F1 Race Stars Preview (Xbox360)

Remember when karting games were dead? It seems a long time ago now, but Mario Kart enjoyed default victory in a racing genre that vanished without a trace. 2012 looks to change that. We've got LittleBigPlanet Karting, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars, and a surprise entry from Codemasters.

F1 Race Stars isn't a title many saw coming. Its mix of F1 licences and heart-warming visuals goes against everything Codemasters has tried to produce in the main series. You don't need to worry about taking corners precisely or receiving a penalty for causing yet another pile-up. Vigorous training sessions aren't needed to produce the goods. This is pick up and play fun at its best.

Can you guess which country this track is from?

The preview build I played is interesting for a number of reasons. F1 Race Stars has the ability to overcome age-barriers, and will appeal to all types of players. Inspiration is never hidden; this game loves Mario Kart's style and wants to introduce Nintendo's formula to a new audience.

Karts boost off the line with a well-timed button press, easily drift round corners, and all drivers have minor catchphrases. Caricatures are charismatic and undeniably cute, backed up by some hilarious accents. Even though he is Spanish, Fernando Alonso has obviously been outlined as the Mario clone. His quips are short and snappy, falling just shy of saying, 'It'sa me, Fernando!' Such inclusions don't feel particularly outrageous. The team isn't afraid to celebrate its influences as well as its relationship with the motor racing world.

Just like the drivers, tracks are full of personality. Carnivals overwhelm the route of Brazil, USA is full of sweeping canyons and Monaco tightens the road for a difficult drive. Most disregard the layout of real-world tracks, but you'll often witness subtle nods to the proper thing.

From what I've played, each race is fairly straightforward. Driving skills are emphasised as often as power-ups, meaning you can't rely on a Blue Shell to get you out of trouble. Talented racers will bide their time and prosper from daring manoeuvres. Powers are generously littered across the track, allowing you to launch missiles and take advantage of standard boosts.

Most interestingly, a couple of boosts are linked to the finer points of F1. You can call in bad weather to stricken the progress of opponents, or gain a power serge through DRS. Safety cars will force the pack together by slowing leaders down. Your car can take damage and must pit to restore its effectiveness. This doesn't take long, but will provide your rivals with the chance to gain on your position. Ill-timed stops can be combated by driving over powergrids that charge your KERS battery. Once you've reached the end of a specific zone, expect to fling forward with a serge of speed.

Forget the Red Arrows, it's the blue arrows that make you go faster here

This creativity is rather refreshing. I've only played a handful of tracks, but I can't wait to try the finished product. Much like Mario Kart, this title will excel when a community of players lovingly takes it into their hearts. The same could be said for families. I wouldn't be surprised if this became the cult Christmas hit of the year, bringing children and adults together with its far-reaching attractiveness.

It's great to see karting games are being taken seriously again. The battle for supremacy is just beginning. While it's unlikely any of this year's releases will topple Mario Kart, the competition is more than welcome. Will the toolbox of LBP Karting outshine the glorious happiness of F1 Race Stars? We'll find out soon.

Most Anticipated Feature: Playing with friends, online and off.

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