Micro Machines (1991)
By: Code Masters Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, SNES, NES, Game Boy, CDi, PC, Amiga
People will always have differing opinions of things. Whether it’s games, films, music or anything else you can think of; there will always be at least one person that worships something and another who hates it with just as much passion. However, generally speaking, good things are regarded as good by the majority and likewise bad things remain bad. This is as true of video games as anything else but there’s bound to be a few people that dislike well-regarded games and that includes me – it was the whole reason I created the ‘Overrated!’ feature here at Red Parsley of course. I’ve only covered four games so far though, which suggests it isn’t something that happens too often, but if there was one game I always had at the back of my mind to add to the feature, it would be this one. I don’t think there’s any game so universally lauded that I dislike, but I caught a lot of flak for its omission from my recent Top Five so I figured it was as good a time as any to address the issue!
Micro Machines themselves – the little toys – are pretty cool. I’ve even collected a few such as the range they released based on the awesome Babylon 5, and when the game was released it was met with universal acclaim from reviewers and players alike. I’ve always been keen on games of this type so I sought it out with the utmost haste. Being equally keen on my splendid MegaDrive, it was this version I plumped for and first impressions of the game were… superb! The presentation is outstanding with nice cartoony intro and options screens which give you the choice between single or multi-player games. The latter offers the choice of ‘Single Race’ or ‘Tournament’ for two players while the former allows you to choose between ‘Head to Head’ or ‘Challenge’ games, and it is the first of these that I prefer by some way which is basically the two-player mode but against a CPU-controlled opponent.
Before starting you first need to choose your own character as well as your opponent’s from a selection of eleven cartoony human oafs whose skill level supposedly increases gradually from one to the next. You’ll then race each other in your various miniature vehicles over a series of courses based on household locales. The first, for example, sees you racing powerboats around a bubbly bath tub! Other vehicles include Sports Cars, Formula One Cars, Tanks, Turbo Wheels (buggies), Warriors (hot rods), 4×4’s, and Choppers, and they are raced around the house on things like desk tops, breakfast tables, snooker tables, and even around the workshop and garden. All race locations feature items and obstacles appropriate to their setting which most of the time make themselves unwelcome. In the two-player Single Race mode you can choose a vehicle which is then raced over its ‘home’ course, but in all other play modes the courses are arranged in order and you have to win one to see the next.
Unfortunately, this is where the problems start, at least as far as I’m concerned. The single player Challenge mode features a series of twenty four races which includes several courses based on each house location with corresponding vehicle type used. Races are against three CPU vehicles with very simple rules – complete the required number of laps and finish in the highest position possible. If you finish in the top two, you can move on to the next race. If not, you’ll lose a life. All the other play modes feature one-on-one races, whether that’s human vs the computer or another human. On the left side of the screen are eight coloured circles – four red, four blue. The object is to turn all the circles your own colour which is done by getting far enough ahead of your rival that they drop off the screen. Each time you manage this, a circle is filled in your favour. This can make races very short or immense endurance contests depending on the skill and luck of the participants, with the latter playing a notably more prominent role than the former in my experience.
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, in all head-to-head play modes, by their very nature you’re frequently racing high up the screen with little warning or view of upcoming corners and obstacles. Secondly, the design of the courses, while original and very appealing, also leaves masses of obstacles all over the place which not only slow you down if you hit them, but are also very easy to get stuck behind. On top of that, many of the courses take place on a table or something similar which means slipping over the edge and crashing to your doom is also commonplace. I can’t really say the courses gradually increase in complexity and difficulty as you might expect, either – the course that makes me most angry is only the third, and the one after it is a piece of cake! As annoying as all this stuff can be, it’s all manageable in slower vehicles like the 4×4’s or Tanks, but when you have to zoom around courses in fast, skiddy vehicles like the Sports or Formula One cars, mistakes come often which soon proves immensely frustrating.
It might seem like a game that’s hard to get pissed at judging by the screenshots though. As mentioned, the presentation is fantastic, and the audio is great too, with plenty of catchy tunes and various noises. Graphically, there are no flashy special effects or anything here and it’s easy to see why the game looks more or less the same across a variety of systems, but it’s still very pleasing on the eyes nonetheless. It’s certainly a mighty colourful game and the appropriately tiny vehicles all look nice enough as they career through the smoothly-scrolling courses, but the varied backgrounds and the great attention to detail is where the work has really been done. Most of them show great creativity and are filled with a conveniently-arranged mess befitting their setting. For example, the breakfast table course is marked out by Cheerios (or something similar) and has various foodstuffs dotted around like waffles and fruit. On-course obstructions are caused by spillages such as baked beans, and there’s even a cereal-box jump!
Most of the other courses are just as detailed and imaginative, and discovering their various sights and features is highly enjoyable the first few times you race them. However, as amusing and comedic as the game may be, the object is still surely to make progress and win races while having fun, not instead of? Success comes from driving round the more difficult courses time and time again until you can do so blindfolded; until you can do so without making even the tiniest mistake. Doing so is immensely tense/exciting during the race and immensely satisfying afterwards, but this is likely to happen far less than the alternative which I at least found incredibly frustrating and rage-inducing: winning, winning, doing well, BANG! … stuck behind trackside object, near-instant last place… racing, racing, doing well again, regain the lead, skid a teeny bit too far on a corner, fall off the table, near-instant last place, racing, cross the finish line in last place, lost a life… GrrrrrRRRRRR!!!!
Okay, I know I’m probably going to take a right kicking from the legions of Micro Machines fans who loved and still love this game and its sequels; I know its faults that annoy me so are mainly limited to certain courses on which the faster vehicles are used, and even then can be found in many other overhead racers (though not nearly so prominently, I submit), but I can scarcely recall any gaming experience that makes me as angry as this one is capable of doing – something which is much more pronounced in the Challenge mode in which you have to manage to go without making a mistake for much longer than the short bursts of skill/luck required in the other modes. Control of the vehicles is flawless though, admittedly, and with two players, both of you are as disadvantaged as each other I suppose (unless one has had a lot more practise!) but winning is still often more down to luck than skill.
Based on my prior experiences with this game I was preparing to give is cursory play to refresh my mind, then duly unleash the diatribe it deserves and give it a very low score, but I suppose I have to begrudgingly admit that I enjoyed Micro Machines much more this time. It’s still reallyannoying though, and frequently so – some times I’ll play it and do extremely well, even having enormous fun in the process, then catch myself thinking “this game is great, I was wrong, I’ll give a glowing review!”, but then my next session with it makes me angrier than ten Incredible Hulks and I end up smashing stuff up. The ideas behind the game are amazingly great and there’s many laughs to be had here, but in the end, this is a great example of a game that can be effing awesome and incredibly annoying, often within seconds of each other! Does that make it terrible game? No, I guess not, but it’s not a great one either in my opinion, sorry.
RKS Score: 6/10