Okay, so here’s how I ended up writing about this one – one of the characters in the last game I wrote about, Cocoto Kart Racer, was a big ape called Bo-Bong. Naturally, this reminded me of Donkey Kong, so I thought maybe I’d write about Donkey Kong Country… but everyone and their dog knows about Donkey Kong Country already, so I looked around the “gorillas wearing neckties” milieu until I happened across this. From our old friends Hummer Team, it’s the extremely bootleg 1997 NES adventure Donkey Kong Country 4!

It’s a bit cheeky of Hummer Team to call this Donkey Kong Country 4, in what I assume is a shallow attempt to make people think they’d be getting a brand new Donkey Kong adventure. It’s actually a trimmed-up, slimmed-down version of the original SNES Donkey Kong Country, and a better title for it would be something like Donkey Kong Country 0.6. But, Donkey and Diddy Kong are finally here, performing for you – and by “you” I mean “owners of NES or Famicom consoles who aren’t afraid to shop outside the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality.”

DKC4 even makes an effort to recreate the original game’s intro, with Cranky Kong enjoying some tunes on his gramophone until Donkey Kong drops down, kicks his elder aside and starts boogieing down with his boombox. No respect, these youthful apes. It’s an encouraging start to the game, because it’s immediately recognisable as the intro to Donkey Kong Country, and aside from some sprite flicker it’s well animated. Could DKC4 contain a faint glimmer of competence or even – whisper it softly – quality? We shall see.

Here we are at Kong Skull Island, so called because it’s shaped like Donkey Kong’s skull. Each slightly larger dot on the map is a “world” of sorts, containing a few levels and a boss fight at the end – so just like the original DKC, only more compressed. That’s going to be a common theme throughout this game.

The Konging begins, and the action on offer is most definitely of the Donkey Kong Country variety. I’m sure there are other videogames where gorillas jump on the heads of humanoid crocodiles, but Donkey Kong Country is the epitome of the form. The gameplay works exactly as you’d expect (especially if you’ve played the SNES original): there’s one button to jump and another to roll / run / pick up barrels, and using these skills you must travel from one end of the stage to the other, bouncing on the heads of your enemies to defeat them and collecting bananas, extra lives and the floating golden letters that spell out K-O-N-G.  Once he’s picked up all the golden letters, Donkey Kong can make himself an extravagant, vainglorious necklace to replace his tie. No, not really. Kong’s too modest for that. You actually get an extra life, although the give gives you twenty-five lives right at the start so I wouldn’t worry too much about collecting every single KONG icon.

Diddy Kong is also here. I’m sorry, I just can’t work up much enthusiasm for Diddy Kong. He’s simply not as good as Donkey Kong. Feel free to send me your hate mail, hardcore Diddy Kong fans. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Diddy Kong must seem like kind of a weird name to non-British people, because “diddy” is a British word that means “small” and I don’t think it’s a word that gets much use overseas. I suppose the US equivalent would be Lil’ Kong.
Anyway, unlike in the original game you can only have one Kong on screen at a time, presumably due to the sprite limitations of the NES, and you can’t switch between them whenever you like. That doesn’t matter so much, because in DKC4, both Kongs are essentially identical. They both move at the same speed and Donkey Kong’s floor-slapping special move has been excised, so their sprites are the only difference. Instead of being able to freely switch Kongs, what happens is that you change to the other Kong if you get hit, assuming you’ve placed a Kong in reserve by opening a DK barrel. It’s a decent compromise, although the problem then is that the game doesn’t tell you if you have a spare Kong, which can affect your decision making when weighing up how carefully to approach certain sections of the game.

While the graphics are mostly impressive, especially the well-animated sprites of the Kongs, all of the “jungle” stages have the same black-and-brown backgrounds, giving proceedings a surprisingly sombre tone. There’s definitely something slightly unnerving about playing Donkey Kong Country against a dismal background of impenetrable shadows.

Ah, that’s better, a well-lit swimming stage is next. I was wary about the underwater levels, because they’re rarely fun in any videogame and doubly so in unlicensed pirate rip-offs, but I’m happy to report that DKC4 does a decent job of recreating the original game’s swimming controls. The Kongs feel a bit too buoyant, perhaps, but other than that it’s manageable. The swimming stages are still probably the weakest part of the game, but they’re not so hateful they’ll make you want to move to the Gobi desert so you’ll never have to see water again or anything like that.
The real problem with the water stages is that there’s no swordfish to ride. In fact, all of the ridable animal companions from the original game have been removed, presumably due to space constraints, but it’s the swordfish that I’m missing the most. I don’t think I’ve ever done the underwater levels in the original game without riding that swordfish, and I’m sorely missing the ability to ram sharks out of the way using its pointed nose.

