I am exactly the person you want reviewing a slot car set. I have no nostalgic connection to them. I’m about 67% sure that I had the Sesame Street slot car set as a kid, and I’m 100% sure that, if I did, I bent it all out of shape and made it into a surrealist meditation on spontaneous rage. Collectors who come into the toy shop where I work select weekends are generally of an older set, and I can see, and even admire, their attachment to slot cars. But, because I can feel the depth of their fandom, I know it is something I do not share. Given all of this, I looked at my Carrera GO!!! Mario Kart Slot Car set with a face that said, “Okay. Convince me.” Reader: it did.
Carrera has an interesting legacy. It starts with German toy maker Josef Neuhierl, who made realistic tin toys in the 1920s. His son, Hermann, engineered the “Carrera Universal” track (named after Porsche Carrera) in 1963. The electric slot car track was an instant success. Though the company produced a variety of cars, including models old and new, the company faced bankruptcy in the 1980s, as RC cars took over the market. In 1985, as Carrera was restructured by a new group of executives, Hermann Neuhierl committed suicide, casting perhaps the darkest shadow over an already-dark time for the company. Out of this tragedy, Carrera emerged battered, but salvageable. Through decades of work, Carrera has established itself as the staple of the slot car world, and a fixture on international toy shelves. This is surely due in no small part to time-tested quality combined with modern licensed products like Mario Kart.
The Carrera GO!!! Mario Kart set is easy to set up, even if you have zero experience with slot car tracks like me. The one-page instructions (reproduced in a number of languages) tell you how to assemble the tracks into the formation presented on the box. The only work that is demanded of you beyond the box is the purchase of four D batteries, or the Carrera power source wired for electrical outlets, both sold separately. I went the batteries route, and found them to be super easy to install.
To be honest, I was most excited about the Mario Kart cars. I was not disappointed. They’re well-painted, and, though the figures have no articulation, their likenesses are spot-on. With a number of companies currently producing Mario Kart vehicles (most recently the current McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion), it would be easy for these to fade into the background of available products, but, because of their rubber wheels, quality paint, and all-around slot car heft, they stand out.
The set took around 15 minutes to put together, and was a fun construction process that evoked the best of Lego experiences. For families, this would be a great time to bond over the placement of bridge supports or ramps. Each track piece is helpfully lettered so one can figure out, based on the instructions, where they should be placed.
As Mario and Luigi zip around the track, you use the single-plunger controller to gauge how much electricity should be fed into the car so that it can accelerate to a winning speed without flying off the track. Figuring out the jump provided a fun challenge. Speed and position control led to success, there, but not without plenty of failed tries. It was that failure, though, that held my attention, whizzing the cars around the track until I got dizzy trying to follow them (which is how you know I’m a rookie). If playing with younger kids, however, the jump ramps are removable so you can just enjoy looping the Karts around the raceway.
All in all, the Carrera GO!!! Mario Kart set knows exactly what fans want, and I don’t just mean slot car fans. It’ll surely please the slot car collectors I know, who look for quality cars from reliable companies, but it will also make Mario Kart fans feel like they’re living a piece of the video game. With that particular property as hot as it is right now, this will likely translate to numerous game nights around the track. I’m already thinking of different ways to configure the set, and various other characters I can strew across the tracks for dramatic effect. However, I don’t just need to limit myself to the toys I have. Carrera sells other Karts so you can build out the world of the set.
This particular set costs $49.99 on Amazon, and is well worth the price, especially for a family looking for fun, screenless ways to spend an evening. And if you’re not a slot car fan already, trust me; you will be by the time you’re done racing. I am.
By Jonathan Alexandratos