The trouble with kart racers on Nintendo Switch is, well, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It's the best one, and it's not close. The challenge for developers, then, is not to create clones, but instead to diversify. LEGO 2K Drive makes a valiant effort to set itself apart, making great use of its titular licence to provide players with a largely successful arcade racing experience. Unfortunately, while the core gameplay is fun, there are a couple of drawbacks that stop it from overtaking the competition.
The main attraction for most will be the game's Story mode. Here, you're introduced to Bricklandia, a plastic place inhabited by racing-obsessed Lego minifigures with silly names. Whether they're friend or foe, the cast is charming thanks to a surprisingly humorous script, capturing the chaotic tone of the movies and other games nicely. The tongue-in-cheek story is all about competing in races across Bricklandia's various regions to qualify for the Sky Cup Grand Prix.
Set across four open-world maps, Story mode holds your hand for the first hour or so while you learn the basics, but it doesn't take long before you can start exploring at your own pace. The first map is relatively small, but three larger ones are quite sizeable, and they each have their share of races, collectibles, quests, and other events to discover. Some of these optional objectives are better than others — the minigames aren't particularly enthralling — but there's just about enough to be found in these open-world maps to justify their existence, and it is fun just freely blitzing around.
That's because the driving itself is extremely arcadey. You can drift for miles barely losing speed, and a quickturn and jump give you lots of manoeuvrability. More than that, Lego 2K Drive goes out of its way to remove restrictions. As you drive about, your vehicle will automatically shift between a street car, an off-roader, and a boat depending on the terrain, meaning you can go practically anywhere with no slowing down. On top of that, many of the Lego objects and props dotted around each map can be smashed through with no penalty; in fact, doing so is encouraged, as it replenishes both your boost meter and your vehicle's health.
This plays nicely into the races themselves. Mario Kart fans will be on familiar ground when it comes to racing, as tracks are littered with power-ups and weapons — many of which are similar to those found in Nintendo's racer. There are some more inventive ones, though, like a fruit-flinging machine gun, and another that turns your target's wheels into squares. Races are pretty frantic, and often quite close — overall they're decent fun. The tracks are based around the open-world locations, and feature shortcuts and the odd environmental hazard to deal with. Outside the Story mode, you can play these races individually or as part of a Cup Series, which are basically the same as Mario Kart's Grand Prix.
No matter how exactly you play Lego 2K Drive, the Switch version's performance and visuals are pretty disappointing. It operates at a very low resolution, giving the whole game a very fuzzy image quality. On top of that, there's noticeable pop-in, the odd split-second freeze, and some fairly long loads. The frame rate is capped at 30, but we also spotted the occasional dip below that when things got too busy. None of these issues are so egregious that it's unplayable — as mentioned, it's a lot of fun — but it's a shame this version of the game couldn't be better optimised.
As you progress, you'll start unlocking new cars, which you can equip individually, or you can even create loadouts of your favourites. On top of this, you'll also be rewarded with Perks, which can give your cars and boats a boost to their stats or provide passive buffs. It's a little superfluous in a game like this, but it works well enough.
If you're not a fan of any of your vehicles, you can create your own in the super robust build mode. At any time, you can enter the Garage and modify your cars, build unlocked vehicles following instructions, or make your very own creations entirely from scratch. The controls here can be a little fiddly, but you're given a lot of Lego pieces to toy with, and you can build more or less whatever you can imagine. It's a surprisingly in-depth tool that can yield some impressive results. The one major downside is that, currently, you can't share your creations online with other players. This seems like a missed opportunity, but hopefully the functionality to browse other people's vehicles comes to the game later.
For those who are less inclined to build their own rides, you'll have to settle for what you unlock during Story mode — or you can head to Unkie's Emporium to buy new cars and boats with your hard-earned Brickbux. While you can ignore this shop for the most part, the rate at which you earn this in-game currency is pretty slow. For Story mode race wins, you're getting a few hundred, while online race wins will net you just five. There are other ways to obtain Brickbux, but even after several hours of play, you may not have enough to buy a new vehicle from the store. Unfortunately, the slow rate of Brickbux is likely intentional, pushing players towards microtransactions where you can spend real money to buy more. It's quite off-putting to see this practice in a game so heavily geared towards kids.
Lego 2K Drive is a racing game that so nearly reaches its potential, but it steps on a few stray bricks along the way. The core driving feels good, the Story mode has plenty to do, and the creation tools are legitimately impressive. However, it's let down by technical shortcomings, a lack of sharing options, and somewhat slimy monetisation. The foundations of a really great arcade racer are here, but poor optimisation in this Switch version and certain design decisions mean it's unlikely to overtake the competition.