A quick aside about the soundtrack: DKC4 does use the music from the original game… sort of. You can tell what each track is supposed to be, although the quality of their translation from SNES to NES varies quite a lot, from “reasonably good” to “pretty terrible.” The underwater sadly falls on the “terrible” end of the spectrum, which is a shame because “Aquatic Ambience” (the underwater track from the original game) is widely regarded as one of the best on the soundtrack and one of the best tracks on the SNES as a whole. In DKC4, though, it’s missing a bunch of notes and doesn’t sound right at all, as though Hummer Team got halfway through converting it to the NES and suddenly thought “you know what? That’ll do.” Tangentially related: Aquatic Ambience has always reminded me of the intro to “Wow” by Kate Bush. Check it out, although I’m fully prepared to admit I might just be hearing things. The other day I was humming one of the themes from Earth Defence Force and my friend thought I was humming “These Are a Few of My Favourite Things,” which just goes to show you what kind of an ear for a tune I have.

Most of the stages in DKC4 can be categorized into a few different themes. We’ve already seen the jungle and underwater types, and here’s another – the “walkways suspended over bottomless pits” kind. Don’t fall down the holes, watch out for the oil drums that continually spawn enemies because they’re the most dangerous things in the entire game. They don’t give you any warning, that’s the problem. At least the jumping part is simple enough, because I can happily report that DKC4’s jumping and general movement controls are rather good. There’s a slight issue in that your Kong will usually take an extra pace left or right when moving horizontally even once you’ve stopped pressing the D-pad, but it’s manageable because it is at least consistent. The jumping’s fine, though, and what’s more the physics of it actually feel a lot like they did in the original game, an impressive thing to get right given the slightly ephemeral concept of “how jumps feel.”

Something that’s not so good is DKC4’s lack of secrets. The original game was absolutely packed with hidden bonus rooms and items tucked away in hard-to-reach corners, but there’s none of that in this game. That makes it all the more aggravating when you come across bananas arranged in an arrow, like in the screenshot above. They’d be pointing to a secret in the original game; here they just directed me to repeated deaths as I tried to figure out if there was anything under the platform (there was not).

Now it’s time for the first boss fight, against a giant beaver called Very Gnawty. Ha ha, oh Rare, you cards. Anyway, the beaver hops the screen and you have to bounce on its head a few times to defeat it. It is not the most interesting boss fight. Still, we can’t blame Hummer Team for that, they’ve given us a very accurate recreation of the boss fight from the original game. It just wasn’t very interesting then, either.

After that, it’s back to the map screen and on to another set of stages. This one has the industrial theme that doesn’t appear until much later in the original game. It’s still the same platforming-hopping action, mind you, it just takes place in what appears to be an extremely poorly-designed brewery. There are a lot of pipes and barrels, it must be a brewery.

Thus DKC4 continues, reusing the same few level backdrops as the setting for the Kongs’ platforming antics. We’re back in the jungle for this one, and the DK series’ trademark cannon-barrels make an appearance. You jump into them, and they either fire you out or you press a button to make them fire you out. Given that all these explosive barrels are located in the jungles Donkey Kong calls home, I can only assume that’s where he got the idea to throw them at Super Mario.
The barrels work well and are just as enjoyable / occasionally frustrating to use as they were in the original game, so it’s a shame that they’re the only gameplay element that differs from the generic run-n-jump action. All of the original game’s more outlandish sections – the minecart rides, being chased by enormous stone wheels, the stop-n-go traffic lights – are absent from DKC4. Whether that’s because Hummer Team couldn’t get them working within the constraints of an NES game or they simply didn’t care enough about their copyright-infringing bootleg game to recreate them, I don’t know. None of the stages are direct copies of stages in the SNES version, but are more sort of “assembled” from DKC parts, in a sort of Donkey Kong Maker situation. As a result, all the non-boss stages are either “pure” platforming or swimming, and they can tend to get a little samey.

