Micro Machines World Series Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Apple Mac, PC, Microsoft Xbox One and Linux
Nostalgia has a lot to answer for. It can be brilliant when you look back on something from years past and remind yourself of its wonder. But at other times you find out it wasn’t actually that good, too. Sometimes, something from the past comes back into the world, perhaps by way of some cool retro return, or perhaps a reimagining. This can work positively and negatively. Micro Machines are wonderful little toys from the 70s and beyond. Fantastically cool to play with, they also came to life in video game form in the 90s. These were amazing little racing games where you controlled mobile and agile vehicles on a smaller scale as you drove around domestically situated tracks, avoiding falling in cereal bowls and off of tables when driving across rulers perched above air. Similar games have come since, with Motorstorm RC and Toybox Turbos being a pair of noticeably fabulous homages. Micro Machines World Series is not fabulous.
It’s not that the fundamental gameplay is broken, or even bad. It’s quite the opposite. However the way the game is structured and setup means it’s rarely possible to sit there and enjoy - in turn making the overall experience one of frustration and disingenuity. This is an online only, or multiplayer, game. Whatever your opinion of similar games, in this example it’s a downright shame and means failure is the only option.
In terms of modes you have online racing, both ranked (when you hit experience level ten) and unranked quickmatches. You have battle mode and there is a local multiplayer option as well. Online multiplayer is the main beef of the game. Matchmaking works well but can take a lot of time, both for you to find a game and then for that to fill up as much as possible before moving to vehicle select and the actual race. If there aren't enough real people to play, the game fills out remaining slots with AI vehicles which is an important choice, given how part of the actual race’s fun is the sheer mayhem happening on screen due to the multiple racers going around the tabletop. One problem with matchmaking is that there aren’t that many folks around playing the game, at least not when we were online. This is unlikely to improve much. It’s a bit of a catch-22, really.
The battle mode is a bit of a nonsense. It sounds really good on paper but it feels lifeless. You choose your vehicle and come up against others in one of the battle arenas. You can be strategic in your choice of vehicle as not only will it handle slightly differently as you’d expect, but it will have specific power-ups too. These could be guns or a police helicopter for example, which can help you locate opponents. Three are available from the start, and a fourth ultimate weapon can be used once you’ve earned it by performing in the battle arena. This whole mode is tedious and out of place. It’s there because in an online racer you need to add content and some kind of battle mode as made popular by games like Mario Kart goes down well. But the arenas are hard to navigate in terms of chasing your opponents. It takes a lot to wear another vehicle down and even halfway through one race we found our focus starting to drift as the game was just move, turn, shoot; rinse and repeat.
Handling of vehicles and track design is really quite good, however. There are disappointingly only ten race tracks but each has the kind of genius-inspired design you’d hope to see if you’ve ever played a Micro Machines game before. The cars move pretty friction-free around the tracks. What this means is it can be hard to get used to but if and when you do, you’ll know just when to chuck your car around a corner, when to brake into the turn and when to accelerate out of it. It leads to a wonderful fluid feeling that if kept going for the bulk of the race, or one lap, can lead to some wonderful spine-tingling moments. It’s not twitch racing; it’s something more zen-like. But the feeling you get when you’re good at it is quite something.
The lack of a single-player mode is downright scandalous. It just doesn’t make sense. Yes this is not a full-priced title so you have to expect some limitations but when you have the gameplay, the racing and the tracks, why can you not enable some kind of offline functionality for one person on their own? Even if you can’t put in a championship mode there should be no reason why practice mode is not available. But here you can’t even go and practice racing around the tracks. Which means the way you learn about each level’s twists and turns is by playing online. The chosen racetrack is random and you need to go through the laborious process of matchmaking each and every time -- and then hope it’s a fun race because enough actual people have joined too. Part of a racing game’s joy is learning how to drive each vehicle and mastering every track. Then you can have proper contests between players and against the clock. None of this is possible in Micro Machines World Series.
All of which leads to an overly soured, distasteful experience. Codemasters has brought back a licence which is familiar to many and loved by all. The actual driving experience is lovely and well-balanced by these experts in the racing genre. But it’s all tied up into an awful package which is at best tedious and at worst downright pointless. With the inclusion of any kind of single-player mode this would be a fun to play racing game. As it is you have something powered purely by its licence, and when you move beyond that there’s very little left. It’s a shame things had to turn out this way when very minor, quick changes could have elevated this into something much more.