Ayrton Senna Kart Duel
The key engine for a videogame like this is, of course, its graphics system. After the mindboggling veracity of Formula One’s hilly, twisting tracks, Kart Duel’s flat, diminutive pancake tracks seem very small beer. The karts themselves are more impressive, the open air nature of the vehicles requiring plenty of polygons within which sits a nicely animated driver. Threading your way through a field of 12 karts, with three or four often tightly clustered together, makes for an exciting ride in first person perspective. Further excitement is provided by the way your viewpoint tilts as tight corners push the cart onto two wheels!
Close-up encounters with other cars show-off the graphics, but the collision detection is a little uncertain and you seem to be able to bounce past them. The exterior perspective limits this, or at least clarifies the degree of contact, and as in F1, using competitor cars as emergency brakes on tight corners is an effective tactic. Unlike F1, there’s no option to turn on the realistic car damage which makes the tactic of distinctly short-term efficacy.
Orse and kart
Rainy weather provides a real challenge of your driving abilities, but doesn’t exactly push the PlayStation’s graphics chip, with a flat grey sky and a few elongated sprites representing rain. Also disappointing is the soundtrack, consisting of the usual crap synthpop so beloved of Japanese developers. Buried under the bip-bop tunes are some excruciating sound FX; the tyres screech painfully, while the engine seems more realistic – but a souped-up lawnmower doesn’t quite have the cachet of a full throated F1 scream. Then there’s the Japlish scripted commentary, although expressions like ‘Watch Your Behind!’ and ‘That Fellow!’ do provide some comic relief.
The actual handling of the karts is as light and sensitive as you might expect. Over-steering is ridiculously easy and, unlike car collisions, hitting the barriers imposes a significant penalty. Slide into a barrier after a misjudged corner and your driver has to get out and perform a pushstart! You really do need to brake for almost every corner, something which is underlined with icons which appear before every turn. If that seems rather 16- bit, the way your cart angles around for powerslides reminds you this is a PlayStation game. The taut, nervy feel of the karts is impressive and bouncing over grass chicanes into the lead is good fun. To get the most out of the game, I suspect an analog steering wheel would be ideal – if it could stand up to such demanding action!
He falls apart!
Aggressive driving is a prerequisite of a straightforward, arcade-style game structure: come first, lad, or you’re out on your ear. Even Frank Williams isn’t quite this strict. A top three placing might have made for a more championship feel, but at least it gives a clear objective. The main problem with Kart Duel is instantly obvious though. Real car nuts will be drawn in by the Senna name and the nervy, distinctly un-F1 handling, but be disappointed by the lack of options for long-term depth. Arcade fans will like the simplistic game structure and immediate challenge, but given the plethora of PlayStation race games, they are unlikely to give it a try with such a mediocre 3-D engine puttering across the TV screen.
Japanese gamers, enjoying considerably lower prices and higher living standards might find this a pleasant enough diversion, but in the West conditions are tougher and not even Senna will be able to push this into a points-scoring position.