The underground caves are another type of stage. In this case, the caves are full of bees. Or wasps, I guess. For some reason, even though you can pick up barrels and use them to defeat other enemies, the wasps are immune to getting a barrel thrown in their face. This is both a blessing and a curse, because the “bzzz!” noise they make when you kill them in the original game is a really wonderful sound effect and I miss hearing it, but it’s probably from the best that I didn’t get to hear Hummer Team’s attempt at recreating that sound effect.

The second boss is Master Necky, a large vulture that attacks by vomiting coconuts at the player and then stripping the flesh from their bones once they’re dead. I assume. I mean, he’s a vulture, it’d be weird if he didn’t feed on your still-warm entrails. Use the tyre conveniently embedded in the ground to spring up and land on Necky’s head a few times to win the day. I’m assuming that the majority of people reading this will have already done so in the original Donkey Kong Country, and if you’ve done it there you can do it here because I think it’s a bit easier thanks to the coconuts’ path being more predictable.

From here on out DKC4 doesn’t add much to the formula it’s already established. The next two bosses are Gnawty (again) and Necky (again) and the stages don’t include any exciting new gameplay features, which is a bit disappointing because having a good variety of challenges without straying too far from its platforming remit was one of the original Donkey Kong Country’s greatest strengths. There is the occasional new feature, though – in this stage, there are moving platforms. I know, I know, try not to let your raging excitement get the better of you. You know how earlier I said the Kongs will keep moving when you let go of the d-pad, making small positional adjustments far more difficult to pull off than they ought to be? Yeah, the moving platforms are not an especially fun addition. The bouncy tyres are much better, fulfilling their role as springboards for higher jumps well without being overly finicky as the springboards were in, say, Gremlins 2 for the Gameboy.

As nothing much really really changes from here on out, I’m not going to give you a run-down of all the game’s (surprisingly numerous) stages, I’ll just point out a couple of things. Things like the introduction of the Klaptrap enemies. They have not fared well during the SNES-to-NES conversion, having changed from vicious little crocodiles to boggle-eyed brown lumps of teeth with disturbingly humanoid body shapes. That could stand as a rather apt metaphor for most bootleg conversions of existing game, although in DKC4’s case it wouldn’t hold up because it’s actually quite good. Not just good for a knock-off, either, but an actual half-decent – maybe even more than half-decent – attempt at an NES platformer. I’ve certainly played a bunch of legitimate, signed-off-on-by-Nintendo NES platformers that were far worse than DKC4.

It has its flaws, to be sure. The stages can get repetitive, horizontal movement is sometimes slippery and the hit detection on larger obstacles like the bees or the spinning spiked wheels is far less generous than the size and shape of their sprites would suggest. However, underneath those issues is an otherwise solid game that never feels broken or glitchy, with stages that might not rise to the heights of level design found in the genre’s true classics but which offer some fast-paced, uncomplicated jumping fun with a good sense of flow.

The graphics are rather good too, especially the animations on the sprites, although the backgrounds are a little monotonous in their darkness and sometimes Hummer Team got a bit over-ambitious with the amount of sprites on screen at once, leading to areas like this gauntlet of spinning tyres that have a bit of slowdown and a lot of sprite flicker – enough flicker to make the game more difficult, in fact. On the whole, though, I’d definitely say DKC4 is an above-average-looking game.

Oh look, it’s a new boss! New in the sense that he hasn’t appeared in this game already, he was definitely in the original game. Its name is Dumb Drum, and it’s out to get revenge for the years of abuse suffered by his oil drum brothers and sisters at the hands of all those beat-em-up protagonists. The boss tries to slam down on the Kongs’ head, and after a while it’ll retreat to the sky and drop a couple of regular enemies into the battle. Defeat the small enemies and Dumb Drum will revert to trying to smash the Kongs into paste, until the repeated impacts with the floor cause it to explode. Thus, Donkey Kong wins by default, having done nothing more than get out of the way and jump on the occasional lizardman. There’s a lesson in there about not being consumed by your own anger, Dumb Drum.

Straight after that fight, you’re thrown into the game’s final battle: it’s the Kongs versus the banana-plundering pirate King K. Rool. You won’t be surprised to learn that the fight plays out exactly as it does in the SNES version of the game: K. Rool throws his crown (which somehow incorporates boomerang technology) at you, you jump on his exposed head and then dodge either K. Rool's charges or the cannonballs that fall from the sky until he throws his crown again. It’s a battle of patience between crocodile and ape! A titanic tussle for the ages! It’s… actually a bit boring! Maybe I’d be more inclined to enjoy it if I hadn’t already done it several times as a kid while playing the original DKC, but then again I remember not enjoying much back then, either. At least he doesn’t pretend to be dead and run some fake credits halfway through the fight, like he does in the original game.

