Novelty racing games are a lucrative but finicky niche in the racing genre of gaming. For every Mario Kart, there are about 73 Little Big Planet Kartings. When I learned that Table Top Racing was a thing, I was cautiously optimistic. Miniature toy racing is a decidedly focused sub-genre, but one that has provided me with countless hours of joyously repetitive entertainment in the form of Micro Machines games across multiple consoles. Could Playrise Digital reawaken my need for speed atop picnic tables and cluttered workbenches? Read on to find out.
• Developer: Playrise Digital
• Publisher: Ripstone Publishing
• Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
• Also Available On: iOS, Android
• Release Date: Available Now
The first thing you notice when you load up the game is how freaking pretty it is. The press release boasts 60 FPS and double the polygon count of the previous iteration of the game, and this certainly shines through the big bright Vita screen. There are essentially four track locations, each with two track layouts, for a total of eight different tracks. The novelty of drifting around a huge plate of California Rolls on a sushi table or crashing into an over-sized oil can on the workbench is lasting and enjoyable.
There are, of course, obligatory crates-with-a-question-mark-on-them-weapon-pick-ups littered across the tracks, and I found them to be far too generously placed. This design choice was clearly made to instill a sense of chaos and frenetic battle racing action, but I found it to sadly slow down the action. With so many available pick-ups I found myself constantly deploying my weapon just before I got another in an attempt to get another, more desirable weapon. Heat-seeking missiles, EMP bombs, Tom and Jerry-style fuse bombs and nitro boosts round out the most formulaic weapon set ever assembled, but unless you can distance yourself from the pack, they just serve to slow down the action.
The game allows you to choose between three camera settings: Normal (behind your car), Close (behind your car), and Retro (Birds-eye). Given my gaming pedigree I immediately opted for the Retro view, and never would have changed it but for the reverence I hold toward my vaunted title of “Extremely Occasional Game Reviewer.” All three camera choices are equally functional, but I found the track details to be more engaging and refined from the birds-eye perspective.
One major gripe comes from the forced use of the Vita’s back touch panel as a means to check behind you during the race. Instead of a virtual mirror showing up or some other equally sensible option, your entire screen is violently commandeered by your stunning yet disorienting rear bumper-mounted camera. This would be a fine option, were it an option, but it’s not. You cannot turn this feature off. I am a huge man, and I have huge man-hands (that’s right, ladies), which means that I had to curl my huge man-fingers up into awkward Carpel Tunnel-y tangles of man-flesh to avoid triggering this unwanted view. This was never not annoying.
The game allows you to purchase several different cars and upgrade your car using the coins you earn as you race. It appears that you earn enough coins to upgrade rather quickly, so it does not feel like the developers are forcing you into excessive micro-transactions, though that option does exist. You can also purchase special tires that give you specific perks while they are equipped, such as jumping, boosts, or spikes that will slow down opponents when you side-swipe them. The tire upgrades add an extra element of strategy and planning for specific races and challenges.
There are ample game-play modes: Championship, Quick Race, and lots of different challenge races to complete. The online mode was intriguing, but I was unable to connect to any human opponents in four separate attempts to do so.
My crack research team tells me that this game was adapted from an iOS/Android title of the same name, and that accurately sums up my feelings. The hardware controls of the Vita undoubtedly enhance the experience, but it is at its roots a very good phone game, not a full-fledged handheld downloadable title. It is a beautifully rendered, perfectly passable miniature racing game. Fans of the genre will be satisfied, but the sluggish pace of many races will turn off some. Now to uncurl my cramped-up finger knots so that I can spend another five years twiddling them in anticipation of my next review.