Hover Kart is A New Racer from OMGPOP

OMGPOP (formerly known as iminlikewithyou) is a social gaming portal that offers a number of real-time multiplayer Flash games. With over 20 million game plays a month since the launch of their first game, the service has had its share of successes with games such as the Bomberman-style Balloono or its “MMOPG” Jigsawce. Now, the site is adding its 11th game, a 3D racer called Hover Kart.

Coming out to the public today, Hover Kart features over 20 different tracks, a multitude of hover karts, and a pretty wide selection of drivers. Players race around a flat race track in what looks to be a chibi-style racer in a tiny kart, and as with most racing games, this one takes up to eight players with the first one to make three laps winning. As players race around, they are presented with bizarre obstacles such as toxic waste, blocks of ice, or pools of water as well as other drivers. This isn’t to say that other drivers are unique to this game, but most other racing games don’t have them shooting back at you.

In Hover Kart there are many scattered “yellow happy faces” that allow you to gain a special item that can hinder your opponents. These will range from mines to homing missiles that can be used to take out your opponents temporarily as you race for the gold.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. OMGPOP titles are meant to bring back nostalgia for games past, and the game here, almost verbatim, is Mario Kart. Both games utilize picked up weapons/items (whose effects are strikingly similar), both have up to eight players, both allow you to drift for a speed boost, and both even have the same scale ratio of character vs. kart (even the camera pan when you win is the same).

The visuals portrayed in the character and kart are great – their flat, almost cell-shaded look works perfectly. However, the levels leave something to be desired. Some look all right, as they use props and environmental objects of the same flat and vibrant style, but more often than not, these are overshadowed by pixelated terrain. Its almost like drawing out a race track on a piece of paper for your Matchbox Cars as a kid. The cars look great, but the rest just doesn’t fit.

Despite the issues with the game, it does have a unique feature to it that is new for OMGPOP. Players that have “star” access to the site will be able to purchase special items for their Kart. What is curious, however, is that these are not merely cosmetic items (paint, avatars, etc), but many of them actually give them a distinct advantage over other players with abilities to hold more power ups, faster engines, and even extra lives.

This makes Hover Kart as one of the few games in which its virtual goods grant a very direct advantage over the free players. We’ll be interested to see how it plays out. Competitive games can soon become not a contest of ability, but a contest of who will spend the most. Will that happen here?