Once King K. Rool has been sufficiently stomped, the game is over and you can claim your reward: a brief and extremely dull set of credits before the game locks up and you have to reset your NES. Now that’s the kind of lazy, zero-effort crap I expect from a bootleg NES game! If you wanted an ending, you should have bought the proper version of the game, you cheapskate.

But wait, there’s more! Some versions of DKC4 came on a multicart, bundled with another game called The Jungle Book 2. I’m sure that’ll be a clone version of the one of the legitimate Jungle Book games, right?

Well, you know what they say about assuming. It turns out that The Jungle Book 2 is just Donkey Kong Country 4 except Donkey Kong has been replaced by Mowgli. And Diddy Kong has been replaced by, uh, Mowgli. And the levels run in a different order. What a bizarre thing to expend even the slightest amount of time and effort on creating. Did Hummer Team think there was a voracious Jungle Book fanbase out there, desperate for any new product with Mowgli in it, and they just had to get a piece of the action? Whatever the case, if it is your greatest desire to see Mowgli throw a barrel at a crocodile, The Jungle Book 2 has you covered.

So that’s Donkey Kong Country 4, a surprisingly good attempt to cram one of the most beloved SNES action games into an NES cartridge. In a way it’s nice to have played something that, although flawed, was far better than I expected, but I must confess to being slightly disappointed. Whenever I play a bootleg videogame, I’m always hoping that there’ll be something utterly baffling or completely ridiculous contained within, and apart from sometimes coming attached with Donkey Kong Country Starring Mowgli, there isn’t much of that going on in DKC4. It is an interesting curio, at least, and although I couldn’t recommend you play it over the SNES original those of you who love NES platformers will probably get a kick out of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to "Barbie Girl" a hundred times, because I’ve had the DK Rap stuck in my head ever since I started playing this game and I will do anything, anything, to dislodge it.



Having looked at the site’s recent stats, it seems that if I want to drive traffic to VGJunk I should write about more games that A) people have actually heard of or B) star raunchy Italian pop stars. With that in mind, here’s an article about an obscure racing game that’s about as raunchy as a Susan Boyle concert at the Vatican. It’s Neko Entertainment’s 2005 Gamecube version of Cocoto Kart Racer!

As the title screen appears and the game blasts out some jolly, bouncy horn riffs, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Mario Kart: Double Dash, which also begins with a static title screen and jolly, bouncy horn riffs. Of course this is going to remind you of Mario Kart, it’s a kart racing game. There aren’t many kart racing games that won’t remind you of Mario Kart, such is the indelible stamp Nintendo left on the racing genre with the Mario Kart series. In the case of Cocoto Kart Racer, however, the similarities might be even more pronounced than usual.

After picking your game mode from the usual list of suspects - championship, single race and multiplayer – it’s time to select your character. Characters are pretty damn important in a kart racing game, and the decision to put their famous faces in go-karts rather than enclosed vehicles like cars when they created the Mario Kart series was a true stroke of genius on Nintendo’s part. That’s why so many other franchises with casts of recognisable stars – Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, Nicktoons and so on – have seen kart racing spin-offs, because you can have a racing game while still showing off your bankable stars.

Cocoto Kart Racer does not have any bankable stars, of course. They were all created by the game’s developers in a charmingly doomed attempt to forge some kind of Cocoto universe, and they appeared in a few other games besides this one: a platformer, a lightgun shooter and even a fishing game. Sadly for them, Neko Entertainment’s vision of a vast, genre-spanning Cocoto franchise never really got off the ground, but are any of these characters worth remembering? Probably not. They’re a strange, rag-tag mix of animals, imps and gremlins, all of them designed with a bug-eyed, mildly grotesque art style that absolutely screams “European CGI kid’s TV show.” Seriously, the first time I saw these character I was convinced they’d started out as a low-rent CGI kids show, the kind of thing you’d see on Kix sandwiched between Lego: NEXO Knights and the Angry Birds cartoon. Maybe that was Neko Entertainment’s plan for them all along, but alas, it never came to be and so we’re stuck with this game.
Of the characters available at the beginning of the game my favourite was probably Scritch, who appears to be some kind of skinless zombie beaver that’s been squeezed so hard its eyeballs are bulging out. There’s also a mole, a “brainy” gremlin thing, a gecko and green imp called “Baggy.” I really don’t want to know how Baggy got that nickname.

