In the late 90s there were 3 video games that ruled my childhood, and as luck should have it all 3 of those franchises have been revitalised in 2017. Barely a day went past that I didn’t play Tekken 2, and though it does have its shortcomings, Tekken 7 is a breath-taking spectacle to behold. It may have caused grey hairs to sprout early, but Crash Bandicoot 2 filled my afternoons with joy and anger, and now in glorious HD I can do it all again after work! Whilst everyone was playing Gran Turismo, I was winning gold and having a blast on Micro Machines V3, and now 20 years later I can relive my tiny 4 wheeled victory … I think? Sometimes nostalgia can cloud our judgements and make treasures from our childhood look that little bit shinier, so I ask myself, is Micro Machines World Series one of those cases?
Micro Machines: World Series is the latest release from the critically acclaimed top down racing franchise, out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Helmed by the Sheffield based (and Oddworld based at that) studio ‘Just Add Water’, World Series sets to bring the much loved, nostalgic arcade racer back into the spotlight with help from industry giants Codemasters, the team that brought it to life in the first place. In this day and age, multiplayer reigns supreme, so it’s no surprise that World Series has focused its attention on online capabilities, reiterating the fact that what made this franchise so great was its chaotic multiplayer. For avid fans who wanted a little bit of spice and carnage in their next gen revival, World Series brings with it an all new Arena match, a special event which pits your vehicles and their unique weaponry against each other for a cute, all out war; it’s definitely a welcome addition in 2017. With outrageous characters, destructive weapons and diabolically difficult tracks to get your head round, Micro Machines: World Series definitely sounds like the next gen sequel fans have been screaming out for, especially considering we thought 2014’s ‘Toybox Turbos’ (Codemasters terrific unofficial Micro Machines revival), was the closest we were going to get. Toybox Turbos gave us a naughty nibble of the nostalgic pie, making us realise that there’s still a place in our hearts for a daft toy-car racing game, but was it worth waiting nearly 3 years for the rest of the slice? Start your engines; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
I’ll go into the newest additions to the game shortly, but ultimately if you’re reading this then you just want to know whether it’s like the classic games or not, and if by that you mean is it great fun and horribly difficult? Then yes it is! Offline skirmishes is where you’d expect Micro Machines to excel, and still 26 years on Codemasters know how to make local multiplayer exhilarating and dangerously competitive. If you expected to race around on a messy breakfast table, manic school classroom or ransacked pool table then prepare to be overjoyed as these classic tracks and more are back and looking better than ever; each track has been masterfully created and thought out in such a way you’re in awe staring at a track you almost recognise from 2 decades ago. Micro Machines World Series looks simply spectacular, racing a tiny toy car has never looked this slick and it’s great to see that even in its hiatus Codemasters haven’t forgotten the simple things that made this franchise great. Fans of Toybox Turbos may find one or two similarities between the two games as a number of the tracks have been developed further and rebranded slightly. Speaking of rebranding, instead of those typical weapons you’ve come to love, the giant mallet, the tommy gun, the mines, well they’re all still there, however this time they’re sponsored by NERF, which by no means is a problem (if anything having a toy manufacturer make an appearance in a game about toys is genius), but here it feels a little force fed and more like a TV advert you happen to be playing along with. Everything that originally made Micro Machines such a maniacal house hold name in the 1990s makes a triumphant return here, so fans will jump in and out of their tiny 4 wheelers to their heart’s content, but it won’t take long before said fans lift the bonnet of their tiny 4 wheelers and find an awful lot missing.
Despite having Brian Blessed bellowing out the game’s commands and title screen, Micro Machines World Series feels a little empty and stripped back. I spent many hours of my childhood playing Micro Machines V3, too many to recall in fact, and every one of them was filled with joy whilst I cruised through various game modes and offline championships, winning trophies from my brutal AI competitors and friends via local multiplayer. World Series unfortunately only offers 2 full time game modes to its players, or 1 game mode if you don’t like playing online. Play online or play offline are your only permanent game options, but if you’re like me and you’re one of the few who don’t play online multiplayer, then you’ve practically got half a game to enjoy. There are special online events that appear sporadically however, so if you hold out a little you’ll be rewarded with a bit of extra challenge; it’s a grave shame that from the off aesthetically, World Series doesn’t feel as ‘zany’ or jam packed as its predecessors.
Micro Machines has always been a difficult racer what with trying to defeat your opponents and staying on course, however World Series seems to be the most difficult yet and not because your opponents are vicious, conniving glory hogs, but because you’ll barely stay on the track. Having more in common with the original 1991 Micro Machines title, your vehicles almost fly around the track and without precision handling and expert knowledge of the track’s layout, you’ll find yourself slipping further and further down the grid. I love a challenge just as much as the next person, but the game’s handling here is just far too unbalanced, and it doesn’t matter what vehicle you choose to race with, your lightweight shell will fall off the dining table within the first 10 seconds. Whether it’s online or offline, Micro Machines World Series will look and feel exactly the same as you traverse across a mere 10 race tracks, which is a considerable amount less than what was on offer in Toybox Turbo, however what is in place to make up the numbers is 15 additional arenas to battle in. The all new battle mode, the more competitive option (if you can believe that), pits you and your opponents in an all-out war on top of specially designed and, often genius, chaotic coliseum where you’ll capture flags, deliver bombs and blow up your opponents as swiftly as possible. In your bog-standard racing, your 12 available racers (some named from terrific puns by the way) don’t contribute anything to your experience, each of their speeds, weights and handling are all seemingly the same. However, in battle mode this is flipped on its head or roof rack in this case. Each vehicle is equipped with its own selection of weapons and abilities, 3 of which are available right away and a super duper 4th one which is ready to rock once charged which can very quickly change the course of the match. Certain vehicles are good for specific objectives (notably the ambulance who naturally acts as a healer) and every attack on offer is hugely unique and fun to pull off, meaning that you’ll very quickly have a frantic yet hugely enjoyable match on your hands, so all in all a rather successful and strong new addition to the series; it does however feel a little out of place in this game, and though quite exciting, avid fans of the series won’t be picking this game up because of this feature, so it’s a shame that this is getting main event like plugging.
Back in 2014 we thought Toybox Turbos was the closest thing we’d get to a revitalised reboot of Micro Machines, so upon reflecting on the release of an actual brand new Micro Machines, is Toybox Turbos a better Micro Machines game than World Series? It may not have had the franchise name but it tried to be Micro Machines and succeeded, whereas World Series IS Micro Machines and it’s sadly disappointing. Visually, World Series is gorgeous and it is honestly impressive to see just how far this series has come along, and it’s great that the teams in charge of this reboot haven’t forgotten what made this franchise so popular, farfetched, hugely imaginative circuits and all out multiplayer chaos. Though the arena battles are great fun and wickedly creative, too much attention has been given to them, and sadly not enough focus and polish has been applied to the mode that will attract potential players. The cars may be difficult to handle and the tracks may be few, but the races are first class and easy to jump into, regardless of whether it’s alongside an online or local companion. I cannot deny that Micro Machines World Series is tremendous fun, however there sadly isn’t enough going for it to remain that way for a long time, unlike the originals that have inspired it.