Avatar Grand Prix was developed by Battenberg Software. It was released August 25, 2010 for 80MSP. A copy of the game was provided by the developer for review purposes.

It’s easy to dismiss some indie games as mere copies of the games they try to emulate. It’s not surprising that so many generi-makes exist on the Indie Games channel amongst the original ideas. But sometimes one emerges that truly deserves a download, one that takes players back and provides not only the concept, but the content players are looking for. Avatar Grand Prix takes its cues from Mario Kart 64; the basics are all there: powerup cubes, power sliding, it’s even got a rainbow road copy. But where other Mario Kart clones may fall short Avatar GP succeeds.

Here’s what we liked:

True to its influenceAvatar Grand Prix is absolutely a love song to the Mario Kart games, and boy can it sing sweet. Don’t think of it as someone singing a Beatles song; think of it as someone remaking that same song with their own flair. While it has all of the elements of Mario Kart: powerups, colorful tracks, multiple game modes, etc. it knows how to pay tribute without being a blatant copy.

Packed with content – Players get a lot for their 80MSP. Avatar GP comes with eight tracks, all of which can be played in mirror, reverse, and mirror + reverse layouts. Four modes are included, test drive, time trials, quick races and grand prix. Time trials also offer the chance to race against a ghost car. The standard three kart speeds are offered: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, meaning that new players can get their feet wet without being overwhelmed.

Play with friendsAvatar Grand Prix offers splitscreen gameplay for up to four players. While multiplayer is limited to local play the game offers the ability to play both the quick race and grand prix modes via splitscreen. It’s a welcome and necessary addition to a game like this, and while the online play is a bit disappointing, the splitscreen is solid and fun.

Inventive powerups – While some of the powerup ideas are clearly borrowed from other games, some are new and imaginative. The game has the staple pickups: speed boost, mines, rockets and a shield. But new and unique to the game are two new powerups: question mark and lighting. The question mark is a drop-behind powerup that will disorient the screen of whoever drives over it; the tint of the screen shifts and the screen spins upside down temporarily. Lightning, while sharing the same name as the powerup from the Mario Kart games, does not shrink racers. Instead it causes nearby racers to explode similarly to when hit with a rocket. It provides just the edge needed when multiple racers all struggle for the same position.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

No battle mode – While still a bargain at 80MSP the game could have easily commanded 160MSP with the inclusion of a battle mode. It’s something that players are going to expect, what with Avatar GP being clearly influenced by the Italian plumber and his racing games. Racing is fun, but there’s still a need to take out the frustration once in a while, and a family-friendly environment such as this would have been a great place to do it.

Lite on powerup variety – While the powerups included are unique to each other and useful the game feels a bit short-changed with the lack of variety. There are no powerups to help the poor soul running in the back of the pack, no missiles that track the racer in front of the player, and nothing to take down the racer in first place. A few more race-balancing powerups would have gone a long way in making the racing more frantic. On that note an option to turn all powerups off or set all pickups to a specific powerup might have added additional variety.

Avatar Grand Prix is a gem of a game that appeals to the family side of a player’s heart. For those looking to get a Mario Kart fix with their children on their Xbox 360, Avatar GP fits that mold. It’s also a great fit for others looking for a simple, cheap, and fun racing game to spend a few hours on here and there. While the game could have been more and commanded a higher price it still brings a lot to the table and gives players what they need for a mere 80MSP. Here’s hoping a sequel is made in the future with additional features. Until then it’s a satisfying 80MSP purchase.

Score: Buy It