As his name’s in the game’s title, I figured I should start out by playing as Cocoto himself. He’s definitely the Mario of the game, in that he’s an average all-rounder, although you can select different cars so if you really love the thought of playing as Cocoto but want a faster car with less grip then you can have that too. Cocoto is also a devil, presumably spawned in the sulphurous pits of Hell and dedicated to the spiritual corruption of mankind.

Here he is on the loading screen, wistfully dreaming about human suffering. Let’s hope his eponymous kart racing game isn’t his attempt to darken the souls of all those who play it. Also, Cocoto’s weird hand-feet are creeping me out. He’s evolved opposable toes so he can hold two extra pitchforks when he’s on sinner-poking duty.

Okay, here we are with some actual racing, on the enigmatically-named “Glaboon Track.” I have no clue what the heck a glaboon is – perhaps some crystalline outer region of Cocoto’s demonic homeland? Whatever it is, that’s where we’re racing, and a very familiar sort of racing it is too. The kart racing sort, naturally, with the obvious accelerating and braking to be done, as well as buttons for making your kart hop into the air and for powersliding around corners. There’s no fancy “blue sparks” style tricks to be done with the powersliding, not as far as I could figure out, but it does help you get around corners.

Then there are the weapons. As usual in this kind of game, you collect power ups by driving into icons that litter the track, and they’re very much the kind of special attacks you’d expect. Speed boosters are common, as are projectiles that either travel in a straight line or home in on your nearest competitor. In this instance, Cocoto has surrounded himself with the warm, protective embrace of spinning lava balls. And yes, because comparing Cocoto Kart Racer to Mario Kart is absolutely unavoidable. they’re all the sort of thing you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever played a Mario Kart game. A little too familiar in the case of the lightning power-up, which electrocutes all the other racers just as it does in a Mario Kart game.

Yes, there are a lot of power-ups in this game. A few too many, even, with special attacks that are either identical to other special attacks or have differences so subtle I couldn’t figure them out after several hours of play. For example, one of the “fire straight ahead” projectiles is a demon-appropriate red trident, but you can also pick up orbs that do the same thing. Or there’s the “trap” items that you drop behind your kart, one of which freezes your opponents in a block of ice to slow them down and another that coats your opponent in a gooey blob to, erm, slow them down. Very few of them are visually interesting enough to warrant inclusion and the sheer number of them means it can be difficult to remember, in the heat of a race, which item has what effect. I came for a race, not a test of my memorisation skills. At least those icy crystal pillars look nice.

After a dodgy first lap spent trying to get to grips with the controls and exactly how the drifting works, I managed to haul myself back up to third place by the end of the race. That sounds more impressive than it is, because there are only six racers on the track. Still, after this first race I feel like I’ve got a handle on the physics of the game, helped by the fact that it feels very similar to, you guessed it, a Mario Kart game. I’m only playing through the first championship (the “Silver Pot”) on normal difficulty, so I’m confident I can make my way to the top of the leaderboards.

Next up is the Cerber Track, a rocky, volcanic course that spices things up by adding a lot of jumps into the track. You can see a ramp in the background there, it’s the glowing yellow thing. There’s not much else to say about the ramps. They’re just ramps. However, sometimes they have rings floating above them, and if you jump through the rings you get an extra speed boost – but often they’re a little too high for the ramp itself to reach. This is where your ability to make your kart jump by pressing L comes into play, because you can use it for the little extra height needed to hit the rings. In fact, I think this is the only use of the jump, because I tried hopping over obstacles and the other player’s traps and it didn’t work. You can easily get through the game without ever pressing the jump button, which probably explain why I completely forgot it existed until I was in my third championship.

Oh hey, looks like we’ve solved the mystery of why this is called the Cerber Track. There’s an enormous, three-headed, fire-breathing devil dog in the middle of the stage, which is pretty cool. You drive towards him down a long straight while Cerberus launches massive fireballs at you, which is a fun bit of gameplay and definitely the stand-out section of this track, even if it does feel very familiar. I’m sure some other kart racing game had you driving directly toward a big fiery projectile launcher while swerving around its attacks, but I can’t quite recall which game that was.

