Everyone loved Micro Machines on the Mega Drive, right? I loved it, heck, even my non-gamer friends loved it. It delivered one of the all-time great local multiplayer templates, one which, for some strange reason, has very rarely been duplicated. Mashed on PS2 and the original Xbox did a pretty good job of replicating the formula for a new generation of gamers, as did its own spiritual sequel, the somewhat underrated, Wrecked: Revenge Revisited, but man, for every half-decent attempt to bring this somewhat unique sub-genre back from the dead, there are an array of well-intentioned stinkers that wildly miss the mark. The recently released Toybox Turbos was a decidedly solid attempt to harness that old 16-bit magic, and while Micro Machines World Series really should have been the fully licensed equivalent of that game (seeing that both games are made by Codemasters and all), a number of poor design choices and some bizarre omissions keep this game from delivering the kind of high quality nostalgia fans of the original will have been hoping for.
It really is a shame as, other than the license, Toybox Turbos was probably as close to a modern day Micro Machines as we have had for quite some time – a new lick of paint, a bit of refinement, slap on the Micro Machines licence and Codemasters would have surely been onto a winner. Instead, they have moved the emphasis away from the game mode that everyone loves, removed a shed load of content and changed the handling model to one closer to that of the original game (not as awesome as it sounds). It’s still an enjoyable game of course, and there is plenty of fun to be had in local multiplayer mode, but despite these moments of brilliance, this feels like a disappointingly, and at times, bewilderingly missed opportunity.
When playing in ‘Elimination’ mode (essentially the mode that everyone remembers from Mega Drive era Micro Machines), everything here is hunky-dory. There have been a few subtle changes to the formula, but for the most part, this is exactly how you remember it. With all four racers on screen at the same time, that brilliant, panic-inducing gameplay remains as addictive and enjoyable as ever. It’s not much fun on your own of course, but with a group of friends and a few beers, there are very few games out there that can match its simplistic, but utterly compelling sense of entertaining mayhem.
The aforementioned handling model is a bit twitchy for my tastes and a step backward from the more refined handling found in Toybox Turbos, but that’s just a personal opinion – I’m sure many purists will appreciate the return to the classic handling of the Mega Drive era games. Just be aware that, if you’re new to the series and have no affixed nostalgia for the series, the decidedly slidey handling might prove at least initially frustrating.
Still, slidey handling or not, when played as it should be (namely in Elimination mode with 3 friends), minor faults are easy to forgive. Sadly, those faults shine all the brighter when the game is not experienced under optimal conditions. Take the single player experience for instance….or the lack of it to be more accurate. This mode is an absolute non-event with absolutely nothing in the way dedicated single player options to be found. Not only is playing the game on your own a bit boring at the best of times, but in practice, the only options available to you are playing individual events against AI opponents. Yeah, not ideal and more than a little lazy. I appreciate that it’s not a full priced game, but I don’t think it would be too much to expect a little more than the totally bare-bones options available.
In Codemaster’s defence, Micro Machines has always been a multiplayer game; if the online and local competitive options were comprehensive, a lack of single player options would be much easier to forgive. Problem is, World Series doesn’t come close to matching the content provided by Turbo Toybox with only a fraction of its tracks and vehicles available. In fairness, the tracks included are nearly universally awesome, and despite a bit too much in the way of Nerf Gun branding, are home to an array of very cool nostalgia-fuelled tracks. It’s simply disappointing that there isn’t more of it (especially when you have a relatively recent direct point of comparison from the very same company).
It’s similar problem with the vehicles – beyond the Mario Kart inspired (Nerf Branded) pick-ups, each vehicle is home to its own set of unique abilities that make for a solidly diverse selection of 12 unique racers. Under normal circumstances, that would probably be ok, but again, Turbo Toybox had 35. That’s a huge drop off. It might seem churlish to keep comparing the two games directly, but when you have such an obvious yardstick by which to judge, it’s all but impossible not to.
Beyond the relative lack of content, the games’ biggest issue is one very much of its own making. With Elimination so obviously loved by fans, it seems insane that Codemasters would shift so much of the focus towards the disappointingly bland and utterly forgettable Battle mode (a mode with more maps than there are Elimination tracks). Why Codemasters wouldn’t double down on Elimination content is quite beyond me. It’s fine for a quick go I suppose, and sure, the vehicle specific abilities are well implemented, but with the field of view limited by the games’ top down perspective, any enjoyment you get from this mode is likely to prove fleeting. Whatever the case, it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the far superior Elimination mode.
When played in Elimination Mode, Micro Machines World Series is an absolute blast. The handling might be a tad skittish and there aren’t a huge number of tracks, but when you’re playing this with three friends on a sofa, Micro Machines World Series successfully captures that classic 16 bit magic in a way that so few of its imitators have achieved. It’s a shame then that, despite these moments of brilliance, it’s all but impossible to shake that nagging sense of frustration, to shake the feeling that this really should have been better. Why did they put so much effort into a Battle mode that nobody really wants, one that delivers little more than a brief distraction? Why wasn’t more effort put into the single player experience or into creating more tracks for the far superior Elimination mode? When World Series is good, it’s usually great, but sadly, those moments of brilliance are outweighed by an ever present sense of disappointment.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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