Originally a school-ground collecting fad, Micro Machines has become a small-time gaming phenomenon and its latest instalment V4 has quite a reputation to live up to. Sadly, little has changed to modernise the game from its original 1997 release on the NES, but things aren't all grim.
The best part of the game is undoubtedly the environments. Fifty different tracks incorporate their own unique world into the race. As you bounce around the course like balls in a pinball machine you must navigate chicken coops, kitchen hot plates and glide within the reach of angry crabs. The next biggest addition to the game is a grand new array of deadly weapons. Although the new selection is a little cliched, there's no lost joy in pummelling your opponents with a cluster bomb, pounding them with a roof-mounted hammer, or simply jamming a homing rocket up their boot.
Each race you win earns you new cars, sometimes in "Box Sets", with a total of 750 cars in 25 classes to collect. However, of the total number of cars available there are very few that are anything more than a new paint job. This is a fairly lax attempt at evoking nostalgia and little more is done to draw in the old-school fans. Different vehicles are suited to different maps. Variations in statistics affect the handling of each machine, but in most cases, you will rarely release the accelerator, as you can more efficiently drift around corners by simultaneously jamming down the brakes.
Apparently, developer Supersonic has employed the Havok physics engine to make car handling and environments more realistic - if you can call driving a toy car into a milk bottle realistic in the first place - but this hasn't made the slightest bit of difference to the gameplay of previous versions.
Unfortunately four wheels are all you'll see in this game, with no helicopters, hovercraft or other exciting modes of transport to choose from. Race maps are worth a cursory chuckle but they are often short and repetitive. Environmental gimmicks soon wear thin and the game modes are somewhat lacking in imagination.
The game's saving grace is the multiplayer where you can put any disappointments behind and slog it out with a group of your friends in a four-way micro face-off. In this mode, it's even possible to trade cars or play for keeps and take your friends' hard-earned vehicles as a trophy. Unfortunately, the limited vehicle selection makes this a rather arbitrary function.
As an added bonus, the developers have included a track building tool so you can make your own race tracks. The process is oversimplified for the younger audience but it's still a nice touch. Tracks are created by starting with a base map before joining preselected waypoints until you form a complete loop. Weapons and power-ups are placed in fixed positions along the selected route.
Verdict: Fans of the title are going to be disappointed that their old favourite hasn't grown up with them. But despite its flaws, there are still a few laughs and fun to be had in this classic title.
Price: $49.95 (PC) $69.95 (console/handheld)