What's your favourite fruit? Personally, we're quite fond of strawberries, pineapple and cherries, but rarely a day goes by where we don't get down a banana too (they're supposed to be good at preventing migraines, don't you know). It might seem a bit of a strange question for opening a kart racer review, but in the case of All-Star Fruit Racing, your favourite fruit is something which is of vital importance. Because, you know, fruit, racing, that whole connection there.
If you've ever dabbled in Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing or sped through Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, you'll likely be more than a little familiar with what All-Star Fruit Racing has on offer. After choose your fruit (with each fruit corresponding to a different colourful character with their own unique attack), it's up to you to take to the track for a fast-paced race for first place, whether you're working your way through a series of cups in the career mode, roping in some friends for a local multiplayer session, or pitting yourself against all and sundry online.
With 21 tracks on offer - many of which actually take place in the same worlds, and kind of wrap around each other, meaning turning the corner of one track will let you catch a glimpse of another - the brightly-coloured, cheerful cartoon track design is easily one of the highlights too. There's a Mexican-style village with dancing moustachioed vegetables and train tracks to avoid, a Jurassic park-inspired dino island, and a twisting, turning race that takes place on the back of a humongous snake-like creature - and that's just scratching the surface.
Really, there's only so much of a spin you can put on a kart racing game, though, and luckily, All-Star Fruit Racing doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. It's all a fairly straight-forward, by-the-numbers kart racer that helps fill a bit of a void on the non-Nintendo consoles, which don't have much in the way of a Mario Kart competitor. Single player wise, you have a dozen or so championship cups to play through, of increasing difficulty, and you'll unlock new characters and car customisation options as you go, while four-player split-screen local multiplayer is a great addition, and one too many games overlook these days. A handy 'Fast Championship' button is a nifty addition, too, as it pulls together a random selection of tracks and modes into a custom three-race cup, all in a single button press, letting you and your friends jump into the action in double-quick time.
However, where things do get a little different is in the power-up department. Boosts, shields and projectiles are a mainstay of these kind of games, but how you get your sticky paws on the items is a little more complex than simply driving through an item box and getting a random weapon. Instead, each car comes equipped with a 'juicer', which itself has four different tanks. Drive over the corresponding colour fruit pick ups, and you'll add fuel to each tank, with different coloured combinations of juice earning you different power ups, as per a somewhat complex grid. For example, while orange juice might earn you a straightforward tornado weapon, adding some blue to the mix upgrades it to a homing projectile instead. In essence, this gives you the option to be a bit more strategic with your weapons, as rather than firing off a boost as soon as you get it, you might want to juice through some more red fruit to turn it into a more powerful and longer-lasting boost, or adding both red and blue to create a three-pronged rear attack similar to launching all your Mario Kart green shells at once. Each character also has their own unique Mega-Juice move that you can unleash when you've fully charged all four of the juice tanks, perhaps bowling over your pursuers with a giant coconut, eating nearby players with the Piranha-Plant-esque Avocadobite, or boosting past everyone with the aid of your Strawberry-powered boost.
Now, with that said, it's worth noting that not every race type relies on the same 'juicing' mechanic for obtaining power-ups - in fact, there's four main flavours of race in All-Star Fruit Racing, and only the standard 'Juicer' mode works as above. Random Juicer is perhaps the most familiar mode, with item bubbles littering the tracks that contain random items instead, for a much more Mario Kart-esque experience. Dragster meanwhile, tends to be a mish-mash of Mega-Juice moves, as everyone's super special attacks charge every thirty seconds or so, and chaos ensues as homing-shark-fin-shaped melons, banana missiles, and giant peaches fly. The final mode, Elimination actually eschews power-ups completely, instead knocking out the player in last place every ten seconds or so, until only one player remains.
However, All-Star Fruit Racing does have a few problems too. As is often the case with these kind of games, the difficulty of your computer-controlled opponents can be a bit variable, even from race to race on supposedly the same difficulty. One minute you'll be struggling to make any headway and languishing in sixth place, with that old kart racing foe, rubber-banding rearing its ugly head, keeping your opponents just on the unfair side of too close; then in the next race, you'll find yourself half a lap out in front, with no sign of anyone for miles. But where the difficulty really does feel out of whack is on the Time Attack tracks, where an almost perfect run, even fitting in as many drifts/boosts as you can manage rarely gets you above a bronze rank, regardless of the track you're playing - and that's on the easiest difficulty level. Crank it up to medium, or even hard, and the game gets even less lenient, meaning you'll most likely find yourself failing out with an 'unclassified' rank instead.
But all in all, All-Star Fruit Racing is a pretty solid kart racing game with some great track designs and an interesting power-up system - as well as the all-important local split-screen multiplayer option. It may not be quite as well balanced as Mario Kart et al, particularly in terms of tackling the Time Attack mode and that old bug-bear rubber-banding, but for a comparatively budget price, it's not that bad either. It's far from the worst of the bunch, but it's not quite a top banana either.