Nostalgia is a powerful beast. No matter how much time pasts it always seems to get you, especially when it brings back memories of childhood days. Back in the 8-bit days of my Commodore 64 and the 16-bit age of the Amiga, arcade top-down racers were amongst my favourite genre of game. That mean when I saw Micro Pico Racers, I was immediately excited. But is this game frenetic fun or fast and infuriating?
The top-down view angle and retro graphics immediately bring a classic game with ‘Micro’ in the title to mind (Micro Machines in case you have never heard of one of the greatest games of all time!) With Micro Pico Racers taking place on real tracks rather than tabletops and backyards, however, calling it a mix between Micro Machines and Slicks might be more accurate.
The premise is simple – compete in a series of races from novice to expert levels having to reach/surpass a target each time before advancing. Simple it sounds but it soon becomes clear that the level of challenge is high. Aggressive AI drivers, obstacles like oil slicks, barriers, and even people invading the track will cause you to run off the track or get bogged down if you are not careful and you will find yourself repeating even the early challenges several times over.
While the difficulty level is a bit on the high side, it avoids being too high. Some failures will be frustratingly close, enough so that the ‘just one more go’ mentality soon kicks in. There is also a variety in the challenges. It is not simply a matter of winning races. In some challenges, you will be asked to perform drift manoeuvres, in others there are time trials. In perhaps the most fun mode, you have to batter your rivals off the track until they can no longer continue.
In order to get around the track at speed, you need to master the drift control for those bends. This fills up the ‘nitro’ which can also give you a well-timed speed boost on those long straights. Just like the top-down racers of old, the tracks are compact, and the races go at a high pace, perfect for a quick blast when you have a few minutes to spare.
There are also twenty-plus cars to choose from. As well as a range of colours and shapes, you soon find out that some cars are better-suited to certain challenges than others. Time trials and races may require a car with a high top speed and good handling. Other modes will demand more drift or damage, and selecting a different car can make a huge difference to your chances of success.
The racing itself is fun and frantic. Getting locked in a duel for first place while sliding round corners looking to cut down the inside of your rival is arcade heaven, and the fact that you have to work at getting though several of the challenges makes it more satisfying when you finally do.
Having said that, there are some aspects of the game that are a little frustrating or puzzling. While the handling of the cars is fine (especially with a controller), the collision detection is a little suspect. Some items at the side of the track can be driven over with only a slight reduction in speed but others stop you dead in your tracks, more often than not spinning you around and jamming you up against the wall. By the time you have reversed out and pointed your vehicle in the right direction, 1st place is no longer possible.
You can restart the race from the pause menu if you want to give up before the race is done, but there is no ‘try again’ option after the race. This means if you get pipped to the line, you have to cycle through the menus to choose your level, race, and car again.
While obstacles such as oil slicks, mud, and barriers are expected in a game like this, there is one that seems out-of-place – a man who at times runs onto the track. As each race is presented as a grand prix on a proper race circuit, this comes across as odd. Furthermore, should you hit the poor guy, he turns into a red blob on the track. There is no penalty incurred, nor any damage sustained. You (or the AI) just hit him and turn him into a pile of red mush. If it’s a joke, I don’t get it.
However, these are minor annoyances. The core mechanic of the game works. It is a fun pick up and play game that also offers a decent level of challenge to keep you coming back for another go. I found myself stuck at certain points but never for an extended period of time. A smarter choice of car and a little more practice was usually enough to eventually make it through.
The presentation from the in-game graphics to the menu layout is all a trip down 16-bit memory lane, and fans of the top-down racers of that era will find fond memories here. If top-down is not your thing, the camera angle can also be adjusted to follow the car and it can be zoomed in or out to find what works best for you. The music also evocates that arcade racing era. The Lenny Henry sounding voice that starts each race seems out-of-place at first but soon becomes part of the game.
Micro Pico Racers certainly ticked the boxes for me. It just about balances a tough level of challenge with enough enticement to come back and try again. The different race modes and increasing difficulty curve are complemented by the range of cars suitable for the various challenges and track types. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an expert time trial to complete.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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