There are some things which are best left buried, like cursed Nazi gold, or the fact that you saw Uncle Gerald dancing in your mum’s stockings and suspenders through a crack in the door while babysitting you when you were little. The table top racer is one of those things.
Well, maybe not as creepy as Uncle Gerald but definitely something you want to squirrel away in your memory, only to be ferreted up when the Police come knocking and you’re called as a witness.
That analogy was pretty drawn out. Sorry. Anyway, Tabletop Turbos attempt at trying to resurrect the sub-genre is brave enough but falls short of being the nostalgia filled love in some of us hoped it might be.
The game starts out making all the right noises; it’s bright and colourful, it has a jaunty (if repetitive to the point of wanting to put the pad through the TV. Or simply just turning it off) soundtrack, lots of very solid, rounded, chunky vehicles with handling to match, and tracks created from and littered with household goods. So far, so Micro Machines.
However, the problem lies partly in the fact that the genre never really succeeded in the leap from 2D to 3D. In 2D the field of view afforded enough distance to make snap turning decisions but, until you learned the tracks, left enough of a surprise with obstacles and turns to keep you on your toes. In 3D if the camera isn’t done exactly right then it can ruin the whole thing, and even if it doesn’t ruin it entirely it can make the experience frustrating as hell, and that seems to be the case with Toybox Turbos.
The camera is functional, but in some of the single player game modes it can feel a little spongy and indecisive, leading you to some frustrating scenery entanglement. It’s not game breaking as such, but doesn’t feel much better than, say, Micro Machines V3. However, the developers have included 2 other top-down camera modes which try to emulate the old style, but somehow fall short.
The single player offers up a variety of game modes, with classic staples such as 3 lap races and time trials, with the additions of elimination rounds (like the classic Micro Machines multiplayer), Overtake (where you must overtake X computer controlled opponents to gain the bronze, silver or gold) and Boss Battles(1v1 elimination), through which certain vehicles are only obtainable. You collect coins around the courses to add to the total gained when you place, and you use these to buy the funky dinky toy cars to pad out your garage, although once you’ve found one you like the feel of there’s not much incentive to go back and buy the rest.
The game is rather satisfying in its chunkiness of handling, and the environments and types of vehicle are enough to set the nostalgia glands pumping but there’s a couple of things which just keep it shy of being thoroughly enjoyable and in the realms of a mildly fun distraction.
The camera has already mentioned, but in addition to that there’s the inclusion of weapons which feels quite cheap and tacked on without adding much to the proceedings, only to give you a reason to hate the AI . The mines dotted around the courses in time trial just feels outright mean. They’re not randomly generated, but they feel like an unnecessary obstacle when all you should be worrying about getting round the course in the most efficient manner possible.
At this point there needs to be a caveat made about the multiplayer part of Toybox Turbos, seeing as it’s a Micro Machines game in all but license. Codemasters went to the lengths of adding joypad ports into the cartridge (on the Megadrive releases at least) on the original series to make it easier for you to play against your chums and as such was a very large part of the game but here, unfortunately, local multiplayer wasn’t tested because, to be depressingly honest, I have no friends to test it with. Seriously, no-one. When I tried Online Multiplayer I actually couldn’t find a game. So, there’s a chance this might be a cracking party game, but as it is it has to be taken as a single player game and in that it’s an ok distraction, but wears itself thin pretty quickly. It’s a shame.
There’s a feeling that had there been a bit more time thinking about the weapons and camera and even maybe something like a Hot Wheels or Matchbox license, this game could have been a great revival. But given that licenses cost lots of money and the leader boards aren’t massively populated it seems that this might be the eulogy of the tabletop racer.