Cover art in all regions by Jen Smith
Atari Karts is a kart racing video game developed by Miracle Designs and published by Atari Corporation exclusively for the Atari Jaguar first in North America on December 15, 1995 and later in Europe on December 22 of the same year. It is one of the first titles developed by Miracle Designs and its gameplay is similar to the Mario Kart series, where items are placed at predetermined points in the tracks.
In Atari Karts, players take control of one of the seven characters available including Bentley Bear, the protagonist of the 1983 arcade game Crystal Castles, with each one having different capabilities. In single player mode, players race against computer-controlled characters in multi-race cups over four levels of difficulty and during the races, speed boosting and other power-ups can be used to gain an advantage while in multi-player mode two players can simultaneously take part in the cups. It features numerous homages to the history of Atari and its games.
Atari Karts received mixed reception when it was released. While it received praise for its graphics, sound and controls, many were divided in regards to the gameplay and others criticized its lack of offensive power-ups during both single and multiplayer modes, and lack of variety. Critics also compared the game with Super Mario Kart, which was released three years prior on the SNES. Although it never received a direct sequel, Miracle Designs would go on to develop multiple kart racing titles such as Merlin Racing for the Nuon and Rascal Racers for the PlayStation, which are considered spiritual successors to the game. Retrospective reviews for the title have been equally divisive in recent years.
Atari Karts is a kart racing game, similar to Super Mario Kart, featuring both a single-player and multiplayer modes. During gameplay, players take control of one of seven available characters at the beginning of the game and drive karts around tracks. Before starting to drive, a traffic light will appear and start the countdown. When the light turns green, the race begins. During a race, the player's viewpoint is from behind his or her kart. The goal of the game is to either finish a race ahead of other racers, who are controlled by the computer and other players. Unlike Super Mario Kart, however, no battle and/or time trial modes are present. When starting the game, four levels of difficulty are available to choose from and they are comprised of three cups, though only one difficulty level is accessible at the start and by winning all of the three cups at the selected level of challenge, the "Miracle Race" challenge can be accessed. In the Miracle Race, either one or two players compete in a race against a boss character and when defeated, they become playable characters. By pressing Option at the main menu, players can access the options screen where a number of settings can be changed, such as controls and set the type of terrain display when racing, with hill (which gives tracks a roller coaster-like feel to them) being the default mode. When selecting a characters, another player can join at any given time on the character select screen. Progress and settings are automatically kept into the cartridge's internal EEPROM and the game also features support for the ProController.
Tiles marked with a specific mark are arrayed on the race tracks; these give special abilities (power-ups) to a player's kart if the vehicle passes over them. These power-ups can either benefit or harm those who have picked them up, ranging from a rabbit icon that give players a speed boost for a few seconds to a red icon that reverse the vehicle's controls for brief period of time as well. On two-player races, a green icon that reverse the opponent's controls is the only offensive power-up available on the game. As with Super Mario Kart, each cup consists of five-lap races and each one takes place on a distinct track, with more being unlocked on higher difficulties but in order to continue through a cup, a fourth or higher position must be achieved in each race. If a player finishes in fifth to eighth position, they are "ranked out" and the race must be replayed at the cost of one of a limited number of lives until a placing of fourth or above is earned. If the player has no lives when they rank out, the game is over, though players can pick up a heart icon (extra life) that are placed on a fixed spot on the track.
The game makes numerous homages to Atari's history and its games. Bentley Bear, the main player character of Crystal Castles, is a playable character and has a track based on his game as well. The Borregas Cup is a reference to the company's old address: 1196 Borregas Avenue, Sunnyvale, California. The Tempest Cup's name is a tribute to Dave Theurer's 1981 arcade game Tempest. The Miracle Race is named after Miracle Designs, the game's developer.
Atari Karts initially features seven playable characters, while four more playable characters can be unlocked by completing the "Mirace Race" challenges on each difficulty level for a total of 11 playable characters to choose from:
According to ex-Atari Corporation vice-president in third-party development Bill Rehbock, programmers Filip Hautekeete and Peter Vermeulen at Miracle Designs received an Alpine development kit for the Atari Jaguar from Atari Corp. themselves and started working on with it. Both Filip and Peter created a demo showcasing an emulated interpretation of the Mode 7 graphics mode found in the Super Nintendo to test the capabilities of the Jaguar and sent it to Bill and ex-Atari employee J. Patton. Impressed with the results seen from the demo, Atari decided to create a game by combining both F-Zero and Super Mario Kart, with Bill suggesting the usage of Bentley Bear from Crystal Castles along with other characters from Atari, which did not make it into the final release and designing the game with a "cutesy" atmosphere for the family audience. This demo became the starting point for the development of Atari Karts.
Atari Karts makes extensive use of the Mode 7 technique developed by Miracle Designs for the system, featuring elevated and lowered terrains when racing on the tracks. The soundtrack was composed in 1994 by Fabrice Gillet in ProTracker on an Amiga. Neither he nor the people who created the in-game artwork are listed in the game's credits at the end of the game, with the manual just referring to them as the "Miracle Designs Team". Atari Karts was developed in Belgium and was formally announced in early 1995 under the working title Kart. It was also previewed in a supplementary July 1995 issue by Edge magazine under a new working title; Super Karts, which lead to the confusion that Virgin Interactive's similarly named SuperKarts was being converted to the Jaguar. In both internal documents from Atari and a list of upcoming games for the system by VideoGames magazine, listed the title of the project under its final name minus the letter S and as a September 1995 title. Development on the game was completed on December 11 1995, a few days before release. The game was showcased during the Fun 'n' Games Day event hosted by Atari.
Atari Karts received mostly mixed reviews. The two sports reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it scores of 5.5 and 5 out of 10, particularly criticizing the dull track design. One of them elaborated that "Although the scenery changes, each race is an exercise in repetition: pick up icons, don't hit anything." They did, however, compliment the smoothness of the controls.
GamePro commented that the game was well-made but too simplistic and cutesy to appeal to anyone but young children, concluding, "These races present just the right level of cuteness and challenge for those younger Jaguar gamers. The question, of course, is how many seven-year-olds are out there looking for Jag games?".
A reviewer for Next Generation agreed that Atari Karts was chiefly geared to a younger audience and lacks sophistication, and further criticized that the various tracks are visually different but handle and feel the same. However, he said the game "does have a certain charm that makes it hard to avoid."
JustClaws website gave the game their maximum rating of 5 out of 5 stars.
In a retrospective review for The Atari Times, Gregory D. George criticized the lack of interesting power-ups and the limited enemy AI, which results in perfect drivers as the player's competition.
Merlin Racing, an racing title developed by the same team and released for the Nuon, is considered a spiritual successor to the game.
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