Instead, everything is bubble-gum sweet and bright, and the racers and surroundings are at least rendered smoothly. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I wasn’t sitting there scoffing at what I was seeing. To grade this against racers like Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing, or whatever big name racing franchise you want to throw out there, would be unfair because it not only isn’t looking to compete against them, it’s not even meant for the same audience. This is a good racer for young kids, and I was actually really happy with the $20 price tag (and if you’d prefer, you can buy it from the eShop).
For what it is, Hello Kitty Kruisers is not the worst game I’ve ever played, by far, it’s just not all that it could be. Overly simplistic races and a lack of depth in terms of racing and unlocking content affect what could be an actually decent racer for Wii U. If you enjoy the Sanrio universe or you have kids in your life that would enjoy a simple, easy racing experience, the small price tag at least isn’t a deterrent to picking it up.