With Barbie's popularity waning after over half a century at the top, something of a gap was created in the market for a new doll of choice, which, as any parent will know, the somewhat-creepy Bratz attempted fill. In an attempt to claw back the portion of their market stolen by the Bratz dolls, Mattel decided to fire back with a range of their own - cooler, sassier, and, well, more monstrous than Barbie could ever be. Enter Monster High, a series of horror-themed dolls, made up of teenage vampires, zombies and abominable snow women – each of which is a spin-off or offspring of some more famous fictional characters. Coming complete with some rather groan-worthy names – Frankie Stein, Clawdeen and Abby Bominable to name but a few, since their launch in 2010, the Monsters have expanded into TV and video games, of which Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze is the second title to grace Nintendo platforms.
As you can probably guess from the title, Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze is a rollerskating racing game that's kind of like Nintendo classic Mario Kart, but with the leggy dolls on skates rather than crammed into karts. However, instead of playing as a single favourite character, in Skultimate Roller Maze, you have to choose a team of three – as each character has a finite amount of stamina, you'll need to switch between the trio if you want to make it to the end of the race in time. Characters you aren't using regain their stamina as time goes on, making the race more of a tag-team relay rather than an all out rush for first place.
As is traditional for games of this ilk, the tracks are littered with perils, although they're a lot less frequent than you'd imagine – giant fists threatening to turn you into a doll pancake, pools of icy water that can freeze your wheels and massive tentacles to get in your way. Those aren't the only thing you need to watch out for though, as you and your opponents can pick up various weapons to hurl at each other too, such as an slippery oil slick, a blinding camera and a man-eating coffin, as well as each characters' special move that can help turn the tide of the race.
As a racing game, though, Monster High does suffer from one major problem, in that none of the dolls seem to corner very well, meaning you'll often find yourself careering into walls, and bouncing between obstacles like a spooky pinball – particularly on the lava-filled level with it's twisty turny corridors. It also doesn't help that each race seems to go on for the best part of a decade (by which we mean nearly 7 minutes for three laps) racing around a track that's about as hectic as the titular school during the summer 'vacation' – it's a stark contrast to the brightly coloured, obstacle-laden courses from the likes of Mario Kart.
Although there are four different modes on offer in Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze, it's a tad disappointing that none of them offer support for multiplayer, either in its Download or Multi-Card forms. First are the circuit races, akin to the Grand Prixs and cups of similar games, where you race four tracks back to back competing for first place, while Quick Race lets you hop into a race on any of the courses you've unlocked. Relay does away with each racer's individual stamina bars and instead forces you to race one lap as each of your team, whilst Timed has you running the course on your lonesome in an attempt to get the best time.
For those of you that want a bit more of a challenge, there's a choice of three different difficulty levels to race on, although the two more challenging levels are locked from the outset. You'll need to complete the two circuit races (with four races in each) on the easiest 'Spooky' difficulty before you can unlock the middle 'Creeparific', and then complete those same two cups on this difficulty before you can unlock the final 'Scarifying' level. After all that, you'll then need to complete those two cups again on the hardest difficulty before you can unlock the final bonus cup, adding up to a total of three playthroughs of the same eight tracks before you can race somewhere new. Although it does weigh in at a budget price, we would have preferred a few more courses, or at least an easier route to unlock the final set.
Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze is by no means terrible – but it's not the Mario Kart beater Monster fans would be hoping for. If you've got a rabid fan of the Monster High dolls, they'll likely have a ball, but the limited number of tracks, steering issues and the absence of multiplayer hurt the game's replayability somewhat. At half the price of Mario Kart, it's certainly one Monster fans may want to take a look at - although there's little here for those not familiar with the dolls.