I’m just going to say it off the bat in case you’re running of time: Hello Kitty and Sanrio Friends Racing is impossible to recommend. While the Sanrio and the Hello Kitty franchise is one of the most ubiquitous Japanese series known to man, it has an unfortunate track record of video games ranging from middling at best and unplayable at worst. A disappointing mascot racer with outdated graphics, almost nonexistent A.I., and a host of control issues make this a terrible game that shouldn’t be played by anyone.
At first glance, Hello Kitty and Sanrio Friends seems like a PC title with potential; it carries the cute aesthetic Sanrio is known for, and the cast of characters looks surprisingly diverse. Players will race around sixteen tracks divided into four tours via karts, motorboats, and airplanes, with individual challenges added in another mode. It feels like Sonic All-Stars Racing with power-ups and the colorful designs of the racers, of which the characters are very cute (it’s Sanrio after all.) Split-screen local multiplayer is also included, so players can huddle up on a computer and “enjoy” this experience together.
However, the promise and comparisons stop there when you realize the user interface is buggy at times; a lot of the menus are rough around the edges, and aren’t fully compatible with a gamepad. While the game boasts more than a dozen tracks, they’re only variations of five unique ones since each vehicle counts as a separate track. Unfortunately, there isn’t much variety to separate each of the vehicles and characters aside from aesthetics, so they mostly play the same. The controls are serviceable for the kart and airplane options, but are very slippery for the motorboat to the point of near brokenness in steering. Not that this matters, since the A.I. is mostly braindead; while there were a couple of moments where I thought I was in for a challenge, in almost all my races I could overlap some contestants, with the runner-up half a lap away. It’s so excruciatingly easy I’m pretty sure even younger players won’t see the challenge of the game.
Unfortunately, this title feels incomplete and lacking in content. All the races can be unlocked in under an hour, and the other challenge mode (with goals such as “collect the cupcakes!” and “get to the finish line in time!”) can be plowed through in a single sitting. This wouldn’t be a problem (after all, racing games are built on replay value), but everything feels so uninspired and outdated; while the character designs are nice, there are no sounds or voice acting to distinguish any of them. Players can unlock different characters and vehicle models, but since almost all of them play identically, there’s really no incentive to strive and get them. The graphics look like something out of a PS2 game, which is a problem since this is a 2015 port of a 2014 game. The races themselves take barely two minutes each, and the tracks feel the same with different coats of paint.
The biggest problem that I had was that it seriously had potential; when the game was marginally functional, it was somewhat fun. The airplane levels reminded me of the best parts of Diddy Kong Racing (and to a lesser extent, Freaky Flyers), and the Sanrio franchise is one of the most colorful things to come out of Japan; the tracks themselves could have used a more attractive aesthetic.
Sadly, even though there were moments where it showed that it could be a decent mascot racer, Hello Kitty and Sanrio Friends Racing ultimately fails to disappoint even the younger crowds. It’s dull, terribly easy, and mostly broken. If you want a slightly more entertaining Hello Kitty experience to satiate your Japanese cat (erm, human in a cat costume) fix, Hello Kitty Roller Rescue might do the trick. As it stands, however, this game is unfortunately stuck in the starting line.