PC, PS4, Xbox One
As its name suggests, this has always been a series that had at least half an eye on selling toys. But when brothers Richard and David Darling signed a deal with Galoob in 1990 that would turn its NES prototype California Buggy Boys into Micro Machines, licensing agreements came on fewer pages, with fewer stipulations and provisos. So it is that Micro Machines World Series, the first new title carrying that licensed name for over a decade, bombards its racers with Nerfbranded weaponry fired from the barrels of GI Joebranded tanks on Hungry Hippos tracks. It’s hardly game-breaking, but it does lend an oddly stern-faced corporate quality to a game ostensibly about racing toy cars around improvised household tracks.
Singleplayer options have been pruned back so far that even a solo championship is absent. Occupying that space instead are casual and ranked online matches, timed special events and unlockable customisation options. The latter are bestowed upon levelling up and trigger a loot-box opening sequence that would put a Blizzard lawyer into cardiac arrest. The message, then, is loud and clear: the titular World Series is to be populated and contested by what Codemasters hopes will be an enduring online community.
There is, at least, some incentive for said community to stick around beyond the loot boxes. Vehicle handling feels gratifyingly connected to 1991 without edging into unwieldiness. Race, Elimination, and Battle modes feel suitably distinct from one another, although track knowledge is the kingmaker in two of the three. Only in Battles, where vehicles are let loose in arena layouts rather than circuits, does chaos truly prevail, and it’s here that the design and implementation of that inescapable Nerf-branded weaponry are most lacking. Whether you’re armed with a flamethrower, a shotgun, missile launcher or mine, it’s hard to shake the feeling that in the absence of real granular control you’re best off spamming the fire button – like everyone else is doing.
The cream is, by and large, more likely to rise to the top during Race or Elimination events. Moveable objects line the bric-a-brac tracks, and it’s hard not to smile when a stray sycamore seed, paper clip or Cheerio finds itself deciding a race by slowing a marauding tank that’s inches from the line. In that sense, old meets new harmoniously here. But the prevailing feeling is that the past and present are frequently looking at each other a bit bemused. The core racing is pleasingly intact for 16bit nostalgists, but that doesn’t make Micro Machines a no-brainer for the new-school, season-based multiplayer model.
Familiar racetrack locales are bolstered by new, occasionally inventive obstacles and boundaries: the cracking ice patches in Pond Pursuit come not only with satisfying sound effects, but also lay a watery trap for pursuers