Secret Shelf - Ultimate Godspeed democratises the kart racer

Secret Shelf - Ultimate Godspeed democratises the kart racer
Images via Ninoko

Written by 

Dave McAdam

Published 

4th Apr 2023 10:43

I say kart racing, you hear Mario Kart. We all do- it's like Band-Aid or Velcro, Mario Kart is completely ubiquitous in its field. There have been other titles in this subgenre of racing games, Sonic and his mates have had a few cracks at it, but no one can topple the tyrant king Mario.

As a result, few have tried, particularly in recent years. This has left a fairly wide gap in the market, at which a team of indie devs called Ninoko have aimed their game, Ultimate Godspeed. With a focus on party play and the devious fun of ruining your friendships, this new cart racer blends ideas in a way that is definitely worth checking out.

Just what exactly is Ultimate Godspeed?

Something I like to avoid when reviewing games is the old classic, "it's like x, plus y". Comparison is a useful, if sometimes overused way, to explain a new game. However, some games wear their influences on their sleeves, then put up huge billboard signs that say "Hey, check out my sleeves!"

The elevator pitch of Ultimate Godspeed is that it is Mario Kart racing crossed with the rounds, deadly traps, and player-designed level alteration of Ultimate Chicken Horse, something that has never really been done before.

"We had the idea right before development began. We’re huge Ultimate Chicken Horse fans and played it during lunch breaks at university. Jan Schneider and I came up with the idea of merging round-based level modification with 3D kart racing mechanics separately, which in turn became our bachelor's project prototype. After finishing our bachelor’s degree, Denise Hohl from our class joined us as our art lead."

That is Pierre Lippuner, Project Lead and one of the designers of Ultimate Godspeed. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the game, between managing the various responsibilities that come with running a nascent development studio.

Playing Ultimate Godspeed for the first time is one of those moments where you can hardly believe no one thought to do this sooner. The combination of two extremely popular party games into one congruent system is a stroke of genius, but ideas only get you so far.

Execution is just as vital; you can have the best idea in the world for a game but you also need to be able to make it a reality. Thankfully, even at this early stage, the gameplay of Ultimate Godspeed lives up to its premise and bodes well for its potential.

Where does Ultimate Godspeed come from?

Ultimate Godspeed: players approaching some traps
Click to enlarge

This is made all the more impressive when you take into account that the three names mentioned above, Pierre, Jan, and Denise, are the whole development team. They certainly do not have the resources of Nintendo, but still, they are managing to put together a satisfying kart racer that is very fun to play. It just goes to show what a talented team with a great concept can achieve.

As romantic a notion as that all sounds, there is still plenty of reality to deal with when you are a small team developing a video game in today's market.

"Operating as a small independent team allows us a lot of freedom and it allows us to make quick decisions. But there are challenges too. We all work part-time jobs to keep on going, and there are a lot of things we have yet to learn," Lippuner explains.

"It’s our first game and we lack the necessary budget to hire a specialist for specific tasks like animations or programming out of the blue. This means that we all have to fill multiple roles and work on different aspects of the games.

"Denise not only creates all the visuals, but also all our marketing material. I wrote a lot of code while leading the project and Jan is also doing some 3D modeling while programming physics."

The challenges of starting out in game development are staggering, especially as a small team. It is often said that indie devs need to bring a combination of solid game design and fresh ideas to the table in order to succeed.

That said, there is no formula for success in game development, and there is no predicting where the market will go. The best thing you can do is try to make something that makes you happy, and that others find fun. That seems to be what Ninoko are trying to do.

"It is very challenging but incredibly fun! Party and racing games are both highly competitive genres, so it’s important to bring something new and fresh to the table. In our case, it’s the turn-based level modification," Lippuner reveals.

"It’s always great to see the faces of players light up, when they realize that they can build a shortcut at a specific spot in the level or combine items into Rube Goldberg-like constructions."

Putting the God in Ultimate Godspeed

Ultimate Godspeed: A godly hand placing an item
Click to enlarge

Something that struck me personally about Ultimate Godspeed is the detail in the design. With the premise of "Mario Kart meets Ultimate Chicken Horse", you might be surprised to see just how much design has gone into the characters, the maps, and setting up a world beyond the game.

Where many games wouldn't put nearly as much effort in, Ultimate Godspeed has some really interesting character designs. Each character represents a deity, who appears in the game primarily as a giant hand. This doubles as an in-universe explanation for how you place items on the track. As Pierre puts it;

"Fleshing out the art and world design is an important aspect for sure. We deliberately incorporated the gigantic divine hands reaching from the sky as a visual and world-building element to help our players understand their role in the game," Leppuner says.

"They are actively reshaping the racetracks. Every round of Ultimate Godspeed is different."

"We probably won’t incorporate a lot of lore into Ultimate Godspeed, but we’re already spitballing future projects with the same characters and setting. But nothing’s set in stone right now!"

Ultimate Godspeed is the ultimate party game

Ultimate Godspeed: four players playing the game on one screen
Click to enlarge

There are a lot of games out there, demanding an awful lot of your time. Trends are being chased, with many games trying to be the next big hit or to follow in the footsteps of the latest one. What appeals to me most about Ultimate Godspeed is that it is just a bit of fun.

The thesis statement of the game seems to be "Let's take two fun ideas and bring them together" and the result is a damn fine video game. The focus is on fun, and that is where it should always be.

You might get more out of the idea with a bigger team and a bigger budget, but that logic can be applied to just about anything. The only reason why that thought entered my head is that I would love to see more of this game, this idea, and what Ninoko can do.

Anyone can have a great idea on paper, we all have moments where we think we have conceptualised the next big thing. However, the act of taking a great idea and making it something real takes hard work and talent, which is why I think a lot of credit needs to go to Ninoko for what they have made.

Ultimate Godspeed is an excellent idea made solid and tangible. It plays well and it looks well. In my line of work I have seen many, many indie games, and many of those never achieve the level of quality I felt from Ultimate Godspeed. It has some rough edges, but for a game that isn't even finished yet, that is hardly a criticism.

For fans of party games and folks who enjoy silly competitive fun with their friends, Ultimate Godspeed is an ultimate godsend. It is coming to PC via Steam, it will have online play, and more versions are on the way- which will see the game wading into enemy territory.

"The Nintendo Switch will be the second platform we’ll release Ultimate Godspeed on. So let Mario's wrath rain upon us! But also Xbox and PlayStation are not out of the question. We’ll have to see how the game performs. We certainly hope that the game does well with streamers and we plan to integrate Twitch features accordingly."

If you and your friends like your Mario Karts, or your Jackboxes, or any other game where you can hang out, have a laugh, and play silly games together, you really should check out Ultimate Godspeed when it launches in the not-too-distant future. Throw a wishlist on it to make sure you know when it does.

Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.

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