It’s been nearly eight years since the world was able to play a new Micro Machines game. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of those series’ that didn’t make the generational jumps, losing its way with it no sign of a return any time soon. Thankfully, for anyone like me who appreciates their inner speed freak and enjoys high impact miniature racing, Table Top Racing is here to fill the void.
Table Top Racing was originally released in January 2013 on iOS, making the jump to Android devices in January of this year and now we have a Vita version too. Don’t let the fact that this game started out as a mobile title put you off though, Ripstone have done an exceptional job with their title, putting even some of the biggest home console racers to shame with its ruthlessly fast brand of miniature racing.
Console racing tropes have been thrown out, for the most part, here and the experience is much better for it. Don’t expect excruciatingly detailed car models based on real life counterparts, realistic real-time damage modelling or painfully realistic handling. Instead, Table Top Racing opts for tight controls, hyper-caricatured vehicles and, above all else, great fun.
Table Top Racers melds together the best of Micro Machines and Mario Kart with its tiny racing through table top courses mixed with enough power-ups to make any given racing unpredictable and equally as exciting as the last.
Gameplay is split into distinct categories; championship, drift events, special events and quick races. The former and latter speak for their selves, with championships comprising a series of events and race styles. Drift events are also exactly what they say on the tin, a series of tight cornered courses pushing you to slide sideways wherever possible. There is also a nice selection of online options allowing you to pit yourself against table top racers around the world.
Race types vary between time trials, standard races, pursuit and takedown challenges which task you with wiping out an opponent’s vehicle as quickly as possible and elimination races. Each type has different rules, for example a standard race may or may not allow weapon pick-ups. This provides a surprisingly wide range of variation within races and helps to keep things from feeling repetitive.
Each race that players complete earns coins and experience. Coins allow players to purchase new vehicles and customise existing ones. Each race has a star based rating system; completing challenges within specific timeframes earns extra coins. The game does a good job of providing enough coins to continuously improve, without allowing you to unlock everything straight away. Going back over races you didn’t perfect previously adds some longevity and replay value too, as you’re sure to head back to obtain the extra coins.
Gaming’s forbidden fruit, micro-transactions, make an appearance in Table Top Racing although they’re expertly handled. Straight from the get-go players who don’t mind splashing the cash can purchase coins and unlock everything, although it’s certainly far from a pay to win title as everything is realistically achievable anyway. Micro-transactions are never forced on you either, there’s a subtle prompt at the top of the screen giving you the option, but you’re never bombarded with prompts and special deals in the manner that mobile titles have driven gamers crazy with.
The vehicles themselves range from ice creams trucks to high performance sports cars, with everything in between and Table Top Racing includes some extensive customisation options. The game as a whole is full of personality – everything’s bright and colourful, packed to the brim with personality and the vehicles are no different.
Customisation ranges from changing the tyres for a performance boost to giving your favourite car a new lick of paint. Each vehicle can be upgraded to improve performance against the usual array of tuning options; acceleration, handling and so on. There is a minor annoyance with the customisation in that you can’t actually choose which aspect of your vehicle to upgrade next, even if you have the coins available to cover the cost – the game tells you what the next upgrade will be and it works more like an RPG skill tree rather than straight car tuning. It is only a minor annoyance though as within a race or two, for the most part, you’ll have the coins required to purchase the performance upgrade you’ve been pining for.
Visually, Table Top Racing is very appealing on the Vita’s screen. As mentioned previously, the design as a whole is bright, loud and full of personality. Courses are littered with everyday items, from oil cans to piles of pancakes. It’s difficult to remember a racer on the Vita that provides as much fun as allowing you to ram an opponent into a pile of pancakes, if there is one. Table Top Racers provides three different viewpoints; two behind car and one overhead, a la classic Micro Machines, which can be switched at any given time.
The controls are equally as tight and well developed as the rest of the game. Menus utilise the Vita’s touchscreen abilities and everything on screen, including buttons and text, is up-scaled nicely to suit the bigger screen size as opposed to mobile devices. The rear touchpad can be used at any time during a race to switch to the rear-view camera, although it’s a little too easy to hit it accidentally and end up flying head first into a box of cereal or other track decorations.
Table Top Racing is great fun, at an excellent price point. There’ are hours of fun to be had with the game, whether clearing the championships alone or challenging friends to a race online. It’s easy to draw comparisons with both Micro Machines and Mario Kart, but Table Top Racing stands out on its own with unique and original ideas, and a high level of customisation. I developed a seeming inability to put the game down once it was booted; it’s addictive blend of fun begs for “just one more go” moments and makes perfect handheld gaming while on the move.
At 495mb, Table Top Racing isn’t going to occupy a huge amount of Vita memory card space; it’s difficult to think of a reason you wouldn’t buy this title. With its great price and excellent gameplay that provides hours of fun I cannot recommend Table Top Racing enough – even if you’re not a huge racing game fan, Table Top is accessible enough to enjoy without being bogged down with technical car jargon or spending hours mastering vehicle handling.