MicroMachines - Review
We all were (or still are) kids once upon a time, and if you were fortunate enough to be a kid since the late 1980's, you'd be more than familiar with the toys known as MicroMachines. There was something about the miniature vehicles that made then more fun and exciting than Matchbox cars and all the others. Perhaps it was the fact that you could buy 5 in each pack, or that their size meant you could hide them in your pencil case at school. Whatever the reason, MicroMachines were popular enough (I've still got mine!) to warrant solid multiplayer games on the Super Nintendo and Megadrive during the 16-bit era. Since then, there have been many games produced under the MicroMachines label which have consistently set the bar for multiplayer and party-style games, on a multitude of hand-held and console platforms.
|Backgrounds are adequate.|
MicroMachines puts you in the driver's seat of one of many miniature vehicles including cars, boats, trucks and motorbikes, and then pits you against (up to) 3 opponents in various races. The usual racing modes are included, like time trials and checkpoint based, together with the traditional MicroMachines mode where you need to get a screens-length ahead of your opponents. And what would MicroMachines be without the microscopic environments? Courses are laid out over 8 different locations, including the beach, a graveyard, a barn (complete with rednecks of course) and a backyard garden. Unfortunately however, the favourite themes from previous MicroMachines such as the kitchen, bathroom and pool tables have been sadly omitted from this title in the series.
For each of the racing modes in the game, you must choose one of 8 comical characters to pilot your vehicles. While they all have their own personalities and styles, it's a shame that the list doesn't include any of the characters from earlier titles in the series (so no more Cherry, Spider, or Jethro I'm sorry to say). The character you choose not only defines the colour of vehicle driven, but also the style. For instance, on a track for cars, Aunt Betty (an older lady) drives a 1930's style racing car, while Frank N Stein (a Frankenstein rip-off) drives a tuned-up hearse. The vehicles also have different engine and horn noises which is a nice added touch. On first look when racing around the track the game doesn't appear too different from previous titles in the series, however you will soon notice that the camera is zoomed in just slightly too much, making the game slightly difficult if you haven't previously memorized the track. Then try an expert track, with jumps, moving obstacles and fast cars, and the game suddenly becomes ludicrously hard (even for a veteran of the series like myself).
|You have to love the small cars.|
Two added game modes attempt to breathe some new life into the genre, with a 'Bomb-tag' mode and a 'Microsoccer' mode. Bomb tag involves 4 vehicles in an arena with one having the bomb. For around 1 minute, the player with the bomb must collide with another vehicle to hand the bomb over to them. When the timer finishes, whoever has the bomb loses a life, and the last man (or computer) standing wins. This mode wouldn't have been too bad, except that the screen is split into quarters (one for each player), even if there is only one person playing, and makes it ridiculously hard to see no matter how much you squint. Microsoccer is more playable on the other hand, with only human players trying to knock a ball through goals on a miniature soccer field. However, I experienced more collision bugs and cars not responding in the space of 5 minutes than in the last 10 years, so this mode is yet another which should be forgotten.
If you've played an earlier version of MicroMachines, such as one of the 16-bit era or Micro Machines V3 on the PSOne, you'll immediately be disappointed in the lack of tracks and cars. There are a total of 24 tracks (excluding bomb-tag arenas), which is half of that included in V3, and the number of available cars is down on previous titles. And just when you thought the camera zoom couldn't make the game any harder, try adding boats to the equation. While the boat levels perhaps look a little prettier than the other levels (although the water is somewhat 'jellyish' in appearance), the skinny, obstacle-ridden courses do more to frustrate the player rather than add a challenge to the game. A somewhat minor problem I have with the game too is the inability to free-roam around the track like in previous titles. Now, if you stray more than several car lengths from the track your car explodes, not letting you explore the worlds that had time and effort put into them, which is a shame given the humorous touches littered around the tracks.
|The top down perspective.|
Although the visuals in the game aren't the most complex on the Playstation 2, they are pretty, bold and colourful, with obvious time spent on all objects and animations around the track. From the skeletons peering out of coffins to the hairy legs of women tapping to a square dance, there are always new surprises waiting around every turn. Vehicles have had much effort put into the brainstorming ideas department as well as the design. From motorbikes to boats and sports cars, each of the 8 characters has their own vehicle with sounds to match. It's a shame that there isn't a vehicle gallery to the individual vehicles, because they are rarely seen up close and the complexity of the designs never fully gets appreciated. An unlockable feature is a slideshow of concept art and designs, which gives you some insight as to where the ideas and designs came from.
The in-game music is catchy albeit cheesy, but this matches the style of the game nicely. Unfortunately the music tracks are limited, and with only one music track per course, the music soon becomes more of an annoyance. Ambient effects around the tracks, such as the chirping of birds, or the crickets and frogs calling out are well done and add to the atmosphere. While the sounds of the vehicles are all different, characters keep the same horn noise regardless of the vehicle they are driving. Couple this with the horns' volume being slightly above the music and effects volume, and they get irritating and monotonous after several races.
For a game with such a reputable series, MicroMachines lets down both fans and casual gamers alike in the departments that made the previous MicroMachines games favourites. Is MicroMachines easy to pick up and play for beginners? Are there more than enough tracks and cars? Is it a worthwhile addition to the series? The answer to all these questions is unfortunately no. Somewhere between the transition from Codemasters to Infogrames, the charm that was MicroMachines has sadly been lost, and this game made as a result. If you're a die-hard fan of the series you may want to consider MicroMachines, however I would seriously consider playing or renting this game before purchasing what is a mediocre sequel.
Review By: Chris Gobbett
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|GRAPHICS||Pretty, colourful visuals, although nothing ground-breaking. ||83%|
|SOUND||Nice sound effects, but the music soon becomes quite irritating.||79%|
|GAMEPLAY||Good racing fun made too hard by a slightly-zoomed perspective.||77%|
|VALUE||Limited courses and characters mean you won't come back for more.||71%|
|OVERALL||An average game which makes a poor addition to an otherwise-strong game series. Can be fun in small doses, but this game will easily get you frustrated and cursing.||70%|