Kartography #2 – Garfield Kart

Kartography is my regular series in which I look at licensed kart racers throughout gaming history, and figure out where they fit on my all-time kart game leaderboard.

For more information on my scoring policy for Kartography, check out this introductory article.

Microids / Artefacts Studios
PC, 3DS, iOS, Android (PC version covered)

After kicking off Kartography last week with the mediocre Hello Kitty Kruisers (which scored 13/40), it’s time for game two to drive up to the… um, judging chamber. Or something.

Shortly after I posted the first Kartography I was informed that Garfield Kart was available for a dirt cheap price on Steam (it isn’t any more, but it’s still only £3.99).

Since it seems to have some sort of internet buzz around it at the moment as the alleged “worst game ever” (presumably by meme kids who’ve never experienced the joys of Wheelspin, Ninjabread Man, Rise Of The Robots or Superman 64), I decided to cover it next.

Although it was also released on mobile and 3DS (where it reportedly looks horrendous), today I’m looking at the version on Steam, where it currently has a suspicious 9/10 rating. You pesky meme kids.

TO THE JUDGING CHAMBER WITH THEE, GARFIELD KART.


The licence

Garfield was created 40 years ago by cartoonist Jim Davis.

In that time, the mildly humorous adventures of the sleepy, lasagna-loving cat have enjoyed so much success that it holds the Guinness World Record for the most widely syndicated comic strip, with over 2500 newspapers worldwide including it in their ‘funnies’ section.

It’s also one of the most heavily merchandised properties of all time, earning around $1 billion a year in merch sales alone (most of which comes from Garfield Kart, presumably).

Garfield had a bunch of primetime cartoon movies in the early ‘80s, a seven-season animated series that started in 1988, a CGI series in 2007, five CGI movies and a load of video games over the years. Not bad for a lazy bastard.

Licence score – 3 out of 5

There’s no doubt that Garfield is big, but he’s nowhere near as big as he was in the 20th century.

He’s also never really been the sort of character who generates any true excitement: none of his previous games (not even the Mega Drive one released during the height of his popularity) sold particularly well.

Having a plush Garfield stuck to your car window is one thing, but actually wanting to play a game starring one of the least dynamic characters in history is another.


The racers

As Garfield Kart was downloading, I realised I could only think of four characters: Garfield, his owner Jon, his dog Odie and Jon’s girlfriend, whose name I didn’t know.

I wasn’t sure how much I was going to care about the other racers in the game, but it was going to be a while before I found out. You see, when you start there are only two to choose from: Garfield and Jon.

I unlocked them all eventually, though, so here’s the full roster.

Garfield

Species – Cat
First introduced – 1978

If you’ve never heard of Garfield, then I’m going to level with you: the rest of this article’s going to be a slog.

He’s basically the world’s laziest cat, who for years people thought was voiced by Bill Murray but actually wasn’t, until the animated movie came along in 2004 and then Bill Murray voiced him. It’s a whole thing.

I’d go into more detail but I’m fairly sure Rick & Morty did a bit on it once and I really don’t want its unhinged fanbase filling this article’s comments with shit like “get schwifty”.


Jon Arbuckle

Species – Human
First introduced – 1978

Garfield’s loving owner is portrayed as a bit of a sap.

He’s such a sad chap that someone once discovered that if you removed everyone except for Jon from the comics, the story was instead about a man suffering a mental breakdown.

In reality, I like the guy. He’s friendly, he loves his pets and he spent 27 years trying to go out with one specific woman.

Actually, hang on.


Dr Liz Wilson

Species – Human
First introduced – 1979
To unlock – Get gold in the Lasagna Cup 100cc

Liz first appeared a year into the Garfield comic strip, and is Garfield’s vet.

Jon fell in love with her at the time, but they didn’t actually get together until 2006 which means Jesus, that guy was persistent.

It’s not quite clear what happened in Liz’s love life during those two and a half decades that made her resort to her fall-back plan of the creepy guy who kept taking his fat cat into her surgery.

Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this.


Odie

Species – Dog
First introduced – 1978
To unlock – Get gold in the Pizza Cup 100cc

In the early days of the Garfield comic, Jon used to have a roommate called Lyman, who owned a dog named Odie.

Lyman was there to give Jon someone to talk to in the comic, but eventually Jim Davis figured out other ways to get around this and Lyman disappeared.

This meant Jon now owned both Garfield and Odie, leading to all sorts of ‘zany’ and ‘madcap’ cat-and-dog hijinks.

