As a general rule, I’m not a massive fan of racing games, and, if I’m being honest, a big part of the reason for that is that I’m rubbish at them. Like shockingly, hilariously bad. In 25 years of gaming there have been only a handful of exceptions to this (on both counts), most notably the Mario Karts and, on my trusty Game Boy Color, Micro Machines.
Imagine my joy (and relief) therefore, when I turned on Table Top Racing to discover that Playrise Digital (developer) and Ripstone Games (publisher) have taken the best elements of both of these games, and crammed them into one fun-filled little PS Vita title. I totally missed this on the App/Google play store, so having geared myself up to write a review of a game that I was certain I’d not get very far with (and genuinely worried that my Vita might be sent flying across the room in frustration), I was positively delighted to find that my biggest problem was actually putting it down (gently) to write this review.
Anyways, as the name suggests, Table Top Racing has you racing on (yup, you guessed it, Sherlock) tabletops, and this is where comparisons with various Micro Machines games are most obvious. Table Top Racing however, isn’t a top down, 2D number like the earlier Micro Machines games were, and it has used the power of the Vita to render the various tracks in glorious, colourful 3D. There are 8 of them in total, and given they’ll be raced around both clockwise and anti-clockwise, that’s 16 different tracks to get to grips with. They’re all well thought-out, well-made, and more importantly, a whole lot of fun, so even if you do keep crashing into the same giant plate of pancakes over and over again, it’s not quite as frustrating as it could be because, hey, it’s a giant plate of pancakes!!
In terms of actual gameplay, there’s enough in Table Top Racing to keep you amused and engaged too, with a few variations around a theme. Obviously that theme is always driving really fast, but there are time trials, chases, straight races, longer races where the car in last place gets eliminated after each lap, and, my personal favourite, anything-goes-racing with weapons, boosts and dirty tricks. This is where the Mario Kart comparisons are most apparent, and there’s the same level of mayhem, confusion and fun as you, for example, pop off an EMP to take out the leading pack, and then proceed to whizz past them all (extending your middle finger as you do so is, of course, optional) to reach the finishing line and achieve tiny-car-racing glory! Likewise, it’s even more fun to watch someone pop you with an EMP, whizz past (middle-finger raised) expecting to win, only to watch helplessly as you then fire a rocket at them, and continue on your way to victory.
Compounding the value-for-money/fun quota, there are also various ways in which to partake in the various race types. You can just choose the ‘Quick Race‘ option, have a crack at the ‘Challenges‘ mode (involving each race type at some point), or embark upon a tiny-car-racing-career with the ‘Championship‘ option. This entails working your way through the various race types, unlocking others as you do so, before finally completing a particular championship with a three-race finale. There are stars on offer for completing each individual race/challenge (with the number of stars determined by your time/position/performance), and these translate to coins (which you can use to upgrade vehicles), XP (bragging rights!?) and to top it all off, winning a championship finale will also automatically unlock a new vehicle.
The coins have, so far, been quite generous, which is a good thing because a) you will have to upgrade your car in order to win some races, b) your upgrades don’t carry across to any new vehicles you unlock, and c) you can’t determine what order you upgrade a particular vehicle. So, for example, let’s say you’re having trouble in one of the ‘chase races’, and you just want to increase your speed a bit: you’ll have no option but to buy every upgrade until the speed option becomes available to you. The order is pre-determined so you might have to spend 8000 coins before you’re even given the option to spend 2000 on a speed upgrade.
Now, you can also use those coins to buy new, better cars, so why not just buy progressively better cars (jumping, say, 3 or 4 cars in the list at a time), and fully upgrade these, thus saving money on upgrading the cars in between!? Well, whilst it’s a fairly valid option for the championships, it’s not so much one for the challenges because you have to complete these using certain vehicles. So, having long since abandoned my ice cream truck (which I’d spent exactly zero coins upgrading) I found that I needed it for a challenge, and it became quite clear, quite quickly, that I’d need to invest in it in order to complete that challenge.
On the one hand, it can be quite frustrating spending money on a car for one, maybe two races/challenges, but, on balance, I think it’s necessary to keep the game’s progression on an even keel, and prevent it becoming overly easy. I’m as much a fan of exploiting loop holes as the next guy, but was, for the most part, OK with Table Top Racing closing this one, and felt that it increased the difficulty just enough to make the game challenging. So, knowing I couldn’t be frivolous with my coins, I’d work my way through a Championship, upgrading my car when absolutely necessary, but often not get three stars in every individual event. However, once I’d won the finale, and unlocked the better car, I could go back through those individual events again, and increase my haul of stars. To be honest, I was having so much fun that I sort of welcomed the opportunity to have another crack at them, but with an increased chance of laying the smack-down on a particular car which had been giving me trouble previously.
When it becomes (arguably) more of an issue though, is when it comes to the ‘Drift’ challenge, which is yet another game mode available in Table Top Racing. As far as I can tell, you can only compete in this using one specific vehicle, which is expensive and/or isn’t unlocked until deep in the game. Again, that’s fine, and standard for a lot of games to increase the (re)playability, but it did mean that I was unable to play it before writing this review (it has, however, both given me a goal and piqued my interest, so, you know, swings and roundabouts and all that). I should also point out that there is the option to buy coins in-game, but a) I’m not a big fan of paying real money for stuff in general, and more importantly, b) I managed just fine without doing so anyway.
The final game mode in Table Top Racing is, of course, the multi-player/online option. Again, at the time of writing this review, I’d been unable to experience this, but I’m told there’ll be a true online mode (with lobbies and whatnot), and an ad-hoc/localised type one, where you’ll be able to bomb, missile and EMP the stuffing out of your friends until the cows come home. Which, is, you know, a pretty big incentive, right there….
All-in-all, Table Top Racing is a joyous, addictive little game, and at £4.99/€5.99/$7.99 in the PS Store, it’s a reasonably cheap one too. To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a game that you’re going to dedicate months, or even weeks of your life to exclusively, but I can definitely see it being a fun little pick-up-and-play title that I’ll return to whenever I fancy a dose of colourful, nitro-induced mayhem. It’s a relatively simple game, but done very, very well, and given that I struggled to put it down (when usually, I can’t abide any game involving acceleration, cornering and suchlike), that, in itself, is high praise indeed.