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Tuesday, June 4, 2024

‘Nightmare Kart’ Transcends Its Fan Game Origins With Clever Twist on Kart Racing [Review]

It all began as an April Fool’s Day joke. After successfully releasing Bloodborne PSX, an ingenious demake of the PS4 classic, Lilith Walther aka PSX Bunlith released a trailer for Bloodborne Kart, moving the grim characters of the FromSoft classic to the world of kart racing. A few months later, she announced that she had plans to make and release Bloodborne Kart and began production on the new fan game. It was scheduled to release earlier this year, but she ended up rebranding it as Nightmare Kart after Sony contacted her.

No longer a fan game, the game takes the same PS1-inspired visual style as the Bloodborne demake and throws an original cast of gothic characters into a racing tournament through the streets of a Victorian era city.

It’s exciting to see this combination because not only is Bloodborne one of my all-time favorite games, but so are Mario Kart and Twisted Metal, games that Nightmare Kart clearly takes inspiration from. Twisted Metal was the reason I ended up getting an original PlayStation, and Mario Kart 64 was one of my most frequently played multiplayer games, so it’s exciting to see my favorite flavors all mashed up together.

The gameplay itself is your standard kart racer: arcadey driving with a focus on drifting, boost pads all over the course, weapons that can be picked up and used to slow down and damage your opponents. It’s all there, and it feels surprisingly refined considering Walther’s previous game was a Soulslike. There’s a few clever little wrinkles to the formula that make it feel a little more fresh as well. Drifting and tricks will allow you to build up aether, which can be used for a temporary speed boost, giving you a little more incentive to hit jumps and find the optimal ways to take corners. Beasts also roam the tracks, and killing them will build up your top speed, which can be make or break in some races.

Weapons in this game are not green shells or banana peels, but instead more thematically appropriate items like a lever action shotgun or a molotov cocktail, and they definitely feel distinct from Mario Kart weapons. Several of them have a bit of a lock on element, which takes out some of the finicky nature of aiming in a car combat game, while paying tribute to the FromSoft inspiration.

As much as I liked the look in Bloodborne PSX, the swimmy textures and low poly models can be a bit harder to read in a fast-paced genre like racing, especially when many of the maps are fairly dark. It’s still a striking art style, especially the way they’ve reimagined many of the characters as a combination of sinister menace mixed with a little bit of the playful whimsy, although sometimes the art style makes things challenging to read in a way that may be true to the stylistic roots, but harder to parse compared to modern games. It’s awesome to see how many different “kart” types were added, from the huge nightmare pigs to a surgery table on wheels to just running on foot like everyone’s favorite Bloodborne boss, Micolash. It’s wild to be driving around in a steampunk motorcycle that’s chasing down a gothic baby crib, but it all works in context.

There’s a campaign mode that takes you through various match types, of which there are a surprising amount for a free project like this. You’ve got standard race, which plays out in the same way as many kart racers as you race through a chaotic mix of drifting through quick turns and blasting your opponents, a “bloodbath” where two teams are dropped in an arena and duke it out for the most kills, a capture the flag-like mode where you’re scrambling to claim “insight,” and a self-explanatory last man standing. My favorite were the bloodbaths, as the arenas did a great job of providing a Twisted Metal-like level of frenetic car combat. The insight capturing game fell a bit flat for me, as it felt a little less strategic than I thought it would, but maybe that would change against live players instead of the AI.

The races, which are the majority of the campaign mode, feel great to drive around in, as most of the courses are well designed, but I felt like there were some issues with the balancing of the AI. There were some races that I completely blew past with no issue, while others that I had to fight tooth and nail to get through, only winning based on the random luck of a good weapon pickup. In the harder stages, it felt like it was way more likely for me to lose a race to bad luck than it would for me to mount a come from behind victory, which felt bad a lot of the time. Kart racers are often known for being very swingy with their AI in a way that keeps the player from getting too comfortable, but it felt like the tuning on this could have used a little more time. I also ran into some issues where the AI racers got stuck in collision or fell out of the world, which lead to some frustration.

One thing that surprised me during the campaign was the addition of a few extremely varied boss fights that alternated between clever twists on a race and one-on-one arena fights. Much like their inspiration’s boss fights, they can be pretty challenging, though they were more frantic and less strategic than FromSoft’s fights tend to feel. Still, it’s another way that Nightmare Kart stretches the ideas of what a kart racer can do, showing why it was a good fit for a Bloodborne-inspired story.

Surprisingly, there’s a bit of a story in this one, though not the most in-depth. Between levels you’ll get a screen of text explaining what’s going on, and occasionally you’re treated to a well-directed cutscene that does a great job of both echoing moments from Bloodborne and showing off the uniqueness of the cleverly redesigned characters. Yet another thing that sets it apart from other kart racers, giving it an identity beyond its origins as a goofy fan project.

Even outside of the campaign mode, there’s a lot of content included. There’s 13 different kart variations to unlock, as well as 15 tracks (eight for racing and seven for battle). There are also several game types that did not appear in the campaign that are available for free play, all adding their own unique twist to the battle mode. All the free play modes can be played either against AI of variable difficulty or against other players via split screen.

Nightmare Kart has more than proved itself worthy of being thought of as more than just a gimmick. It’s a well-designed kart racer with a unique style (at least for the genre) that is way more robust in content than it has any right to be. I’m very happy it was able to survive the rebranding process, and it’s all the stronger for doing so.

Nightmare Kart is available for free on and Steam.

The post ‘Nightmare Kart’ Transcends Its Fan Game Origins With Clever Twist on Kart Racing [Review] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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