Davis was later asked what happened to Lyman, to which he (genuinely) replied: “Don’t look in Jon’s basement!”

Fucking hell, Jim.


Arlene

Species – Cat
First introduced – 1980
To unlock – Get gold in the Hamburger Cup 100cc

Garfield’s love interest is a pink stray cat called Arlene.

She’s usually there to provide Garfield with moral support and help him decide what the right thing to do is.

To the best of my knowledge, it’s never explicitly explained why she has enormous lips, so let’s just assume it’s natural and that there isn’t some sort of dodgy cat botox doctor doing the rounds.

Though given Jim Davis’s track record, I wouldn’t be surprised.


Nermal

Species – Cat
First introduced – 1979
To unlock – Get gold in the Lasagna Cup 150cc

Fun fact: Nermal has two brothers called Eesy and Herd.

That’s a complete lie, but it at least diverts your attention from the real truth: Nermal is a cat who lives nearby and is so cute that a jealous Garfield regularly kicks his head in.

In the comic Garfield would regularly throw Nermal through the door, leaving a Nermal-shaped hole in the frame. He also keeps trying to send Nermal to Abu Dhabi.

Oh, and in one strip in particular Nermal reveals that he’s “a midget”, because Jim Davis’s fuck-giving jar was presumably empty that week.


Harry

Species – Cat
First introduced – 2009
To unlock – Get gold in the Pizza Cup 150cc

I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea who Harry was, and tweeted words to that effect while playing the game.

It turns out that’s because he made his debut in The Garfield Show, a French-produced CGI cartoon that started in 2009 (which is actually the show Garfield Kart is based on, it seems).

Apparently he’s a stray cat who regularly appears to either antagonise Garfield or hang around with him.

He’s there to mess with Garfield’s head then, basically. I don’t like Harry.


Squeak

Species – Mouse
First introduced – 1984
To unlock – Get gold in the Hamburger Cup 150cc

Here’s more evidence that Garfield Kart is based on the 2009 CGI series: Squeak was only a minor character in the comic, but plays a regular role in the recent cartoon.

In fact, of all the many thousands of Garfield comic strips created over the past 40 years, Squeak has only appeared in 15 of them. I bet Jim Davis’s nosebleeds have inadvertently appeared in more Garfield strips than Squeak has.

Still, here he is, a cheery mouse who apparently has his own mouse family and everything. Fair play.

Racers score – 2½ out of 5

There’s no denying the star power of the likes of Garfield, Jon and Odie but it starts to feel filler-heavy the further down the roster you go.

They all act in a fairly generic manner, too. There are a few separate win animations for some of them and extremely short sound samples which amount to nothing more than a few “woos”, but other than that they’re too interchangeable.


The vehicles

There are eight different cars in Garfield Kart, each designed with a specific character in mind.

Oddly though, initially only the ones for Harry and Odie are unlocked, despite neither of them being available at the start of the game.

What’s even more infuriating is that the other cars cost 2500 coins each to unlock, and in nearly ten hours of playing the game I couldn’t earn enough coins to buy one of the locked ones, let alone all six.

That said, get a good look at them now because chances are you won’t be racing in them.

Vehicles score – 2 out of 5

Character-specific cars are great, and you can also customise them with unlockable spoilers: on paper, it’s good news all round.

In practice, the obscenely high cost to unlock them means you’re going to have to get intimate with this game on a Warcraft or Football Manager level before you can get your hands on them.

Having never played the mobile version of Garfield Kart, my main suspicion is that this has microtransactions written all over it. The PC version, though, only lets you earn in-game currency through racing. A hell of a lot of racing.


The tracks

Garfield Kart has 16 tracks in total, split over four cups – Lasagna, Pizza, Hamburger and Ice Cream – though the last cup is a bit of a swine to unlock (more on that in a bit).

The game’s Steam store page promises “stunning 3D environments from the world of Garfield”, but unless there are four desert locations in that new cartoon I think someone’s been telling fibs.

Here’s a look at each track: decide for yourself.

Lasagna Cup

CATZ IN THE HOOD – A straightforward course through Garfield’s neighbourhood. So far, so acceptable.
CRAZY DUNES – Hmmm. You don’t often see Garfield in the desert, but let’s go with it. Maybe there’s some famous desert-themed cartoon episodes I don’t know about.
PALEROCK LAKE – A woodland trail complete with wooden bridges, dirt roads and a section where you cross lily pads. Which really shouldn’t be able to take the weight of a kart, come to think of it.
CITY SLICKER – Your standard city circuit, though eagle-eyed players will be able to spot Vito’s pizza parlour, which features in the recent CG animated series.

