KartRider Drift Thumbnail.png

Although western audiences may only have heard of the free to play KartRider when it was announced to be coming to Xbox One as KartRider: Drift — a fresh update that is also coming to PC — the original KartRider was released in 2004 and has been a massive success story in South Korea, China and Taiwan. 

I jumped into my kart to check out the closed beta for KartRider: Drift on PC over the weekend and discovered that the ten-year-long player base is most likely going to be ready to kick anyone’s ass, even Xbox One players thanks to crossplay.

The first time I played KartRider: Drift it was at 11:30 PM and the player base seemed to be mostly be experienced PC players that were happy to leave me in last place with my training wheels spinning. 

KartRider Screen 1.png

The skill-level needed to play against seasoned players is completely antithetical to the games style and art design. The characters you can play as — three in this beta — all look like Chibi Dolls. The courses are very colourful and it’s easy to assume you’re playing ‘babies first kart racer’ until you start crashing into corners and failing to drift correctly. 

Feeling that a more Mario Kart-lite mode would be the way to start the game I joined several matches in Item Mode first. Its typical kart racer stuff with random boxes on the course that can give you offensive weapons, boosts, shields and even a catch-me-up like the blue-shell in Mario Kart. You can collect two items at a time to spam quickly, and learning how to shield on time was quickly the most effective way to stay in first. It’s not as flashy or animated as Mario Kart is, but the karts feel fast and they handle well once you get the hang of them. 

I did manage some decent placements thanks to playing in the team mode and my teammates’ positions helping me grab some easy wins.  

Next up was the Speed Mode, which was, from what I understood, where the big racers all go to prove their skills. It’s no items, no catch-up mechanics, simply skill to carry you to the finish line over several laps. You do get one item while playing in Speed Mode however and that’s nitrous which will build up slowly as you’re racing or much faster as you drift, which, of course, then encourages you to drift as much as possible. If you’re skilled enough it would be possible to drift continuously and thus boost the entire race and that’s where the high-level players lay.

For my first 10 or so races I placed dead last. Well, technically I failed to finish while being in the last position. I pushed on and after playing some of the same tracks over and over and learning when to boost and where to drift I started finishing in the fourth to fifth position more consistently with the highest position of third — which is where I decided to end my first night.

This was very-stiff competition I had around me but I tried my best to learn fast that night. Speed Mode was where I felt most pushed to do better even if it was demeaning in a lot of ways. The pull to get better and learn felt better than the average Item Mode, which is a lot of ways the introduction to the game before they pull the items away and say, “okay, now just race.”

I tried playing the game at a different time-point, around 10 AM Australia time and got a much different player base that was primarily made up of Xbox players now and I could tell, they were much newer to the game. This time it was a much more even playing field and in a lot of ways, I felt like my first night had hardened me into a champion and pushed me to some top 3 placements across both Item and Speed modes.

All of this did raise immediate alarms about how fast new players could get turned off the game if they’re forced to play with the old, seasoned players with years of experience. However, in an IGN interview with DS Choi, the producer on KartRider Drift said, “servers will be located in each region, and it will match by ping.” Which hopefully means at launch there will be less chance to be playing against seasoned champions in your first match. 

KartRider Screen 2.png

As a free-to-play title, there is going to be a massive amount of cosmetic items upon launch. Looking up the library of items in the original game showed fans fanatically collecting them all and what seemed like thousands of different kart options. I expect KartRider: Drift to take all that and build upon it.

Interestingly the items aren’t all cosmetic in nature. Different kart items offered stat changes represented in levels of acceleration, drift and top speed. This is quite different from the types of items we’re used to in games like Apex Legends or Fortnite where the money you spend in the game doesn’t increase your stats but just improves your looks. 

I’m not sure KartRider: Drift is going to be a massive success outside of Asia. It’s reliance on a steep learning curve and not having known characters like Mario KartCrash Team Racing or Sonic Racing have is bound to turn some off, but the game is going to be free-to-play and that’s a factor that could make it into a success. 

I’ll be sure to jump back in when the KartRider: Drift is fully released in 2020. Hopefully, my progress carries over because I unlocked a turtle kart and I’m very attached to that now. 

KartRider Screen Win.png