Former toy manufacturer Galoob's miniature car series races onto the PC with multiplayer support, hundreds of vehicles, and a zany selection of offbeat environments. Instead of racing on traditional courses, the tiny cars skitter across breakfast tables, kitchen floors, pool tables, bathtubs, science labs, and other unlikely venues. The diverse lineup of vehicles includes street racers, vans, concept cars, muscle cars, monster trucks, dune buggies, hot rods, custom rides, and more, each rated in areas such as speed and handling. After selecting a car and environment, players will have to dodge cereal spills, swerve past running water, scoot underneath roving chickens, or avoid other hazards while collecting mischievous power-ups to stymie the competition.
Micro Machines V4 could have been a lot of things. It could have been a frantic race through standard household items made enormous and engaging by some of the most outrageous concepts ever put in a game of this sort. It could have been a tightly-controlling masterpiece that finds players put in the satisfying driver's seat of hundreds of unique vehicles. It could have been a lot of things, like I said, but it isn't. Instead, it's disappointing and only occasionally worth playing.
It's clear from the design that the things Micro Machines V4 could have been--should have been--were those it almost was. The developers no doubt wanted to achieve all those great elements, but they failed because of a few key factors that really shouldn't have interfered. Chief among these is a control scheme so unresponsive you might sometimes wonder if somehow you yanked the controller out of its USB port.
Consider the typical track, which at least has the "wow, that's a huge pool ball" side of things going for it (more on that in a minute). Through any given location, you must race along boards, cushions, magazines, pool tables and so forth, squealing around hairpin turns and between dominoes and dice, tweezers and cue sticks. So you roar into one of the curves and instead of turning--while you yank on the controller in a hard right--you just keep sliding straight ahead, over the edge and toward the floor far below. This happens on the most benign of surfaces, and it gets worse if you cruise through something that in real life would be slick.
What could have been a tightly controlling game, then, is just an exercise in frustration. You never dare approach a corner at full speed because if you do, you're pretty much screwed. This is true of any of the hundreds and hundreds of vehicles you can add to your collection, making their inclusion cosmetic rather than useful. So instead of going with a pedal-to-the-medal way of playing, you have to make due with less-than-breakneck speeds and you have to cut every corner short, lest you be thoroughly screwed by a variety of other game design choices.
You see, a race isn't generally a game of every man for himself from start to finish. Sometimes it's that way or sometimes it's a time trial where you have to race from checkpoint to checkpoint and beat the timer, but generally the approach taken here is less orthodox. You start on a screen with your competitors and everyone races until there's only one car on the screen. Sometimes this happens because someone was going too slow thanks to the fear of approaching a corner and sliding off the edge (something that does still happen a lot), but mostly it's because you don't have the track memorized and you go into a corner you didn't realize was coming. After all, you can only see so far ahead on some of the tracks. If you fall in a hole, it's probably because you had no way to know it was coming.
Anyway, this might not sound so bad. You should just be able to keep racing and stay in the game, squeezing around corners and--oh yeah, the controls suck. Damn it! Well, you can still get by on shortcuts, right? The answer should be "yes," if the game is to have any hope of consistently providing a compelling experience, but unfortunately it is not. Even if you take every curve at the perfect speed, even if you cut across corners by a good margin, you'll probably be defeated by another curious fact: your opponents have better engines. Always.
So you race your best, pulling through tight corners like a pro despite the irritating controls, dashing to the right of an obstacle instead of the left and shaving off a second or two, and still the guy in the lead flies over a ramp and you're suddenly too far behind. This even happens on occasion when you're not really at risk of drifting off the bottom of the screen, for whatever reason. Since the person to win is the one who first gets eight glowing lights on his meter, and since losing causes you to surrender one you struggled to earn, a match often is a tug-of-war sort of affair where you win a few, lose a few, win a few and repeat until finally, someone (perhaps you but probably not) actually wins. Frustrating? Why yes, it is. How'd you guess?
Trying to play online is also frustrating. It's confusing just trying to find an online match, and usually when you do you just keep trying to join them and keep getting various error messages that make no sense. There's no smooth way to find a match you can definitely play, and if you do it's as likely as not that everyone has already abandoned it. While it's cool that someone thought to include such a mode, its execution leaves much to be desired.
To be fair, the developers did a few things right. One of these is the weapon selection. You can pick up a hammer icon that lets you smash your rivals if they get ahead of you and are still within range, or you can get blazing fire snakes that lay behind your car. Another favorite of mine is the set of explosive fuzzy dice, which you can drop as you might bananas in Super Mario Kart, only with less visible effect. Certainly, these power-ups add a bit of personality to the game and make for some frantic matches on straight stretches because you never know when someone's going to shove a missile up your butt.
The environments, also, are better than you might anticipate. One cool level finds you racing along a rooftop, where your car will squeal across some tarps and around brightly colored ribbon, then over the whirling blades of a fan that will float you toward the upper reaches of the track, across roof tiles and past a sparrow that hops along the side of the track. Then there's the pool table, where pool balls will come from ahead and behind you, knocking you this way and that and maybe into the pocket that will lead to the next leg of the race. There's even a bathroom counter strewn with magazines and humorously-illustrated pictures, as well as a men's razors that will slice your car to ribbons. Even though they're not so fresh as some of the obstacles from Micro Machines 64 Turbo or Re-Volt, those on display here will no doubt prove pleasing.
It's a shame the whole game couldn't be as neat. You've perhaps played a Micro Machines game in the past that nailed all the elements perfectly, and it can be really disappointing to play this one and see how close the developers really came to something great. Truly, they almost had it right. If only those stupid controls and the out-of-this-world speed your opponents possess didn't get in the way, this would have been just about perfect.
People who downloaded Micro Machines V4 have also downloaded:
Micro Machines, Micro Machines 2, Micro Machines V3, Need for Speed Underground 2, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, Driver (a.k.a. Driver: You Are the Wheelman), Mashed: Drive to Survive
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