Platform reviewed: PS3
Back in the 90s, there was a top down racer that encapsulated that feeling of being a child who spent many a day racing their toy cars over breakfast tables, in gardens, on staircases and the like. That game was Micro Machines and it was incredibly addictive thanks to the tense, chaotic multiplayer where humiliation and defeat was always awaiting you just beyond the screen’s edge. Developer Codemasters really made its mark with the teeny-tiny racer and went on to create a fine heritage of making rather good games based around driving cars quite fast, including a couple of fantastic sequels to the original Micro Machines (Turbo Tournament and V3).
Driven by nostalgia, racing fans have been hoping for a new entry in the series for years now (the last time it showed up was in the joy-deprived Micro Machines v4 in 2006), and though there’s still no sign of it,Codemasters is hoping to bring back some of that magic with Toybox Turbos, returning to a world of racing around cereal bowls and plant pots once again. But does it manage to capture that essence of childhood playtime? Or will fans of the original games now be too old to enjoy it in the same way?
As soon as the title screen bounds into view the charm offensive begins. Bright, bold colours and jaunty flute music welcome you and the menu that follows is chunky and colourful. This captures the essential feeling of racing toy cars from the off and genuinely brought a smile to my face with its innate cheeriness; and that was before I’d even done any racing. Happily, the racing compliments the fun-filled aesthetic too.
The handling is simple, forgiving and loose, another throwback to the game’s heritage. It hits the right balance as you traverse the aforementioned breakfast tables et al, in a range of themed miniature vehicles, avoiding plentiful hazards such as table edges, lit hob rings, oil slicks and rubber ducks. Avoiding these obstacles whilst attempting to take over/maintain a lead over an opponent is all about timing. Get it right and you can manipulate other players into getting hit, something that is especially useful in multiplayer. The obstacles are only part of the dangers you will encounter though.
Powerups such as machine guns, EMP blasts and good old missiles are littered at intervals around the tracks. This is nothing particularly original of course, but when in competitive play, they are great potential friendship-killers. On balance, I found the gameplay setup worked far better with real-life opponents. The A.I. ranges from patronisingly slow to unfair depending on difficulty and circumstance; there seems to be no middle ground for challenge in singleplayer. The career is a pretty short run through the different tracks, vehicles and modes with a star-collection based unlocking system. It looks adorable and has a good level of variety, but I’d argue it is nothing more than a tutorial for the multiplayer. A bit of tweaking could have filled out this side of the package somewhat and made for a more enjoyable all-round game.
The multiplayer then? Well, it’s greatly addictive and an insanely competitive four-player experience, more so with friends and family than against strangers online. The objective of any multiplayer race is simply to avoid dropping off the edge of the screen. Whoever the last two players are in any round get given points to fill their meter while the other two lose points. First to get full points wins the race and bragging rights. In order to keep every player constantly involved, the two players who are eliminated first can attack the remaining pair with missile strikes, garnering a modicum of vengeance and causing much expletive-fuelled debate about fairness.
This is exactly what made Micro Machines work as a multiplayer title and is the biggest selling point for Toybox Turbos. Giving you the tools to knobble your rivals chances in a heartbeat, while still not ensuring you’ll be safe from retribution for it, is an unbeatable experience. In an era of nameless, faceless online battles, it’s great to have good old-fashioned couch-based multiplayer title like Toybox Turbos that reminds you of the fun you can have playing videogames with people you know in the same room. Sadly, this means the single-player side of the game is fighting a losing battle from the get-go, because when the multiplayer is this good, no A.I. driver is going to compare with shunting your mates into the corner pocket of a pool table. The only real downside of the multiplayer is that the modes available are few, but it could be argued that what is this is perfectly fine as it is and any additions would feel like needless filler.
Toybox Turbos deserves massive praise for creating a modernised version of a classic format without destroying the core of what made it work in the first place. It looks, plays and feels exactly as it should and although singleplayer is a bit of a damp squib, it cannot take away all that is good about the overall package. For the price being paid, you are getting a bargain in a fantastic multiplayer racer.