In the battle for handheld gaming supremacy, it seems that the PlayStation Vita is fighting on two fronts. While Nintendo have enough exclusivity to ensure the survival of their various DS consoles for the foreseeable future, the rise of quick fix gaming from Apple and Android devices means that many are simply relying on their mobile phones and tablets for gaming-on-the-go.
Table Top Racing originated as a game for iOS systems before making the jump to Android and eventually arriving on PS Vita. Taking on the combat racer genre, at first glance the game might fool you for simply being a second rate Mario Kart clone. And what’s wrong with that? The Vita needs a decent knockabout racer and it seems that with Table Top Racing, developers Playrise Digital might have just created one.
In fact, Table Top Racing also channels the spirit of the PlayStation One why-haven’t-they-remade-it –yet favourite Micro Machines. It features a similar premise, involving racing miniature toy cars around tracks made on kitchen tables, tool sheds, and picnics. On top of this, you’ll find wooden crates littered around the track that, when smashed, give you an assortment of weapons or power-ups that can help you stun your opponent and take the lead. You can even choose a “retro” camera angle that gives the game a top down perspective that Micro Machines was famous for.
The main races in the game are as expected - work your way up to first place by navigating around table clothes, workbenches and kitchen counters, littered with over-sized cereal boxes, pool cues, dominoes, sandwiches, and so on. While you’ll probably never take your finger off the accelerate button, the real challenge lies in making sure you strategically use these weapons and power-ups in order to get the upper hand. Perfectly timed missile strikes, speed boosts and EMP strikes can make all the difference when trying to get to first place. It’s not a particularly original but as the old saying goes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
However, these traditional combat races only represent one style of gameplay offered in Table Top Racing and thankfully there are a few more modes available in order to provide a little extra variety, helping it stand on it’s own two feet. Speed trials are your standard beat-the-clock affair, while the Pursuit mode pits you against a rival, who you have to bump into within an allocated time in order to win. Perhaps the most fun of all the modes is the elimination mode, a knockout race consisting of five laps, removing whoever is in last place at the end of each lap.
These modes come together on a multi-tiered challenge tree, that overall make up a championship for each location. After completing a race, you’ll be awarded with a rating out of three stars. As long as you can muster up a podium finish for each race, you’ll be one step closer to unlocking the season finale, a tournament that makes for the final challenge before moving onto the next championship in a different, colourful location.
Prestige isn’t the only reward granted in Table Top Racing. Coins are also awarded at the end of each race, which can be used to unlock new cars, purchase upgrades and give your current collection of vehicles a paint job. The mobile version was free, so many of these items required making in-game purchases. Thankfully, the £4.99 Vita version feels a like a much more rounded package, so while in-game purchases are still available, they don’t feel at all necessary. You can simply work your way through the game to make your way up from a lowly ice-cream truck to a nifty neon sports car without costing you a fortune.
The graphics are given a little extra VITAlity thanks to the Sony hardware, running at 60 frames per second - a much smoother rate than iOS or Android devices can offer. However, the designs and colour palette don’t particularly translate well, feeling a little dull and unimaginative when compared to other available Vita racing games. It may have a cheap price tag, but unfortunately the presentation also feels rather cheap, which often is a drawback of porting a mobile game onto a fully-fledged handheld console. Drab menus and rather plain looking cars are particularly uninspired, even in a fun little game that uses everyday objects as ramps and track hazards.
There also isn’t enough Vita exclusivity to win over anyone who may have already completed or played the game on their mobile device. When tapped, the touch pad on the back of the console awkwardly brings up the view in your rear view mirror; while the rest of the controls are basically mapped to the console’s X and shoulder buttons, and left analogue stick. The option for multiplayer is available, but attempting to connect to an online game is quite a struggle. A few extra vehicles, tracks or car-skins would have been a good start in escalating the status of this game on the Vita, or perhaps the inclusion of the AR technology using the console’s camera.
Table Top Racing does come across as being rather too easy, but as far as Vita racing games go, it is one of the most accessible, and certainly one of the most enjoyable. Relatively cheap to buy, it invokes a certain sense of nostalgia for classic arcade racing games, instead of opting for style and realism. A nifty mash-up of Micro Machines meets Mario Kart, it may not offer too much in the originality department, but has that addictive factor to keep you addicted right through to the final race.