I’ve often thought it strange how similar products hit the shelves are the same time. The same is true of movies, with themes emerging from cinema listings with surprising frequency. How did Ant Z and Bugs Life hit screens at the same time for instance?

This Christmas is shaping up to be the yuletide of the Kart Racer. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that Mario will soon be revving onto the Wii U that his competition want to get a boost start. Along with Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed comes LittleBigPlanet Karting and, the game I’m looking at today, F1 Race Stars from Codemasters.

After reading Dave Banks’ excellent review of F1 Race Stars I wanted to put the game to the test with a Formula 1 loving family. Happily, as you can see above, one of our regulars on FamilyGamerTV fitted the bill perfectly having not only followed F1 but been to a number of Grand Prix race days.

Interestingly it was the look of the game that stood out first. The recreation of the different F1 racers and teams was an essential part of what made F1 Race Stars appealing to them. They took great delight in choosing their favorite racing drivers as well as re-enacting team rivalries on the track — and also happily commented on the inclusion of some girl racers even if they did wear mostly pink. Watching the family race felt more like role playing than racing.

Beyond its look and feel, the game also handles differently from other Kart Racers. Coming from the same developer as hardcore F1 2012 racing games it’s no surprise that the focus is nudged towards driving as opposed to power-ups. The power-ups are there but to really win you need to brush apexes and slip-stream your opponents.

You see this mostly in the fact that there is no drift mechanic, an essential feature of pretty much every other Kart racer. This means that you have to brake coming into corners — again unheard of in videogame Karting — if you want to be able to exit speedily. To help you achieve this there are corner directions like you get on Dirt (another Codemasters game).

F1 Race StarsF1 Race Stars

F1 Race Stars

The son of our test family had some good points, and surprised us all by preferring F1 Race Stars to his beloved Mario Kart. Firstly he liked how the vehicles all look like real F1 cars. More interestingly it was the fact that most of the circuits and drivers were unlocked from the beginning that won him over. This is a good point as families often don’t have the time to unlock characters and courses before playing together.

It was also interesting to see their young daughter was able to keep up with the other family members. Although sometimes controversial, the game seemed to balance helping slower players and letting better drivers get ahead. This means that all abilities and age groups have a real chance of competing — and potentially winning, as we discovered on the day.

This is a similar approach to Karting that Blur took. It combined real world car physics with a four player racing mechanic that worked extremely well. Due to peculiarities of its release timing and marketing Blur never found the audience it deserved. F1 Race Stars has a great chance to fill that serious Kart racer gap.

While I’m still quite taken by the cuteness of LittleBigPlanet Karting and the five player Wii U mode of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed there’s something very special about the care and attention to detail of F1 Race Stars. So far it’s getting the lion share of the weekend race time in my house.

F1 Race Stars is available on 360 or PS3 on Amazon from $39.99.

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