Micro Machines V4
Like many other videogames based on kiddy-orientated franchises, the Micro Machines series has always maintained a sense of playfulness. However, unlike the majority of unimaginative Disney tie-ins or for example, the dismal Power Rangers games, Micro Machines has always been genuinely fun to play, especially since its frantic multiplayer experience sees it rightly rising atop a pedestal to look in disdain and disappointment at its childish rivals. Who remembers the Mega Drive cart with two extra control ports on top of the cartridge? Crazy stuff. Micro Machines V4 is the most expansive and comprehensive Micro Machines title yet, providing everything and more that you'd expect from the gathering of mini motors. It's hard to see where the series can go from here in future, but for now let's just enjoy the present.
Codemasters have gone all out to make sure that no one is going to complain about a lack of anything in Micro Machines V4. How does a couple of hundred cars to collect, race and trade sound? Pretty good, no? Well, 750 is the exact count. That's still not enough you say? Please, you're going to make and a grown man cry here. The vehicles on offer are organized by class, rarity and how well they perform. Due to the sheer number of motors, there can't be a huge difference between the way in which a lot of them handle, but of course there is a noticeable difference between how a sports and an off road car maneuver, for example, giving plenty of scope for which will suit what tracks best.
Talking of tracks, the game boasts 50 of them to bomb around in your tiny transportation, many of which, for the first time, are set outside of the bounds of the home and garden. So while many of the familiar locations such as the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom are here, new additions include the hairdressers, a building site, a supermarket and even a chicken coop. These fresh additions not only provide a welcome break from some of the more traditional tracks but also throw up a myriad of new ideas and obstacles to keep the game play interesting. For instance, the chicken coop course entails perils that include a conveyer belt full of waywardly rolling eggs, whilst racing on the building site level is upset by earth shattering drilling and devilishly and potentially race-ending circular saws. To top off what is already a manic scenario for racing is the inclusion of 25 power ups and weapons which, used strategically, can mean the difference between winning a race and finishing in last place.
Micro Machines V4's main game consists of a variety of exhibitions that will test your skill (and patience) to the limits. Straight racing consists of three treacherous laps around the chosen location. Very early on it becomes clear that, due to the shortness of each lap, if you fall into last place even on the first lap it's often not worth carrying on. Therefore, progressing through each level means memorising each course as best you can and blasting around it full throttle with tunnel vision. This is easier said than done when you throw into the mix how easy it is to tumble off the edge of a table top or become undone after misjudging a wicked hairpin bend. Furthermore, the unforgiving AI makes the whole experience thrillingly tense and after every race you'll literally need to stop and take a breather before carrying on. Sometimes continual failure, frustration, and an impending stress-induced heart attack can take its toll, so you'll want to take a break. What's guaranteed though is that as soon as you've closed the game you'll want to start again for 'just one more go.'
Micro Machines' other staple inclusion is its Battle mode. The objective here is to win a certain amount of successive points against your opponents by making sure you're the last vehicle standing after each short round. Finishing off your competitors is usually a case of gaining a set distance ahead of them to be awarded a point or to get them knocked off the side of the course. Unlike the main racing game where weapons are easily second best to the tactic of full out pedal to the metal speed, here the rockets, missiles, bombs and many more examples of weapons dotted around each location are often the key to your success. However, their use requires a practiced amount of strategy...
You see, when using a weapon (a giant hammer to batter one of the opposition for example), the handling and speed of your car is dramatically affected. This delicate balance requires quick decisions as to whether attacking a fellow racer is worth the damage you will cause at the potential hindrance to your own path. The decision to cause pain to another vehicle is definitely the right one when the harm caused is inflictive enough to ruin their handling and speed, but if the dent to their infrastructure is only minimal they've just as much a chance of staying ahead, grabbing a health bubble and therein completely stifling your sabotaging attempts, moments before the checkered flag. The Battle mode remains as intense as it ever was as winning a flurry of consecutive points is much, much easier said than done.
In addition to the two most familiar Micro Machines modes is the obligatory time trialing option and a great checkpoint mode which demands nimble fingers and lightning reflexes. Some players may be disappointed at the lack of short cuts (although there are plenty of micro-cuts to gain a slight edge over other racers) or the fact that each race is so short. Some laps are under thirty seconds long, not quite Gran Turismo or F1 in scale. However, the concentration and skill needed even for the minimal time within a race is easily comparable to some of the more serious racers. Disappointingly, no music is used to accompany each race, so your aural stimulation is provided much by the screeching of the racers' engines and the blasts of weapons. These, on the whole, generic and incessant in nature, do have the ability to annoy.
Perhaps most admirable factor in Micro Machines V4's creation is the realistic sense of scale projected throughout the game. Whether you're in a museum or a butchers or one of the rooms in the house, there is a sense that you really are a buggy little motor zipping around and about - like some sort of vehicular Borrower. The tracks themselves are teeming with life and imagination, too. Every object, no matter the size, impacts on the way your charge handles, from a misplaced safety pin to the gravelly contours of a soil-ridden bank, adding believability to V4's physics. That said, the game isn't going to re-write the history of mind blowing visuals as the colourful, cartoony environments are rather blocky in style, although this does help to keep the nippy frame rate rock-steady.
Micro Machines V4's biggest mistakes, then, are in the aesthetic department, since otherwise a few iffy track designs and needless weapon inclusions are all that stop it from becoming a potentially classic little racer. Nevertheless, as mentioned this is the most complete a Micro Machines title there has ever been, one brimming with both quantity and quality in nearly every area. An extensive multiplayer mode, a track editor and the ability to trade vehicles online ensure almost infinite longevity and top off a title which is a micro masterpiece in its own right.