It’s easy to look at NASCAR Arcade Rush and wonder who it’s for. After NASCAR Heat 5 left the NASCAR gaming world in a bit of a down state, I can understand why stock car racing wanted to pivot and try something new, but from the relative lack of content to the clear, heavy inspiration from the Mario Kart series, there’s not much about NASCAR Arcade Rush that’s unique. That’s not to say it’s not fun. It takes everything it can from those that came before it and hits the mark every once in a while with high-intensity photo finishes, but I can’t imagine I’ll be thinking about this game much after I set it down.
Like Mario Kart, and that comparison is ever-present, NASCAR Arcade Rush is all about the gameplay. There’s almost nothing in the way of a story mode, and it does everything it can to avoid menu time and get you into the game proper. The closest thing there is to a true story mode is the Cup Series, a series of four-race championships where you rack up points with your finishes in 12-driver races. Sound familiar? What holds this back, though, is what ends up holding much of the game back in its structure: there isn’t enough content to keep it going. Despite having 9 total cups with 4 races each, the game only features 12 total tracks, meaning that every track will be repeated 3 times on average.
"From the relative lack of content to the clear, heavy inspiration from the Mario Kart series, there’s not much about NASCAR Arcade Rush that’s unique. That’s not to say it’s not fun. It takes everything it can from those that came before it and hits the mark every once in a while with high-intensity photo finishes, but I can’t imagine I’ll be thinking about this game much after I set it down."
The tracks themselves aren’t much to speak about, either. They follow a similar formula to Mario Kart tracks, with their vibrant greens and oranges and their twisting, turning paths. There are even the token short tracks that are effectively circles but require more laps than normal. Each is meant to be based loosely on a real-life NASCAR track, like Daytona or Talladega, but reimagined for an arcade racer. While I like the idea behind this, it’s the closest the tracks, or really any part of the game, get to resembling any part of real-life NASCAR. If there weren’t big flashing NASCAR logos and a pre-race voiceover introducing the tracks, you’d hardly be able to notice the influence.
While it’s nice to have all tracks and modes unlocked from the start, and props to developer Team6 for avoiding microtransactions or pay-to-win in any form, it does feel barebones in your goals or motivation. The only real form of progression throughout the entire game is the gathering of Cup Points, which you earn from completing individual Cup Series championships, as well as traditional leveling, which unlocks cosmetic pieces you can add to either your driver or your car. Especially given that you’ll be replaying the same tracks as you unlock later Cup Series championships, the game doesn’t give you much of a reason to care about what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. There aren’t even any references to real-life NASCAR in the cars or the drivers. Every driver is a generic avatar, and every car a generic tuning kit, even further ingraining that this is hardly a NASCAR game as much as it is a quick cart racer with a name put on top of it.
The only other modes are Time Attack, a series of solo time trials on each track, and the natural quickplay modes that come in offline single-player or split-screen and online varieties. Again, props to Team6 for including each of these modes, especially a split-screen mode, when many games are moving away from them, but since there isn’t much in the way of progression or motivation to unlock any tracks or additional material content, I have a hard time seeing where any staying power will come from.
"While it’s nice to have all tracks and modes unlocked from the start, and props to developer Team6 for avoiding microtransactions or pay-to-win in any form, it does feel barebones in your goals or motivation."
What most cart racers, especially Mario Kart, hinge on, though, is the racing itself, and NASCAR Arcade Rush is relatively middle of the pack in its feel and mechanics. Races consist of 12 drivers primarily racing the traditional three laps, and for the most part, the actual racing feels good. It’s a classic arcade feel with tight controls, a boost meter, and high-intensity races that can see you crashing and getting back into the fray in a matter of seconds. The primary issue is that it doesn’t go much deeper than this. Tuning kits, the cosmetic changes you can make to your car, don’t make an impact on the functionality of the car, so the vehicle you’re driving in your first race is functionally the same as the one you’re driving in your hundredth. Your driver, which you can customize despite never seeing them outside of menus and podiums, also doesn’t impact your stats or skills. It all gives a feel that the game is static, making no changes to gameplay and having minimal replay value unless you’re playing with friends.
On the track, I’m willing to cut the game a bit of slack, as its traditional cart racing feel makes up for much of the game’s content deficiencies until you’ve had your share. The couple of wrinkles that differ from any expected NASCAR racing are the boost meter and the on-track boost lanes. Like with many in the genre, you gather boost for your car by hitting specific orange boost pads on the track, and your ability to manage your stamina will likely be a key factor in whether you can snag a podium spot. The on-track boost lanes are like extended boost pads that bump up your speed while you’re on them. Boosting is especially fun, probably the most enjoyable, satisfying mechanic in the game, and it’s a vital aspect of success. Especially on Elite difficulty, the harder of the two difficulties offered, one of the major factors in getting better at the game is maximizing the time spent above your normal speeds.
The only other nuance in the gameplay at large is the Rival system, which is almost not worth mentioning. When you make contact with another car or either pass or get passed in a vital moment in the race, like in the final lap or when one of you is in the lead, you get a notification that you made a new rival. This rival then gets an icon on top of their car, and then functionally nothing changes. There are no pre- or post-race mentions of rivals, no reference to them outside of when you make a new rival, and no noticeable changes to gameplay or your skills. It’s a system that feels like it was going somewhere but was unfinished or had no new ideas, and I harp on it because it’s the only semi-unique mechanic the game could have had going for it. Sadly, though, it becomes an afterthought.
"The only other nuance in the gameplay at large is the Rival system, which is almost not worth mentioning."
NASCAR Arcade Rush feels like it could have been much more than it is, because in its current state, it feels like a momentarily fun flash in the pan that rips more from Mario Kart than it has ideas of its own. It has almost no mention of NASCAR aside from the names of its tracks, and while its traditional cart racing gameplay has potential and a few moments of high intensity, it doesn’t set itself apart from any of the games that came before it. Given my affinity for much of the genre, I wanted to like NASCAR Arcade Rush more than I did, but in the end, it stalls much earlier than it should have.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Relatively fun on-track gameplay; No microtransactions; Vibrantly colorful tracks.
Lack of content; No real progression model; Reuse of many pieces of content; No unique selling point.