When Playstation arrived and slowly but surely bought gaming to the masses, there were very few games that everybody could just pick up and play. Top of the list were obviously football games; pass, shoot, Bob’s your uncle. Then came along Micro Machines (left, right, go, shoot, got it) and for the first time since Match of The Day there was a reason to ditch the pub early on a Saturday night and sneak home. Everybody, I mean everybody, wanted a go. ‘Just one more go, let me have just one more go’, they’d say, even the girls we knew. Yes, even girls. Let’s face it, girls never played video games (at least not the girl’s you wanted to be seen with, hey guys?) but now they were piling round to your university hall of residence room at all ours, hammered, going ‘Can we play that game with the little cars?’ What a nightmare, a room full of sexy girls drunk and giggling while I was in bed. I don’t know how I got rid of them all, in the end.
Actually, thinking back, I should be asking myself why I got rid of them, rather than how. Nuts.
Anyway, they were the halcyon days of arcade racing. Micro Machines V3 on the PSX was the pinnacle of multi-player gaming and we all loved it. We’d swing the pads around in the air like they were steering wheels, we’d make the screeching noises between our teeth when we took corners, push, shove, scream and swear at each other and all in the name of fun. Man, I even used to hum the irritating tunes, I was that hooked.
So, what happens when you fast forward five years or so, is it time to dig out the little black book and reassemble the usual suspects? Have Codemaster’s done it again? Are Spider, Jethro, Cherry and the rest of the gang back with a vengeance?
Err, no. You’ve probably worked out by now that I was desperate for this game to be good. That’s not the half of it, if this game was half as good as the PSX version it’d still be the best multi player racer on the PS2. Sadly, it’s just not all that. The game looks fine, there are a neat host of new characters and what have you, but the game itself is uninspiring. Twenty-four tracks, eight characters and a handful of championships to complete all sounds good but it is still a fraction of what the earlier incarnations produced. The PSX version boasted over fifty courses and even that was less than the previous Mega Drive best seller. So why, why is it a bad game?
Well, the problem is all in game mechanics. It’s smooth and fast, but this actually works against it for once as many of the vehicles are simply too quick to be controlled within the limited distance you can see. Your car, or boat, or bike, whatever, pretty much sits in the middle of the screen, pointlessly allowing a lovely view of the track behind and a fraction of the area ahead. You literally get a small slice of a split second to react to unknown turns. Naturally this means you soon memorise the course; it’s your only hope and fairly straight forward since there aren’t many. Now you have time to actually concentrate on power ups, even though they too are badly implemented. Take the frying pan, for example; smack someone with it (yes, it’s actually quite funny I’ll give them that) and they spin round on the spot. Great, except they spin round in front of you and obstruct your path too and while you try to go around them they recover from the spin and you’re both off at roughly the same pace. How pointless.
Usually the saving grace of these games is the multiplayer conflict, not so here. Firstly you can only play with four as opposed to the possible eight from V3, and secondly there’s only a limited range of cups to play, most noticeably no custom cup. When you do suffer your way through to the game, though, you immediately notice a criminal imbalance in the gameplay. As the cars spread out, it becomes very hard to see where you are going at the front as the camera seems to favour the middle of the huddle. This means the guys at the back can see everything to come, the front riders see nothing. The game engine allows the camera to pan apart too much and gives the back few too much opportunity to claw it back since to win each segment the front driver must be able to navigate most corners blindly. Soon, though, everybody knows the course and you go around in a group, and you go around and around and around; it’s just too easy to stay together once you know where you’re going since the cars are just all too easy to control.
In V3 the camera was more volatile, the power ups more explosive and the cars a lot more, err, skiddy. The madness that was Micro Machines has been heavily sedated and cut down, I for one felt I was playing a sanitised, safe version of an all time classic, and I wasn’t very happy about it. The racing’s all very mechanical and not very seat-of-your-pants, like it used to be. Yet another example of video games being dumbed down for the new generation.
As a footnote to this review, though, I’ve got two things I’d like to mention. Firstly, it has come to my attention that Codemaster’s didn’t develop this game; an Infogrames in-house team made it. That explains the sloppy play testing, I’m sure Codemaster’s would have handled the whole thing a lot better. Secondly, I found my old copy of V3 and played that again. While the game played a lot better than this title, the graphics looked suitably dated and the multiplayer option didn’t work with the PS2 multitap. So, if you want to play a good version of Micro Machines with four or more players, you’re going to have to dig out the old PSX. What a waste of everybody’s time and money…