With oversized tires and variety galore, Micro Machines made a name for themselves as a miniature alternative to Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars in the 1980s, and thanks to the wondrous powers of nostalgia, the shrunken-down hot rods have been going strong in video games for a long time now. The latest game from the miniature toy line is Micro Machines V4, and we recently got our hands on a preview build of the game to kick the tires and see how it is shaping up.
As you might expect from a toy-based racer, Micro Machines is a pure arcade racer starring a cute cast of collectible cars and trucks as they battle it out on human-sized racing environments such as pool tables, flower gardens, and workbenches. But there's more to it than simply running laps around these everyday environments; Micro Machines V4 also tosses vehicular combat into the mix, with a number of different power-ups you can collect on the course. From machine guns and missiles, to sonic disruptors and health packs, practically everything you pick up on the track can be used against your foes as you race to cross the finish line first. Some of the weapons, such as the sonic bomb, affect all the cars in your general vicinity, while the aimed weapons, such as the guns and rocket launchers, take some accuracy to deal damage to your foes. Because of the odd camera angles the game uses, however, it's not always easy to get a clean shot on the opponents either ahead of or behind you.
While V4 does have multiplayer capabilities, and we'll get to those in a bit, the single-player game is a fine place to start out if you're new to the series. Here, along with a practice mode, you'll find a number of tournament events to race, broken up into four different difficulty levels--from the dead-simple beginner races to the considerably more challenging events later in the game. The lion's share of the challenge in this game comes from both the differing types of cars you'll drive--which can vary wildly in terms of performance--and the various tracks themselves. The early courses, for example, feature simple 90-degree turns and wide racing surfaces. As you move up the difficulty ladder, more complex turns are added, and the tracks themselves become noticeably more challenging.
Race types in the game include standard multilap races, which are simple dashes to the finish where the weapons and the crashes are plentiful; battle races, which are short tug-of-war events in which you want to win several short point-to-point races in a row to knock off your opponents; and checkpoint events, which have you racing across the various tracks trying to get from point to point before the time runs out. The slightly more interactive environments make checkpoint races more fun than the run-of-the-mill events; during a race on a pool table, for instance, we had to dodge careening billiard balls and watch out for dangerous cue sticks that threatened to push our car off the track. Another checkpoint race, which took place on a model train track, had us darting in between moving train cars as we attempted to get to the next checkpoint. While nobody will confuse this game's driving physics for Gran Turismo 4, it is nice to see the cars slip a bit more when speeding over the felt of a pool table than when on a surface with more grip.
Beyond the novelty of racing along kitchen counters and breakfast tables, one of the coolest aspects of V4 is the massive number of unlockable cars. Winning race series will unlock new rides for you across 25 vehicle classes (including rally, racing, utility, and more), bringing the total to 750 available cars in the game--a number that will probably sit well with the Micro Machines collector geeks. The PlayStation 2 version of the game even includes a track editor that lets you create custom race tracks based on several of the stock environments found in the game. You simply connect a number of waypoints together, drop in power-ups wherever you like, and then save the track for racing later.
Both the PlayStation Portable and the PS2 versions of V4 allow for multiplayer races for up to four players--the PSP game via the wireless functionality, and the PS2 game via split-screen. Game sharing between the handheld and console games means you can share created tracks and your car collection between both versions of the game, and if you've got a friend who also has Micro Machines V4 for the PSP, you and your friend can set up trading sessions and share cars.
In all, Micro Machines V4's kid-friendly arcade racing seems to be aimed at a slightly younger crowd or at those folks who like to jump right into their races with as little fuss as possible. We'll have a full review of the game once it arrives on store shelves in June.