Pizza Cup

COUNTRY BUMPKIN – Here’s your Moo Moo Farm equivalent. There’s a particularly wide area with hay bales that you can speed boost right through.
SPOOKY MANOR – Despite the name you never actually enter a manor in this one, you just drive around its grounds. I’ve had spookier Pot Noodles.
MALLY MARKET – Another track that doesn’t actually do what its name suggests, this has you driving round the lengthy car park of a supermarket instead of actually racing around the shop itself. I smell a rat, and I don’t mean Squeak.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS – Just in case you didn’t get your fill of desert tracks in the previous cup, here’s another one.

Hamburger Cup

PLAY MISTY FOR ME – An atmospheric track set next to a pier and a lighthouse. Probably the best track in the game, especially because it’s great for stringing together powerslides.
SNEAK-A-PEAK – A mountain stage complete with snowy section. You can tick off that ‘snow level’ square on your bingo card now.
BLAZING OASIS – Ah good, more desert racing. Because I’ve only just got all the sand off my wheels from the last two trips.
PASTACOSI FACTORY – Finally, a track that delivers on its promise. After driving round another car park (ugh), you eventually end up inside the factory, dodging crates on a conveyor belt.

Ice Cream Cup

MYSTERIOUS TEMPLE – I’m starting to think this game’s sponsored by some sort of sand manufacturer. At least a decent chunk of this one takes part inside a pyramid instead.
PROHIBITED SITE – A construction site where you race around and through the shell of an unfinished building.
CASKOU PARK – A skate park with plenty of ramps and speed boosts. Not sure what ‘Caskou’ is referring to: as far as I’m aware it has nothing to do with Garfield.
LOOPY LAGOON – Finally, you can tick off the ‘beach track’ trope too, as the last track takes place in this seaside setting.

Tracks score – 2½ out of 5

It’s clear that at least a couple of the tracks here are based on real locations from the cartoon, and many of them have at least one half-decent shortcut to make things interesting.

There are still a fair number of generic locations, though, and four desert tracks – a quarter of the entire game – is ripping the arse right out of it.


The power-ups

So, the characters are so-so, the vehicles are underwhelming and the tracks are alright. Can Garfield Kart’s power-ups earn it some much-needed extra points?

There are nine in total here, some of which actually break out from the Mario Kart mould.

There are also two different fire buttons – one to throw forwards and the other to throw backwards – though not being able to see behind you renders the latter a bit less useful than I’d like.

Apple Pie

A standard pie you can fling either forward or backwards in a straight line.

Smacking an opponent with one will spin them out.

Mario Kart equivalent: Green Shell


Antenna Pie

A special version of the apple pie with “a GPS added to the recipe”.

It’ll home in on the nearest kart and smack them in the arse.

Mario Kart equivalent: Red Shell


B.O.I.N.G. Spring

This one has two uses: you can either use it to jump over obstacles and reach shortcuts, or drop it behind you to make opponents spin out.

It’s not clear what B.O.I.N.G. stands for, but I’m guessing it’s Bungled Operation Inadvertently Neutered Garfield.

Mario Kart equivalent: Feather


Hot Lasagna

Well it’s about bloody time lasagna turned up. After all, it’s one of Garfield’s two character traits (the other being an irrational dislike of Mondays, which is odd considering he doesn’t work).

Using the lasagna gives you a speed boost;

Mario Kart equivalent: Mushroom


Bottle of Vroom Perfume

Remember that Garfield strip where Jon uses Vroom Perfume and then suddenly he finds himself sexually attracted to cars? That’s because it didn’t happen.

Regardless, this makes you drive faster, go over slow surfaces like grass at full speed and generally go like the clappers.

Mario Kart equivalent: Star


Magic Wand

Here’s a weird one I’ve seen in one or two other karting games, but never a Mario Kart one.

The Magic Wand fires a tiny bolt straight ahead. If your aim is absolutely perfect and it hits an opponent ahead of you, you’ll swap places with them automatically.

Mario Kart equivalent: None


UFO

Garfield Kart’s blue shell imitator has a twist in that it’s possible to avoid it if you’re lucky.

Three UFOs fly over your head and line up across the track ahead of you, firing beams downward.

Two of these beams will pick you up and waste loads of time, but one is harmless and will let you pass through unscathed.

Mario Kart equivalent: Blue Shell (sort of)


Cuzzzhion

Okay, I’ll give them this one, considering how lazy Garfield is.