This is the Venusia Track, a jungle-themed raceway that momentarily stopped me comparing Cocoto Kart Racer to Mario Kart by making me think of Crash Team Racing instead. That’s kind of weird, actually, I’ve probably played about forty minutes of Crash Team Racing in total and that was a long time ago, so I’m surprised I remember it at all. I think maybe it’s that I’m remembering the Crash Bandicoot games as a whole, because the Venusia Track shares a very similar aesthetic of tropical plants and vaguely “native” stonework. I’m sure the Crash Bandicoot games were much more visually varied than that but again, I didn’t play much of Crash Bandicoot either. I never really took to Crash, I’ll be honest, and neither did anyone else I knew growing up, so it’s always a surprise to me when there’s some Crash Bandicoot news and lots of people get very excited. Maybe I’ll go back and play Crash Bandicoot again one day to see whether I’m missing out. Let me know in the comments if this is a spectacularly bad idea and the original Crash Bandicoot has aged about as well as a the comedy stylings of Jim Davidson.

Oh right, yeah. This game. Got distracted by Crash Bandicoot for a second there, folks. Anyway, Venusia is a decent track with a little variety to it, with sections such as this large ice field where you can take the less-slippery but more time-consuming outer path or drive straight through the middle to save time at the risk of skidding into the ice-skating turtles that clutter the centre of the area. I like the cobwebs that dangle from the branches overhanging the track, too: if you drive through them they stick to your kart and slow you down for a moment, and it feels like a fun, organic way to introduce a different kind of obstacle into the action – one that doesn’t just make you spin out, but has a slightly different effect on your chances of winning the race. Plus, if you’re lucky you can nudge your opponents into them, which is helpful because the other racers seem a lot worse at avoiding spiderwebs than they are at swerving around all your carefully-laid trap items.

Overall I’d say that Venusia is probably my favourite track in the set of five that make up the first championship. It’s fast-paced, it’s got a few interesting hazards and the visuals changing from jungle ruins to ice areas and back again is fun. That said, this might be a case of damning with faint praise, because Venusia Track isn’t that interesting and on the whole the tracks in Cocoto Kart Racer fall slightly on the dull side. They’re never bad, and they mostly have a decent sense of flow to them, but they’re rather lacking in the shortcuts, optional routes or exciting gauntlets you’ve come to expect from a kart racing game. The big Cerberus is the exception rather than the rule, let's put it that way.

There are also a couple of places in each track where it’s a little too easy to get stuck amongst the scenery, as you can see. It’s not game-breaking or anything, but it can be a little annoying when Cocoto suddenly decides to dedicate his life to the extremely close study of these archaeologically important ruins.

There’s more jungle action in the Bo-Bong Track, a merry jaunt through the twisting treetops, a race spent powersliding around the mighty trunks and half-expecting to run over an Ewok. It’s a real step up in difficulty after the other tracks, with lots of hairpin bends that require a certain amount of planning to get around without embarrassingly wedging your kart bonnet-first into the apex as the other racers easily glide past you.

Oh, here’s something else I suppose I should mention: you can collect golden apples as you race, up to a total of nine. You just drive over them, it’s not like you have to trick Atlas into fetching them for you or anything. Look, I spent a lot of time reading about Greek mythology as a kid and I’m not going to miss a chance to make a “golden apples” reference, okay? Anyway, the effect is subtle but I think that for each apple you have (up to total of nine,) your top speed is slightly increased. This would mean the apples work in the same way as the coins from Mario Kart, and as the odds of a gameplay mechanic in this game not being lifted from Mario Kart are slim to none then I’d say that is definitely how the apples work.

The final course of the championship takes place on the Zaron Track, a sort of celestial highway amongst the clouds and Cocoto Kart Racer’s equivalent of Rainbow Road. If you look at the track map, you can see Cocoto is about to enter a series of extremely sharp hairpin turns, which is a shame because it’s probably the worst bit of all the tracks. I understand what they were going for, but the bends are so awkward to negotiate they they slow the action down to a crawl – except the CPU players have no trouble blasting through this section at maximum speed, especially if you’re in the lead and they’re rubberbanding their way back towards you. It might just be the way I play racing games, but it did feel like the course layouts in this game meant that karts with lower top speed but better control and grip had a distinct advantage over faster, more slippery vehicles.

