Retro Christmas Game Of The Week: Muppet RaceMania (PS1)

Muppet Racemania

Let’s continue the festive season retro gaming cheer with Muppets RaceMania — it’s what happens when The Muppets meet Mario Kart. But what does all of this have to do with Christmas, I hear you ask?

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

Last week was Die Hard Trilogy, and this week I find myself still in the PlayStation zone with Muppet RaceMania.

Now, I’m a long-time fan of the works of Jim Henson generally, but you might be wondering what a PS1 game based around The Muppets has to do with this month’s retrogaming Christmas theme?

Muppet Racemania
Go on admit, it, “Rainbow Connection” is playing in your head just from this screenshot alone, right?

It’s pretty simple, actually, and you’ll kick yourself when you realise it.

The Muppets, you see, are responsible for THE SINGLE GREATEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE OF ALL TIME.

You can’t argue with the science here. Every other Christmas movie pales in comparison*.

Muppet RaceMania takes the interesting approach of using the licence not only to The Muppets, but specifically to the Muppet movies that had been made up until the year 2000, when it debuted.

Muppet Racemania
Reminder: Light the lamp, not the rat. Muppet RaceMania includes select film clips (and they’re also hidden collectibles in-game)

Tracks are themed variously around The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space… plus a few extra unlockable courses.

Muppet Christmas Carol is amongst its number, with some suitably Christmas-themed levels. Well, OK, one of them is set in a graveyard, but that’s actually appropriate for the source material.

Muppet Racemania
3 laps around a track in karts. Yes, Muppet RaceMania is a wholly original work that borrows from no other games in any way at all.

Indeed, I can’t think of any other video game that uses Charles Dickens works much at all… which is odd, because he’s well out of copyright. Maybe the kids wouldn’t be into tales of Victorian-era urchins and rogues?

Muppet Racemania
Gonzo, Gonzo, he’s our our handsome long-nosed purple thing!
If he can’t do it… wait, this doesn’t feel like it quite scans right…

Muppet RaceMania isn’t a superb game within the kart racer genre, but it’s a solid and interesting attempt that came around at a time when the PlayStation was rather desperately trying just about anything to take on the might and consumer appeal of Mario Kart.

Muppet Racemania
Hey kids — do you know the layout of a PlayStation controller? You will…

I can’t really argue with the contention that Crash Team Racing is better, but I do feel like Muppet RaceMania takes a few more interesting risks, from an inbuilt jump button to the interesting way it gets you to gather fruit to build up your boost meter.

Muppet Racemania
Also, a healthy dose of CULTURE. What other Kart racers have that?

You can use it at any time as a straight small turbo, or let it build up your flask where it becomes either a bullet-bill style automatic boosted drive system, or a mostly-lightning-bolt style weapon that hits every other player, with visuals specific to the character who set it off.

Muppet Racemania
Of course it’s Muppet Fruit with eyeballs and presumably sentience. Which means you’re also committing hundreds of acts of vehicular homicide… erm… Muppeticide every time you race.

It’s also how you collect locked racers, a tactic that encourages replay over and over again to get them all.

Muppet Racemania
It is best NOT to ask what Kermit is steering with here.

Along with regular racing — either one-off races or tournaments — there’s also a less satisfying “battle” and “stunt” modes.

The Stunt tracks… sure are a thing that exists.

I get why they exist, but they suffer more than the regular racers due to the slightly clunky car physics and the way that the weapons work in-game.

Muppet Racemania
WHEN YOU’RE A PROFESSIONAL PIRATE… (This has nothing to do with this screenshot, but I want to see if I can ear worm my wife.)

Again, Mario Kart is the obvious template, but the issue is that most of the weapons don’t have the same level of impact that the do in Mario’s races.

Most of the time even if you hit a CPU opponent with an attack, they’ll spin once or twice and be right back in the attack, which can’t help but make the weapons feel less important than the racing lines.

Muppet Racemania
Hey Disney, you also own Johnny Fiama. Now there’s an entertainer deserving of his own Disney+ show. Just a thought.

At the time, Muppet RaceMania got VERY mediocre review scores, and I’ve long felt that was a touch unfair.

Muppet Racemania
Also rough around the edges, but underrated: Muppets From Space.

Yes, it’s rough around the edges, but you can see what the developers were going for here, and it honestly feels like a pity that it wasn’t either given a little more dev time, or successful enough to warrant a slightly more polished sequel.

Muppet Racemania
Instead, developers Travellers Tales went on to do… (checks notes) all those LEGO games that made them ALL THE MONEY. Ah. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been back to Muppet RaceMania.

Given Disney owns the rights in their entirety now, a remake would be very welcome indeed.

And I know that I wouldn’t be the only one lining up to buy a copy even though Muppet RaceMania is woefully under-represented on the Internet.

Want to know a LOT more about Muppet RaceMania? Hands down, the very best guide you’ll find on the Internet… was written by a relative of mine.

I am fully aware that this will not help with people who confuse the two of us.

Turns out we both like Muppet RaceMania. Who could have guessed?

How to play Muppet RaceMania Now

My own copy of Muppet RaceMania was purchased as new, and I’m quite happy with the value I’ve had from it, even though I do recognise its flaws.

Is it a must-buy title for the retro game player?

Possibly not, but it’s an interesting snapshot of how various developers tried to take on the Mario Kart formula on competing hardware, though never quite as well.

It’s also one of relatively few Muppet video games to climb up to a level of even average. As much as I like The Muppets, there’s just no denying that their own named video games have, largely, been stinkers.

I mean… really…

Doesn’t get better many years later, either.

Muppet Racemania is decent, bordering on good, and that marks it out amongst its Muppet game peers. Yes, before you ask, I do own most of them, because Muppet fandom is yet another thing that keeps me hopelessly poor.

But what if you wanted to join me?

Copies on the bay of e tend to go for somewhere between $30 to $50 or thereabouts, which is kind of moderate in the current retro space — though it’s also rather indicative that this particular era of gaming still hasn’t attracted quite the same level of painful financial speculation as now affects the 16 bit gaming scene.

*Yes, EVERY other Christmas movie. Don’t come at me with your Die Hards, Elf, Love Actually, Grinches or anything of the sort. You’re simply wrong, and that’s the end of it.

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