Despite its recent release, Joy Ride Turbo already shows its age. Originally marketed as a free, downloadable Kinect launch game in 2009, Joy Ride eventually became the 2010 full retail title known as Kinect Joy Ride. After it received criticism for its inconsistent motion controls, BigPark took the game back to the drawing board and did away with Kinect integration altogether, thus bringing forth the pseudo-sequel known as Joy Ride Turbo. Aside from the now-absent mini-games, Joy Ride Turbo is essentially a controller based version of its motion controlled predecessor.

Developed by: BigPark
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Racing
Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Play it if: You really wanted to play Kinect Joy Ride with a controller.
Skip it if: You have access to nearly any other recent kart racer.
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Definitively a kart racer, Joy Ride Turbo instantly feels familiar to anyone who’s thrown a red shell. The single-player campaign known as The Championship Series features 3 escalating levels of difficulty (think cc) which are then divided into 4 tours (think cups), each comprised of 3 individual races. Scattered about each track are generic kart racing item crates containing projectiles, landmines, and speed boosts. Players also able to fill their own private boost meter by drifting, and completing aerial stunts. Joy Ride Turbo wasn’t just inspired by a certain kart racing Italian plumber, it unabashedly copied the format down to every detail, leaving little room for originality. Far more entertaining than the Championship Series are the two explorable Stunt Parks. Like the individual race tracks, these colossal skate park-like areas are littered with collectables used to unlock new vehicles and colors.

Like all kart racers, the most fun can be had in multiplayer matches. Joy Ride Turbo allows up to 4 players locally, and up to 8 online. While I found the actual online racing to be fun and seamless, I did spend a majority of my time online searching for other players, or sitting in empty game lobbies.

Unlike its previous Kinect-shackled iteration, Joy Ride Turbo handles very well. The responsive and precise controls feel natural and never steal focus from the game. The music however is another story. Comprised mostly of short, irritating tunes, the game’s soundtrack is what one would expect to find in wacky racing game, or a commercial featuring good-looking, hip, and racially diverse young people enjoying a motion controlled video game experience. I must confess however that I was admittedly charmed by the subtle elevator music of the pause menu. The cartoonish visual aesthetics of Joy Ride Turbo adequately portray a world inhabited by Xbox Live Avatars. Unfortunately, apart from the Stunt Parks, the developers squandered the opportunity to create over-the-top, cartoon tracks; opting instead for 10 different, visually boring, cliched kart tracks.

Joy Ride Turbo may do a great job emulating previous kart racers, but it does have its own unique problems. The increase in difficulty experienced when moving from the 2nd to 3rd series is not properly scaled at all. While I was easily able to win races in the first two series, I was desperately struggling to come in 6th place in the last series. Plus, although intended to encourage exploration and increase replay value, the new vehicles are so difficult to unlock that it’s not worth the effort. Even after scouring both Stunt Parks and completing the entire Championship series, I was only able to unlock one vehicle! Because of its lack of any mini-map, Joy Ride Turbo makes it impossible to see upcoming turns, or the locations of fellow racers. Instead, the developers opted for a completely useless speedometer in the bottom right corner of the screen. Furthermore, although it may be unnecessary to provide players with anything more than the rudimentary ability to move the camera left, right, and back while racing, it would really come in handy while exploring the Stunt Parks. I can’t tell you how many times I gave up my search for cool areas of the park after being unable to properly look around with the camera.

The Blast Factor: Joy Ride Turbo is not a great game, but it’s not exceptionally bad either. It’s an uninspired, 3-year-old kart racer that may not revolutionize a genre, but it delivers on its promise of fast, fun kart racing. Unfortunately, whereas it does not bring anything at all new to the table, it’s hard to recommend for $10. But, if you don’t mind just the basics, and you’ve been meaning to spend more time with your lonely Xbox Live Avatar, it’s worth checking out.

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