If you've ever wondered what Micro Machines would be like with NASCAR drivers, Majesco's NASCAR Heat is the answer. Instead of tooling around in yards and bathtubs, in NASCAR Heat you assume the role of one of 10 big-name NASCAR drivers on an equal number of officially sanctioned tracks. Legends such as Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, and Bobby Labonte add realism to a game that's initially light on frills but that eventually pays off thanks to its inviting gameplay.
At its core, NASCAR Heat isn't a remarkably complex game. After choosing your driver, your overriding goal is to mash the gas pedal until the race ends, hopefully with you in the lead. There are five other drivers, and they're all out for the same. You see the action from a top-down sky perspective that gives a clear view of the raceway, while a turn indicator at the top of the screen prepares you for oncoming curves and corners. Driving is responsive, braking is quick, and CPU skill is well representative of the three difficulty levels selectable from the main menu. Once you get the hang of things, the game's beat-the-heat mode will give you the opportunity to dig into the techniques necessary to dominate the game's championship and quick-race modes.
If you heed its call to dig deeper, NASCAR Heat exhibits a few twists that elevate it above your typical Micro Machines clone. First, the game's pit system, while a travesty by NASCAR standards, actually becomes a meaningful strategy element. As you complete each lap, your fuel, body, and tire statistics greatly falter. If you don't pit in by the time the race is half over, you'll stall out in the middle of the track. Since the majority of races last approximately five laps, this poses a unique challenge: Do you pit early to keep pace, or can you race skillfully enough to pit a lap late? Another interesting twist is the game's inclusion of racing lines, a subtle nuance that can give you a smidgen of additional acceleration compared to the other racers, provided you're able to figure out the optimal route through each course. About the only other noteworthy gameplay element in NASCAR Heat is its crashes, which are over the top and violent--Daytona USA-style excitement. Rocket science it isn't, but fun it is.
NASCAR Heat also isn't a looker. Though there are supposedly 10 different courses, they're all cookie-cutter repeats of one another with miniscule variations in the turns. Further, while the game roars by at a speedy clip, cars themselves really don't animate much. In fact, a few dust bits are about all you'll ever see. That, some catchy music, and a couple of crash sound effects round out the presentation side of NASCAR Heat. On the upside, nothing is terribly upsetting about how the game looks or sounds; it just won't set your eyes on fire.
Psychological profiles aren't exactly kosher for describing video games, but such an analogy works well for NASCAR Heat. It's not smart as a whip, but it's fun, just like the best friend in school who'd drag you to the arcade when you should have been studying for an impending pop quiz.