Much like buses, it seems Hello Kitty games come in threes - and just in time for Christmas too. In fact, the multi-talented feline has her paws in plenty of gaming pies this year too - literally in the case of her 'rhythm cooking' 3DS title Hello Kitty and the Apron of Magic, metaphorically in her music game, Hello Kitty & Friend, Rockin' World Tour, and with more than a hint of Mario Kart in this, her take on a cutesy racing game, dubbed Hello Kitty Kruisers.
Questionable spelling (and awkward questions - like how does Kitty, with her stumpy little legs even reach the peddles?) aside, Hello Kitty Kruisers is a fairly simplistic racer staring Japan's most famous feline export and her friends. Much like Mario Kart, players pick a character, hop into one of a dozen or so brightly coloured vehicles, and floor it around the bright and colourful tracks, pelting each other with weapons as you jostle for first place. From the eponymous Hello Kitty to the rabbity My Melody and the less well known Tuxedo Sam, there's a good dose of Sanrio faces to pick from - and not all of them are necessarily pink and girly either.
Races are divided into three different modes of transport, taking the action from land to the sea and sky too. Each of the different vehicle types actually handles rather differently to, with their own quirks to take into account during races, potentially making them a bit trickier than your average car race. Riding along the surface of the water makes boats a bit more bouncy and harder to steer, while flying gives you an extra up/down dimension to contend with, although the tracks tend to be simpler to compensate. Generally speaking, all the game's tracks are bright and colourful, and consist of fairly simple routes that are well signposted, with the odd peril to contend with, be it falling acorns, slippery ice or the odd rock - nothing too complex.
Like most games of it's ilk, local multiplayer is where its at with Hello Kitty Kruisers, which lets you pit up to four players against each other, either in single races or a four level 'tour' with a mix of different vehicle types thrown in. The game's sixteen tracks take in everything from colourful town centres to a tropical rainforest, and even its own take on the Mario Kart classic, Rainbow Road, set in asteroid-filled space - although things can feel a touch samey after a while, as each 'theme' is reused for a couple of different tracks, sometimes for different vehicle types, sometimes just for a second slightly different race. Either way, Hello Kitty Kruisers turns out to be surprisingly fun in multiplayer, even if the computer opponents are unlikely to put up too much of a fight for the more competent racers.
But if you can't reel in some friends, Kruisers also has a fairly substantial set of single player 'adventure' missions to tackle on your lonesome. These twenty or so missions, lasting a few minutes each, give you specific objectives to complete outside of the normal racing - whether it's picking up a dozen cupcakes scattered on the track, driving through all the rainbow gates, a simple time trial or nabbing as many apples as you can before time runs out. Spread over a variety of different vehicle types and characters, each stage has a maximum of three stars to earn too, depending on how well you do - and in our case, that mostly depends on what vehicles we're using, as bobbing for apples in a bouncy boat across icy water is a lot harder than it sounds.
While Hello Kitty Kruisers gets a lot right, that's not to say it's not without its problems, though. Perhaps the biggest issue is that of slowdown, in that the boat races in multiplayer turn into a very juddery, laggy, awkward three laps at times - it's not quite unplayable, but it does make it harder to steer, aim and play than it should. Other issues are thankfully a bit more intermittent and much less problematic - from time to time, it'll pop up up and tell you you're going the wrong way on a track when you're not, and the camera will occasionally seem as if it gets 'stuck' momentarily on bridges during flying levels. We also had one weird bug when racing as Chococat that we've been unable to make happen again. Essentially sending our power-ups a bit wonky, we found that when we tried to use the boosting/auto-steering rainbow, nothing happened, then when we tried to fire some cupcakes later in the level, found ourselves being boosted along as per the rainbow power-up instead.
That said, if you can overlook a few bugs, as an ardent little Hello Kitty fan probably will, the odds are you'll find an easygoing and lovable little racer. It may not have all the bells and whistles of Mario Kart, but it's bright colours, cutesy characters and simplistic tracks are likely to go down well with the youngest of the young - once they get the hang of the flying and boating controls, anyway. All in all, it's surprisingly fun, a few faults aside!