E3 06: Micro Machines V4

Toy racer is set to return in 2006, and GameSpot headed over to the Codemasters booth to get a hands-on with the PSP version at E3.

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Codemasters has wrestled the Micro Machines licence back from Hasbro, and has called on Mashed developer Supersonic to handle the update. Micro Machines V4 is scheduled for a June release across PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, with PC and DS versions to follow before September. We were lucky enough to get a hands-on with the PSP version at this year's E3.

In Micro Machines V4, toy vehicles are raced around household courses such as bathtubs, kitchen tables, and a garden pond. The emphasis is on pick-up-and-play arcade racing, and you beat your opponents by knocking them off-course or using weapons to destroy them. The PSP version is exactly the same as the PS2 version, with more than 50 tracks, 25 weapons/power-ups, and 700 vehicles. Races can accommodate up to four people, with artificial intelligence opponents in single-player mode or real players in wireless multiplayer modes.

The game itself is incredibly simple to play, with the X button accelerating and the left/right controls adjusting the car's direction. The idea is to get as far ahead of your opponent as possible, until the players closest to the edge of the screen are disqualified. You can also use weapons to destroy or slow down your opponents, or power-ups to improve the health of your vehicle. Some of the weapons are similar to the ones we played with in Mashed, including explosive barrels that can be tossed from the back of the car. When vehicles take damage they slow down, so crafty players will be able to injure their opponent and then burn ahead with ease.

We were able to play a number of single-player cups in the advanced build of the game at E3. The first mode was a battle cup, in which we squared up against an AI player to beat them for points. The second mode was a race cup, which was a straight four-player competition to be the first to the finish line, with no punishment for falling to the back of the pack. The final mode was a single-player challenge cup, in which you had to race around a bath and reach each of the checkpoints without running out of time. There was also a challenge cup, but we sadly didn't have enough time to see it this time around.

The game is almost complete, so we were also able to get a good look at some of the different options available. You can change the way the game plays quite significantly by altering the camera from a classic overhead view to a more Mashed-like dynamic one. The dynamic camera moves around through 360 degrees to track the cars, whereas the classic camera tracks and pans across the track from a fixed angle. Traditionalists will take the classic view, whereas those who have graduated onto Mashed will prefer the more modern dynamic mode.

On the PS2, the selection of cars will be randomised based on the serial code of the console, with unique cars being swapped or won between players via memory cards. Snooping around in the game's menu system, we found that the PSP and the PS2 will connect up via USB to do a data transfer, although we will have to wait for the full details of this feature.

The PSP seems like the perfect platform for a Micro Machines game, and the V4 outing looks like it's in safe hands with the Mashed developers on board. It will be released very soon, and we'll have more on the finished game shortly.

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