Okay, honesty time. I don't actually have any fond Micro Machines memories from my days as an ickle person. Never owned a single one. Admittedly, I was into Lego and Transformers in a bad way, so I guess I simply didn't have enough time/pocket money/attention span left over to be swept up in any MM fever. They should have got to me earlier. When did they come out, anyway? I vaguely recall a television ad with a loud, Noah's Arcade style voiceover. That was quite cool. No, wait - it was the guy who talked really fast, who was semi-famous for being able to talk really fast, wasn't it Classic. That guy cracks me up. But I wouldn't want to get stuck in a lift with him.
Anyway. Micro Machines in an Amiga context is a scrolling, top-down-view racer. I like top-down racers, when they're done well. And while there have been lots of this type of game on the Amiga, only a small number have actually been much good, with plenty more being bad and some being just plain ugly. It's such a simple format - how hard can it be to get it right?
The first thing I have to say about Micro Machines is a good one. It's not fussy. There are no tedious vehicle setup options, no need to collect money for upgrades, in fact nothing to distract you from just getting on with it and racing. Very console. Press fire a couple of times through the attractive menu screens and you're off. The game originated on the NES, my game origin consultant tells me, so this all makes sense.
The MM licence allows for the action to take place in lots of original and varied locations, as it is set in a common or garden house. The sort lived in by you and me, and many other people. It's a great idea, and it really keeps things fresh. One minute, you're on the kitchen table, the next you're in a sandpit in the back yard. Brilliant. There is also a pleasing amount of variety in the vehicles with which to race, and the differences between them go beyond the cosmetic: they all have quite unique handling characteristics, so it is not simply a matter of mastering one style of control. Vehicles go together with locations, so boats race in the bathtub, for example.
Things start off simple, and get gradually more complex. Tracks have signposting clues to help you memorise their layouts, which is a neat solution to a design problem; that of providing some indication to the player of comers and other features, without putting little left/right/whatever signs everywhere, which would be quite incongruous. From the first level after the qualifying bathtub race (which is so simple, I would think carefully about whether you are really cut out for racing games if you have trouble with it), there are jumps to jump, bridges to cross, hazards and traps to avoid, and a hella lot of corners. The tracks are just the right length: you get more and more to remember, but it never becomes too much.
The cartoony graphics belie the subtle control required. This is a proper racer. The control is consistent and realistic; you can powerslide and everything. It isn't just a matter of holding the fire button down the whole way and forgetting about braking, even with vehicles that have grippy handling, like the dune buggy - it'll only end in tears. Judicious squidging with careful timing is the order of the day, as is getting a good racing line. A sly nudge delivered to a competitor at just the right moment can also be a highly effective method of gaining that little edge. Or of plain sending them flying off the table. It plays fair, too: while you can have the odd moment of worse than average luck, basically it's your skill that determines how well you do.
You can play single or two-player, with two different one-player modes available. The Challenge mode is where you race against three computer opponents, with the first two finishers qualifying. If someone fails a few times, they are eliminated, and another character takes their place. You progress through the levels, rotating through the various course types. Fail to qualify, and you lose a life and re-race the track. There are bonus timed levels every so often, which award an extra life.
The 'vs' mode is the same whether played against the Amiga or another person: the aim is to get the length of a screen away from your sole opponent. Do this, young grasshopper, and you shall be awarded a point. The cars are replaced level with each other, and you're off again. If you reach the requisite number of points before the race is over, you win, otherwise the one who is ahead on points at the end of the race wins. If the scores are level, there is a sudden death playoff. Which is, of course, exciting. It's exciting at any time, actually, with the pendulum of fortune swinging between the players, like a pendulum. Also, when racing in this mode, being way in front but not quite enough to win can make for some hairy moments, as you can't see what is coming up next You have to decide whether to persevere and try to make it those last two pixels ahead, or slow down and wait for another opportunity. Good stuff. I find this mode more satisfying than the Challenge mode, as both racers are always in
"It's a great idea, and it really keeps things fresh." close proximity to each other, so the tussling never ends.
This is a good-looking game. The graphics are clean, cartoony and crisp, and while the sprites may be small, they are full of character. And the quality of the scrolling, which is vitally important to a scrolling racing game? I measured its smoothness with APoV's Smooth Scrolling Sizeuperizator. It gave me a reading of "Significantly smoother than a strawberry smoothie". Pretty conclusive stuff.
There really is little to fault with Micro Machines. So I'll just recap a bunch of good things about it instead. It's fun whether played by one or two players. It has exciting, well-balanced gameplay. It's pleasing to the eye. The whole thing just bounces along merrily. Even if you only like top-down racing games a little teeny bit, you will enjoy playing this, because it's great.
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