Activate the Cuzzzhion and all the other racers will get extremely tired, slowing their karts to a crawl for a limited time.

Mario Kart equivalent: Lightning Bolt


Klopman Diamond

A reference to the old Garfield And Friends cartoon from the late ‘80s, the Klopman Diamond is a cursed object that sticks to whoever touches it.

You have a few seconds to get rid of it (by doing a bunch of small jumps), otherwise it’ll explode and spin you out.

Mario Kart equivalent: Lightning Cloud

Power-ups score – 3 out of 5

A decent effort here. Most of the items make sense in terms of the licence (rather than just being generic rockets) and a couple of them break from standard Mario Kart conventions.

That said, the Wand is a strange gimmick I don’t think I like, and despite the game’s advice to jump a lot when you get the Klopman Diamond, it doesn’t work too often for me.

There’s definitely room for improvement, then, but not bad.


How it plays

This section is a mini review of the game. It’s available in both video and written form, so you can choose how to enjoy it. My recommendation is the video, because you’ll get to see the game in action too. But if you’d rather read it, or can’t stand my bassy Scottish accent, the entire script from the video is underneath.

From what I can gather, Garfield Kart currently has some sort of reputation as a meme, partly because a YouTuber once referred to it as “the worst game ever made”.

While it’s not exactly going to give Mario and chums a run for their money, any suggestion that it’s the worst game ever are about as accurate as a message on a Brexit bus. It isn’t great, but it isn’t too bad.

Using the same 50cc, 100cc and 150cc structure you get in Mario Kart games, Garfield Kart features four cups, though unlocking the last one is unreasonably tricky and it’s not entirely clear how to do it.

Essentially, you have to not only win gold medals in the other three cups in all three difficulties, but also get gold medals on every track in Time Trial mode, which is a pretty bloody tricky task.

For most people not willing to commit hours to flawlessly mastering every course in the game, then, the way you can play the fourth cup is via a ‘try me’ option, where you have to spend 500 coins for the privilege. The problem is, coins are rarer than a French steak, so for the most part you’ll have to make do with the first three cups.

You can also unlock a series of hats for your characters to wear. These cost a fortune too, though you can get some by completing the Daily Challenges, which task you with finishing a cup under certain conditions.

The game itself is a curious affair. Handling is decent enough, but the powersliding mechanic takes a little getting used to. It’s similar to the original Super Mario Kart in that you hold a button to hop and then the slide comes out of that hop, but it’s very strict in terms of what direction you’re holding when you land.

This means if you’re simply moving the stick to the other side to adjust your kart as it hits the ground, you’ll slide in the completely opposite direction instead. It’s frustrating at first, but it can be mastered eventually and since you get a hefty speed boost from it – especially if you can link a bunch together – it’s worth persevering with in the long run.

The main issues with Garfield Kart are the lack of user friendliness and the performance. I’ve already touched on the former: the game simply makes no effort to help you out. It’s never clear how to unlock things, using a gamepad is a pain in the arse (it insists on still making you use a mouse for menu screens, even between races), and the abstract main menu may as well be in hieroglyphics for all the good it does.

The performance, meanwhile, is bewildering. We aren’t exactly talking Uncharted 4 here, and yet Garfield Kart stutters along with the frame rate getting really choppy on certain tracks. This isn’t the result of my PC setup: the far more graphically impressive Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed runs at a smooth 60fps on my PC, and I’ve seen reports of people with far more powerful rigs than mine still getting hefty frame rate dips.

Despite all this, I was still able to put eight or nine hours into Garfield Kart without too much hassle. It may have more bugs than a dingy motel bed, but when it does all come together it plays a half-decent karting game. Its weapons are sometimes infuriating – that magic wand thing can die in a fire – and its AI is Lidl cheap, but you could argue those are key ingredients in what makes this genre what it is.

Review score: 7 out of 15


The verdict

20 out of 40

If bang average is what you’re looking for then Garfield Kart fits the bill perfectly.

Everything ticks just enough boxes to be considered acceptable, but at no time do you ever feel like you’re playing anything other than a bog-standard example of a licensed karting game.

Nothing about it is particularly offensive, but there are no standout ideas or moments either. It’s just content to straddle that divide and be little more than adequate.

The worst game ever made? Not by a long shot. But it isn’t going to be on anyone’s All-Time Top 200 lists either.


Garfield Kart is available on Steam, iOS, Android and 3DS. You can buy a digital code for the Steam version on Amazon UK.

Part three of Kartology will be up in the next week or two.

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