I do really like these angels, though. They fly around trying to spread the light and grace of the Lord by dropping anvils on people’s heads. I say people, all these racers are grotty little weirdos, and frankly if there’s a demonic imp driving a hotrod through Heaven then verily it is the angels’ sacred duty to crush the interloper using the methods by which the Roadrunner would smiteth Wile E. Coyote.

Here’s a hateful little thing about this game: every time you overtake (or are overtaken by) another character, they say “hello!” in an extremely irritating, high-pitched, digitally-manipulated voice. It is extremely grating, especially in situations like the one above where all the racers are crammed together and it ends up sounding like singles night at a packed Minion bar.

Well, I did it: despite winning only two of the five races, I topped the championship leaderboard and took home the trophy. That’s really all you get by way of celebration, the image of a spinning trophy that I don’t really feel like I earned.  It’s a little disappointing, sure, but I suppose I wasn’t expecting a big production or anything. Winning the championship also meant I unlocked both the next championship and a brand new racer.

Well, I guess that answers the “what’s a Glaboon?” question.

So, after spending a decent amount of time with Cocoto Kart Racer, I have come to some conclusions about it, the main one being that it’s actually pretty good. Well, the core mechanics, the racing itself, that’s good. It controls well, there’s a decent sense of speed, your CPU competitors have some rubberbanding but it rarely feels totally unfair. It’s a solid, uncomplicated kart racer that provides racing action that is more enjoyable to play than you might expect at first glance. Is it is much fun as a Mario Kart game? No, of course not, but then it wouldn’t be. What kind of budget do you think Cocoto Kart Racer was made with? Ten percent of a Mario Kart game’s? Five percent? Neko Entertainment must be commended for creating a game that, mechanically at least, doesn’t feel cheap. This is particularly astonishing given that Neko Entertainment’s most famous game is probably Crazy Frog Racer.

However, Cocoto Kart Racer has one huge problem: blandness. A lot of it just isn’t very interesting. Most of the playable characters are dull and lack any personality whatsoever, the track layouts are competent but rarely rise above that very low benchmark, the graphics are merely passable and the soundtrack is so forgettable it may as well not exist. Then there’s the big kicker: as far as I can tell there are only five types of track. When you get to the second championship, rather than a whole new set of courses to race on you get another Glaboon Track, another Cerber Track and so on, except they’ve been expanded or modified in a manner similar to Ridge Racer. I’d say on average half of each track is a new layout while the other half is the exact same circuit you raced on in the previous cup, and this lack of variety severely curtails the impetus to keep playing in the hope you’ll see something new. Maybe this changes in the final cup but I highly doubt it, and it looks like I’ll never find out: despite winning the second championship twice, the final set of tracks didn’t unlock.

Oh well, I got a lady squid out of it. In a game packed with uninteresting characters, a posh squid dripping with jewellery is definitely the cream of the crop.

Perhaps you could extract more enjoyment from Cocoto Kart Racer via the multiplayer modes. I wouldn’t know, not having any friends nearby while I toil away at these articles during the wee hours, but it does include multiplayer races and the ever-popular battle mode, perfect for starting vicious arguments over the clearly biased nature of the “random” power-ups, why do you keep getting the homing piranhas, this is bullshit!

If you do want to give Cocoto Kart Racer a go, you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to platforms. It was released on the Wii, the PS2 and on Windows, as well as there being reworked versions on the handhelds of the time. Pictured above is the Game Boy Advance version. I had a quick go at it, but it’s not nearly as good as the console versions. To sneak in one last Mario Kart comparison, the console versions of Cocoto Kart Racer are much closer in quality to a console Mario Kart game than the Game Boy Advance version is to Mario Kart Super Circuit. On the plus side, I found a code for the GBA version that let me play as a large ape called Bo-Bong. When compared to the other characters, I think he might be bigger, faster and stronger too.

Like sticking a turbocharged engine inside a Skoda Octavia, Cocoto Kart Racer is respectable under the hood but boring to the point of embarrassment on the outside. Okay, that might be a bit harsh: I’m just disappointed it didn’t go all the way with the horror theme promised by the main character being a devil. You can definitely have fun playing this game, which is more than can be said for many games I write about, but it’s the empty, unsatisfying fun of playing I Spy on a long coach trip. A noble effort doomed to failure by a lack of budget and (possibly) ambition, hampered by the existence of other, more exciting competitors, then. Maybe one day I’ll try the other games in the Cocoto series, although playing the fishing one as the squid lady might raise some uncomfortable ethical questions.

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