Micro Machines

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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 - sega genesis

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.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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!!!!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

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.

Micro Machines - sega genesis
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.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m08miUSCHI[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Cobra Triangle

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

Cobra Triangle (1988)
By: Rare Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: NES First Day Score: 168,250
Also Available For: Nothing

One of the reasons I decided to start covering this genre of games is that it’s one I’ve enjoyed immensely in the past, but so far this enjoyment has been limited only to a handful of titles. There are still many I haven’t actually played before, so what better excuse to start? For the third game in the feature, I thought I’d take a look at one that tried to do something a little bit different. Enter Rare. This NES-exclusive is a bit unusual for an overhead racer for several reasons. Not least of these is the fact that it’s single-player only! That’s right, the feature that is often the main appeal of games of this nature is entirely absent! Do not despair, however – much has done by our ever-reliable friends at Rare to ensure the longevity of this, one of their first forays into the racing genre and, for a change, it features not cars but speedboats!

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

It’s a scrolling, isometrically-viewed affair which only shows a small part of any given course or arena at any time, rather than the more common single-screen racers. One reason for this is that it’s not even a racing game at all! In looks and style you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s one, as I did before I played it for this feature, but there’s not a great deal of actual racing going on here. The game consists of 25 ‘missions’, and on initial evidence, all seems normal. The first mission sees you racing along a river amidst other speedboats, but rather than racing them, it seems the object is to shoot them with your boat’s onboard cannon! In the next mission you must race up a straight waterway jumping ramps to grab airborne items. Next you must safely dispose of some mines while opposing boats try to stop you, then you have to navigate an obstacle-strewn stretch of river while fighting the current. Other missions include protecting swimmers from enemy boats, jumping waterfalls, and shooting targets.

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

Every few stages you are also faced with a boss. These take the forms of giant sea-monsters such as serpents or crabs! Of course, as well as accommo-dating enemy speedboats, the various waterways also feature additional hazards. These include sharks, logs, whirlpools, ramps, electrical shockwaves, and gun turrets on the river banks. Luckily, not all the luck is going against you. The numbered Pods carried by some enemy speedboats can be collected to power-up your ‘Cobra Class Speed Boat’, equipping it with turbos, cannon upgrades, higher top speed, missiles, or a forcefield. These power-ups are collected in a Gradius style, i.e. you can save up the Pods you collect and choose which power-up you want. The more Pods you collect, the better upgrade you can choose. You’ll probably need them all!

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

My playing of this game for this review represents my first extended session on an NES game ever! This is because, for those who don’t know me, I was a big Sega fanboy back then and fiercely loyal to my Master System! I was obviously aware of the NES and many of its games, but I didn’t play them. Cobra Triangle is, however, one of the ones I’ve always wanted to play, thanks in no small part to the review in C&VG and the glowing recommendation that accompanied it. Now that I’ve finally played it, what do I think? Well, as I said earlier, it’s not really what I was expecting – I thought it was basically a water-based equivalent of Super Off-Road! But nonetheless, it’s good fun, original, but tough!

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

Graphically, Cobra Triangle is fairly average in my view. Granted, I have little to compare it to from personal experience but things look pretty basic here. Backgrounds are largely featureless and pretty repetitive, although both they and the water do change colour every few missions (the ice level looks nice). The sprites are pretty nicely drawn, though a bit small, and their animation is somewhat lacking. They all look similar from what I’ve seen too, and there’s a bit of flicker when things get busy. The bosses aren’t bad though – they’re pretty big and have a bit more animation than the smaller enemies. The music here is fairly uninspiring too, unfortunately, and not memorable at all. Sound effects are fairly varied but pretty minimal. And if I hear that Goddamn ‘hit-by-a-whirlpool’ noise one more time I’m going to smash something. Anything.

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

In fact, the game in general is really difficult and pretty frustrating. Some missions are easier than others but things gets insanely tough later on. For example, if it wasn’t for the benefit of being able to save my game position on the emulator, it would’ve probably taken hours just to get past the waterfall stage. You have to take a run-up to make it over the waterfalls (for there’s not just one!) but the ramp is small and usually moving from side to side. On top of that, there’s often whirlpools before the ramps which throw you off course! It does get ridiculous at times, but it’s not all bad – the mine disposal stages are good fun, as are the boat shooting runs. I just wish all the missions were a little more forgiving!

Cobra Triangle - Gameplay Screenshot

Despite the average presentation in this case, Rare usually pull out all the stops when it comes to design and gameplay and it’s no different here. The game is full of original touches and its very notion is unique – I’ve not really played anything like it before or since. To be honest though, original or not, I just didn’t enjoy playing it that much which is a shame as it could’ve been such a great game if it wasn’t so damn difficult!

RKS Score: 6/10