Release Date: June 27, 2006
Ahh, Micro Machines, the diminutive cars that spawned a whole new paradigm in "Don't put those there, Jimmy"-style parenting. While I never played with cars as a kid (Transformers kinda guy, and rarely were those things ever in their vehicle modes), I do clearly recall the initial advertising campaign for Micro Machines with the world's fastest talker, John Moschitta, Jr., as the pit-crew uniformed spokesman. Of course, I knew him better as the voice of Blurr from the Transformers movie, but who am I to quibble?
The original manufacturers, Galoob, have long since been bought out by Hasbro and the line is no longer commonly available in North America. That doesn't mean we don't still get to indulge via the digital realm. Enter today's review subject: Micro Machines V4, the seventh iteration of the franchise in game form. Do good things come in small packages, or is there naught but a microscopic amount of fun to be had? Read on, and we shall find out ... or, you can just look at the score and ignore all my hard literary work.
So what is Micro Machines V4? Well, it's a 3D racing game that mixes in high-action vehicle to vehicle combat. You're bombing around in tiny cars or trucks in environments that are "life-sized," so that everything is gargantuan in size. Does this sound familiar? If you're a regular reader of my articles here on WorthPlaying, you'll note that this is almost identical to my last review, for Mad Tracks. Indeed, Micro Machines V4 is virtually identical, save for the clever mini-game aspects of Load, Inc.'s scrappy little release.
The overall point to Micro Machines V4 seems to be "collect 'em all," and the way to do that is to win races and battles. Each first place victory unlocks more micro machines for your garage. This is largely ceremonial, as you cannot choose which car or truck you'll be playing for any given track; that's all pre-selected for you. Of course, it's worth mentioning that even when all the cars in Gran Turismo are unlocked, it's not as if you drive them all. It's nice to know the choice is there, however – this is, alas, an option Micro Machines V4 lacks.
As I mentioned, the maps are all "real world" environments that are exaggerated to titanic proportions due to the miniscule size of your cars. You'll find yourself burning around the strangest places: rooftops, construction sites, beach fronts, kitchens, barbershops and more. Several of these maps remind me very much of RC Cars and Re-Volt, only with many more hazards than I recall either of those two games having. It's not just traversing the odd territories or even avoiding the power-ups you can collect that makes victory so elusive. Anything even remotely dangerous in any of these maps is sure to be placed in the least convenient place; hair clippers, stove-top heating elements, jig-saw drills, even predatory crabs. There is simply no respite from the hazards the real world has to offer. It's almost as if the developers want to teach you a life lesson or something.
There seem to be only two play modes to Micro Machines V4: straight racing or "whoever gets furthest ahead" battles. Straight racing is easy enough to figure out: Get to the finish line before anyone else, using whatever power-up dirty tool that you can. The other option is somewhat more abstract. The goal here is to get a screen's length ahead of any other opponents; doing so scores you a point and resets everyone to start again from the place the leader last scored from. The most points wins, and the cut-throat "get them before they get you" is still in effect. Thus, pick up the weapons as you find them: machine-guns, plasma gun, rocket launchers, guided rocket launchers, explosive dice that you drop behind you like landmines, and even giant hammers to crush your enemies. That, in a nutshell, is the entirely of the Micro Machines V4 experience, save for a few technical issues, which I shall now detail.
Micro Machines V4 boasts the technology of Havok for physics and the Renderware engine for graphics. The former isn't implemented in any way that I'd say is worth being proud of; the physics don't feel natural at all. Gravity is too touchy and carries no semblance of weight adjustment. No matter how big or small an object in the game is, if it's an independent item that can be moved, it all weights the same.
As for the latter, I have yet to see a Renderware title that looked anything more than mediocre. Micro Machines V4 is no exception; the models are blocky, the textures are bland and repetitive, the particle effects are sparse, and the reflections are low-key. It is clear this title wasn't meant to shine under the lights of a high (or even mid-range) GPU; it's just meant to perform smoothly on the technology of last-generations console hardware.
Much as this is a harsh criticism, it must be made: The AI is afforded far too many shortcuts. As a result, it robs the game of just about any potential for fun. What do I base my claims on? Well, the CPU opponents you race/battle against accelerate faster, corner more sharply, have a higher top speed, take and do less damage to each other, and aren't subject to the same laws of Havok Physics that you are. That's on the "easy" setting, as well. As soon as you clear the Learner Division, you're even pitted against cars that are clearly superior to your own; the first barbershop map sees you in a VW minivan racing against two muscle cars. I realize we're not discussing a racing simulation that seeks to replicate real-world situations, but trust me when I say that the Micro Machines version of a VW minivan is no more of a match in this game for a Dodge Charger than it would be in the real world.
Overall, I was extremely unhappy with Micro Machines V4. It's infected with "consolitis," it carries the malignancy that is the Starforce copy-restriction system, the code is unstable and slaps Windows with an illegal operation every time you exit the program, and has even gone so far as to render my system incapable of a standard shut down/restart. When a game forces me to cold-boot my computer, you just know I'm not going to be kind. My final judgment is this: Just because this is a name franchise with a major publisher backing it to give it glossy retail packaging does not mean it's worth your money. Do yourself a favor and go buy Mad Tracks instead; it's a better value.
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