Mi­cro Ma­chines

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

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