The world as we know it is on the verge of a crisis. Oil stores are drying up, food is scarce, and video games cost more than home mortgages. If this keeps up, war is imminent. Don't worry, though, Dr. Minimizer has an idea! Using his minimizing machine, he's going to shrink everyone in the world to 1/360th of his or her original size, creating a world of plenty. There's just one catch: The doctor needs a tiny supersoldier to lay the groundwork for his plan, and you're it. In FoxKids.com Micro Maniacs Racing, you'll choose from one of 12 miniaturized monsters, compete on a grueling circuit of 41 races, and hopefully beat up eight of your friends while doing it.
The core of the single-player mode is the challenge league, a multitiered series of 41 courses that pits you randomly against four other racers in a test of jogging supremacy. Success in the challenge league unlocks new bonus levels and opponents, and it also gives you new courses to run through in the game's time trial and versus modes. Playing the game itself is easy enough. As the game's top-down viewpoint twists and turns, you'll have to accelerate around corners, jump over obstacles, and avoid any number of harrowing drops. Some courses bring trackside obstacles, such as sharp knives and overturned trash cans, into the fray, while others force you to rely solely on your jogging prowess to best the competition. If you snag a few power-up orbs, you can also choose to unleash a variety of character-specific attacks, usually in the form of spinning vortexes or dastardly explosives. Thankfully, the game isn't all about running around - sometimes you'll even get to ride around on personal watercraft or hitch a ride on a flittering insect. As is usually the case with Codemasters' Micro racing games, Micro Maniacs is easy to pick up, full of variety, and cute.
Unfortunately, Micro Maniacs adheres to the more frustrating constraints of the Micro Machines series as well. If you miss a checkpoint, veer away from the course, or skid too far, you'll be sent to the point where you left the track, usually obliterating any chance of a first-place finish. Although there are 12 unique characters, they don't really vary from one another except in terms of costumes and special attacks - so forget about choosing a better character in an effort to lessen the game's difficulty. Speaking of difficulty, the game is harder than sin, mostly due to a skid-happy physics model and selectively cruel CPU AI. If you can overlook these subjective gripes, though, or happen to be one of the old-school Codemasters faithful, Micro Maniacs offers an enjoyable game of racing. It's certainly more polished than the company's previous effort, Micro Machines V3.
Codemasters continues its successful formula with Micro Maniacs, but the game's true hook is its multiplayer mode. Two players can each have his or her own controller, or they can opt to "split" their controller buttons, enabling up to four people to race at one time. By using a Multitap peripheral, up to eight players can take part. Although there are tournament, single race, and team race modes, they all boil down to the same thing - hustle to the finish line and kick your opponent's butt. Things can get somewhat frantic with eight players onscreen at once, especially with multiple special attacks flying around at the same time. Factor in painful penalties for going offscreen, and what you've got is uproarious multiplayer mayhem. The lack of a split-screen mode makes things confusing at times, but the thrill factor more than makes up for such a complaint. Better still, there's no draw-in or texture loss, even with an army of human-controlled opponents.
Although the game's overly dramatic music and vaudevillian sound effects provide a decent auditory backdrop, it's Micro Maniac's visuals that strive to catch one's eye. Everything is cute, colorful, and rendered in a distinctly whimsical style. The winding, twisting, and obstacle-laden courses overflow with such giant-sized objects as lotion bottles, steak knives, scurrying rats, and flittering bugs. Record players become launching ramps, playtime blocks fill in for checkpoint markers, and unattended power tools serve as gut-wrenching surprises in the heat of competition. The top-down camera viewpoint does limit things a bit, but not horribly so. Other than the characters, which are at times too grotesque, the game's greatest visual flaw is simply having to learn the courses ahead of time to predict oncoming turns. You can't really see that far ahead of you, so constant replay is your only hope if you want to get out of the mess alive. Some will find this a bonus. Some, a curse. Learn your way around, however, and you'll gradually begin to notice just how detailed and diverse each of the game's 41 unique courses are.
When all is said and done, Micro Maniacs is just another Micro Machines game. Even though you're running around with miniature monsters this time, the gameplay, graphical feel, and challenge are the same. As such, those new to the Micro series will have a lot of joyous discovery ahead of them, while fans of the series will continue to be delighted. Unfortunately, those frustrated by the series' restrictive camera angles and dated gameplay won't find anything new to change their minds. The game's made-up cartoon license gives it a refreshing edge, though, a fact that will no doubt endear it to younger gamers.