Remember Codemasters’ Micro Machines games on Mega Drive or Playstation? Eclipse Games obviously does, as Super Toy Cars proves. In fact, it was one of their influences for the game, along with the classic Super Off Road and Mario Kart games.
Super Toy Cars takes that inspiration and builds a tabletop racing game for up to four players locally but, curiously, online functionality isn’t in the Xbox One version. Surely a glaring omission for such an online-centric console? That said, local play made Micro Machines great and it’s certainly fun here too.
Taking place on rubbish-strewn, hardwood floors of houses and what appears to be a sweet shop, not to mention the dirty yard outside, Eclipse Games’ arcade racer sees the titular toy cars battling for wins in a number of modes. Alongside the standard racing, there’s Time Trial (beating lap times), Time Attack (racing to checkpoints before time runs out), Eliminator (last place is eliminated every 15 seconds) and Evade (the same as Eliminator, only with mines strewn about the race track), all of which provide their own challenges.
There are only two options for gameplay though: Career and Quick Race. Quick Race offers the full range of 15 tracks from the start, allowing up to four players to race in any mode and in any vehicle. This is a nice change of pace from most games of this type, usually requiring cars and tracks to be unlocked through the main mode. In Career mode, you will have to earn money and points through winning the different events throughout. Points unlock new episodes and allow you to progress to harder races, and using money to buy new cars will aid you in beating those more difficult events.
There are 16 cars to unlock in Career mode, from the humble 4×4 to the open wheel F1-alike, all of which handle differently and can be upgraded to improve performance and cornering. These upgrades often don’t make much of a difference as the AI seems to compensate for the improved speed, etc. and the track designs sometimes don’t suit particular cars. This becomes a problem during the later episodes, artificially creating difficulty spikes that can really frustrate.
The frustration isn’t unique to Career mode, either. The handling itself can be overly slippery at times, feeling like you’re constantly driving on ice as you hit the scenery for the fifteenth time. The scenery often blocks progress thanks to poor hit detection, stopping you dead for deigning to even look at that tin can that you should easily have passed by. Usually this at least resets you on track quickly, though there are times the reset doesn’t trigger and you’re left stuck on a wall as the entire pack drives by. When this happens for the umpteenth time on the final corner of a particularly tough race, it simply ruins an otherwise decent experience.
During races you can select from three camera angles: near, far and top-down. The latter is a lovely nostalgic trip as it recreates the style of its Micro Machines influences, though it struggles with multitiered levels or anything with tunnels, leaving you blind to your vehicle. The other two are standard chase cameras and are far more suited to finding your path through each level. These also show off the distinct, cartoony visual style of Super Toy Cars. Vehicles are chunky caricatures of real cars, the 8-ball weapon sends a Looney Tunes-style pool ball rolling along the track, and circuits are filled with wonderful reminders of the crazy, household items we used to create racing tracks for our toy cars, when we were children.
The actual track design is fairly pedestrian, however. Nothing in Super Toy Cars stands out the way driving up playing cards and around the edge of pool tables did, in Micro Machines. Despite the large number of tracks on offer here, most follow the same dreary path with only the backdrop changing. Luckily the races are usually full of action (despite the frustration of its aggressive AI and the aforementioned hit detection) so the focus is more on that than the design and route of each level.
Sound design is a real problem within the game, too. Engine notes are monotonous, levels offer no unique soundscapes, explosions are decent at best, but worst of all (something that will be noticeable within the first few minutes) is the music. The title menu plays the same tune over and over, and the in-game tunes offer no respite from the repetition as it plays one song from the limited library of pop-rock, endlessly looping that song throughout the race. On the plus side, races are mercifully short and sweet.
With plenty of tracks and cars on offer, a variety of surprisingly fun game modes and local multiplayer for up to four players, Super Toy Cars does offer some fun for your £7.99 and can certainly fill that Mario Kart/Micro Machines-sized hole in the Xbox One’s library for the time being, but don’t expect it to be anywhere near the quality of the classics that inspired it.
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