KartRider Dash leads the pack in synchronous multiplayer racing on Facebook

KartRider Dash is a new Facebook release from Nexon: a kart-racing title heavily inspired by the Mario Kart series. The game allows up to eight players to race against one another simultaneously online in a variety of cartoony environments.

KartRider Dash initially puts players through a series of tutorials introducing the game’s basic controls and explaining how to set up and join games. Players may either race with random opponents via the “Quick Start” mode, or with friends via “Buddy” mode. Participating in races costs fuel, which regenerates over time or may be purchased from the in-game store with soft currency. Players may also purchase unlimited fuel for either a single day or a full week if they are intending on dedicating themselves to their racing. When playing in Buddy mode, only the player who created the game session expends fuel on each race; in Quick Start mode, all racers expend fuel with each new race.

Gameplay once the race begins is very similar to the well-established conventions of the kart-racing genre set by titles like Mario Kart. At the start line, carefully timing the first press of the accelerator allows for a big speed boost. As racers proceed around the track, items may be collected to hinder other players, and a “drift” button allows players to deliberately skid around corners. The use of items and drifting can be challenging, so the game allows players to practice both of these techniques without having to expend fuel at any time.

Besides the standard racing mode where items may be used, KartRider Dash also includes a play style called “Speed Mode.” Here, there are no items on the track, but players may earn boosts by drifting around corners without colliding with the sides. Doing so fills a meter in the corner of the screen, and when this is full a boost item is awarded. This mode is ideal for players who enjoy racing but find themselves frustrated with the “full-contact” nature of the “Items” mode.

Between races, players may spend soft and hard currency in the in-game shop. Here, players may purchase visual upgrades such as new kart bodies, new characters and the ability to dye their character and kart; performance upgrades to their kart’s engine; and items which allow them to “auto-block” specific items. Certain items are level-locked, requiring players to have played the game a certain amount before being able to purchase them. This means that beginning players must learn to avoid and deal with offensive items rather than immediately purchasing the “auto-block” options, giving the game a good sense of pace and challenge.

KartRider Dash’s online play is simple and smooth. Clicking the Quick Start option matches players with opponents in a matter of seconds, and Buddy mode makes it simple to play alongside friends — assuming they are all online and in the game in the first place. Coordination must be done outside the game, however — there is no means to send a Facebook request to friends and invite them to join a Buddy mode room. It would be a good idea for Nexon to implement a feature along these lines, as it would likely make playing with friends a lot easier rather than having to coordinate via Facebook chat, email or other communication methods.

The game’s Unity-powered visuals perform well and seem to work fine on most browsers at this time — there were some issues with Google Chrome upon launch, but these seem to have been resolved. A little more worthy of concern are the lighting glitches evident on the cel-shaded characters — backgrounds are fine — that appeared when tested on an AMD Radeon HD 6750M 512MB-equipped Mac running OS X Lion. These glitches don’t spoil the gameplay at all, but the flickering is a little distracting.