If you’ve ever lamented the passing of the top-down, toy racer shenanigans so vividly pioneered by the Micro Machines games in years past (you should), then Table Top Racing by developer Playrise Digital will be right up your street. It’s not quite a perfect take on those fondly remembered toy racers of the past, but Table Top Racing remains an eminently playable and slickly presented affair that nonetheless proves to be a solid homage to those enjoyably scrappy racers of yesteryear.
For those who aren’t familiar with the games that Table Top Racing uses as its vaunted inspiration, the premise is simple enough to grasp.
Players are stuffed into the driver’s seat of a wide variety of miniaturised vehicles with the aim of scoring pole position in each race. A racing game which by default is viewed from behind the vehicle, players have the much appreciated option of configuring the camera in Table Top Racing, so that those who yearn for the top-down thrills of the Micro Machines games can emulate that same viewpoint here.
Set against the backdrop of everyday household tables strewn with cereal boxes, plates of food and other such domestic incidentals, the whole experience is given some extra spice by the presence of power-ups such as missiles, mines and special ability granting tyres that can drastically alter the course of any given race.
Rather than shoving a game out the door that merely addresses the fundamentals of the toy racer experience, the Liverpool-based developer has instead elected to build upon those classic foundations with a number of intriguing new elements.
Let’s take the game’s single-player campaign, or Grand Prix mode, for example. Rather than being a procession of back-to-back races as might normally be the case, the developers have integrated a selection of different twists on the racing formula. Players can expect to encounter events which allow power-ups and don’t allow them, such as chase missions where the object is to ram an opponent off the road in a given time and frenetic, split-second skimming time trials to name a few.
The whole campaign is linked together with a bespoke sense of progression too. With each successfully completed race, the player accumulates a form of in-game currency which can then be used to purchase unlocked vehicles or upgrade existing ones. To a similar end, the game also supports micro-transactions, allowing those who have the requisite inclination (and wallet) to purchase additional in-game currency to add to their digital coffers.
Those who fear that the presence of micro-transactions will cause progression through the campaign to be stunted should rest easy. Since everything can be unlocked in due course within its single-player campaign, micro-transactions in Table Top Racing are assuredly more of the ‘strictly optional’ variety, than the ‘pay to win’ sort.
Elsewhere, the game’s lengthy and challenging campaign is just one aspect of what turns out to be a substantial single-player offering. Bolstered by the addition of quick races, drift challenges and other special condition races, it soon becomes clear that Table Top Racing can accommodate the lone player with aplomb as much as it can folks with budding gaming social circles.
In regards to the latter, the game supports both ad-hoc and online multiplayer, allowing players to get stuck in locally or over long distance. To further embolden those who seemingly exist for the pursuit of bragging rights, Table Top Racing has them ably catered for with leaderboards whch break down their achievements by global rank and race type, while also tracking player’s progress on each individual track as well.
If there is one issue with Table Top Racing’s multiplayer however, it is that it doesn’t allow much in the way of customisation. Specifically, it doesn’t allow players to make the playing field even by virtue of either stripping vehicles of their power-ups or ensuring that everyone has access to the same suite of powered up auto-mobiles.
Multiplayer niggles aside, the game’s qualities noted elsewhere would all be for nought if the game doesn’t play and look the part but thankfully, Table Top Racing excels on both counts.
Regardless of the vehicle under your control, handling in Table Top Racing is nothing short of responsive and nuanced. Well-judged nudges on the thumbstick can result in some pleasingly gentle pivots, while full-tilt presses of the very same apparatus can cause some viciously tight turns with mastery of both being essential for some of the more trickier tracks.
Of course, such immediately gratifying response wouldn’t be possible if the screen update couldn’t keep up and as such, this is where the game’s impressive visual presentation comes in. Screaming along at a buttery smooth sixty frames per second, Table Top Racing’s spectacle is made all the more impressive by the high level of trackside detail and graphical effects that the game showcases throughout.
It’s actually refreshing to see such a game wrought by a developer that hasn’t forgotten that the PlayStation Vita is handheld powerhouse capable of some fairly astounding visuals. Perhaps others then should follow their example when crafting a game of similar ilk.
If improvements can be made anywhere, a prime candidate for evolution would be the design of the courses themselves. A tightly-designed if unspectacular bunch, one of the chief charms of the Micro Machines games in their day was how the everyday household environment was used to capture the imagination. Card decks would be used as ramps, pool tables were rife with holes to fall into and a whole raft of dynamic hazards abounded that you would expect from a race course constructed in such a chaotic environment.
The eight tracks in Table Top Racing (sixteen if you count their reversible counterparts) feel a little restrained by comparison and while undeniably visually impressive, they don’t quite compliment the frenetic action as well as they should do.
Table Top Racing was really quite a pleasant surprise at the end of the day. By expertly realising the various elements of the toy racer sub-genre with great handling vehicles, well-judged power-ups, impressive visuals and a substantial single-player offering, developer Playrise Digital might well have started to forge its own legacy that others might take creative inspiration from.
With such a good start under their motor-oil smeared belts then, let’s hope that Table Top Racing 2 sees the developer take a few more risks now that its own foundations have been so soundly established.