Table Top Racing is a perfectly decent PS Vita game. It has sharp visuals, a nice variety of modes and all kinds of upgrades to purchase. I even love the conceit, which sees tiny toy cars racing through everyday household objects like baking supplies, garage junk and a picnic table full of food. And yet, despite enjoying most what this game has to offer, I wonder why I'm so underwhelmed by Playrise Digital's Vita-exclusive.
At first glance, Table Top Racing looks like a modern age Micro Machines. We see our toy cars weave around cans of paint, past a plate of hotdogs, over the oven grill, under the play castle, around the letter blocks and up a ramp made up of crayons. Instead of taking the time to recreate some of the greatest race tracks found around the world, Playrise Digital chose places kids might take their toy cars. We see levels based on a garage full of junk, a restaurant, the backyard barbecue, a table full of toys, a rusty workshop and the beach.
While all this sounds like the recipe for a great racing game, I was disappointed with the execution. Yes, the levels have a likeable theme and the racing is solid, but the course designs left me cold. It's not enough to line the side of the tracks with recognizable objects; you also need to incorporate it into the gameplay.
It doesn't help that the laps are painfully short, often clocking in at less than 20 seconds. This wouldn't be a big deal if there were many different stages to tackle, but sadly that's not the case. With only eight different tracks, it won't take long to see everything this game has to offer. Table Top Racing tries to mask the limited number of locations by allowing you to race each lap both forwards and backwards, but that's not fooling anybody.
Although the game doesn't do enough with its fantastic theme, I wouldn't say the everyday objects lining the course are inconsequential. In fact, some of the objects are incredibly consequential. Because we're talking about regular household items, you'll quickly discover that a lot of them have sharp edges. This may not seem like a bad thing at first, but it won't take long for your tiny car to get hung up on these annoying objects.
Although it uses the setting of Micro Machines, this PS Vita game plays more like a kart racer. The handling is over-the-top, allowing cars to turn on a dime and bounce around the course without taking damage. There are also a number of weapons, such as a homing missile, shockwave and a giant ACME-style bomb. There's nothing particularly original about the combat, it gets the job done and little else.
Despite a few hiccups, I really enjoyed the way the toy cars handled. The gameplay is understandably simple, but does a good job of presenting the action. Some of the camera tricks really add to the style, such as a subtle lean every time the player takes a tight corner. It's a trick that reminded me of Sony's wipEout series. This may not be a coincidence. Playrise Digital is headed up by Nick Burcombe, one of the developers behind the long-running futuristic racer.
Knowing Nick's resume, I couldn't help but be disappointed that some of the finer details weren't more interesting. WipEout unleashed a weapon that created a moving earthquake, and the best Table Top Racing can do is a homing missile? This is especially disappointing considering the game's fantastic gimmick. Why limit yourself with generic weapons when you could have power-ups based on toys. Maybe you drop a letter block on somebody's head, or drown the car behind you in goo. You really have to go out of your way to be less creative than the weapons in this Vita game.
Complaining aside, Table Top Racing does a couple things right. For one thing, I had a lot of fun racing through the championship mode. Here you'll earn up to three stars taking on a bunch of different races and activities, including time trials, weaponless heats and the popular survival race. There's also a mode that has you racing down another player in hopes of running them off the track. It's not exactly Burnout: Takedown, but it's close enough. With four championships to master and 132 stars to collect, I have no complaints with the length of the single-player campaign.
Even more impressive are the secondary modes, which do a good job of mixing things up. There are a series of drift events, which was moderately enjoyable. The special events have players taking part in wacky custom races that are even more over-the-top than their championship mode counterparts. These are a fun distraction.
The multiplayer functionality is barebones, but does what it needs to. Players can take on friends locally or battle the entire world online. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal; however it's rare to find a cart racer on the PS Vita that offers any kind of online multiplayer.
Without wanting to send this review into a lengthy rant, I will say that I absolutely loathed the use of the rear touchpad. For no reason at all, the large touch-sensitive pad on the back of the Vita is used to look behind the car. This could have easily been mapped to a button, but instead it forces you to hold the system carefully. Worst of all, you can't even turn this annoyance off or customize the controls. Believe it or not, this may be the game's most frustrating flaw.
At $7.99, Table Top Racing is a surprisingly cheap Vita game. Unfortunately, there are hooks in place for microtransactions, which includes buying in-game tokens with real world money. A number of the cars are locked behind high price tags, and every single vehicle can be upgraded multiple times. The good news is that you'll earn plenty of tokens from simply playing the game.
Speaking of the cars, this Vita game has a nice selection of recognizable frames. You start out with an ice cream truck and quickly upgrade to a Volkswagen bus, jeep, truck and muscle car. You'll also be able to unlock traditional race cars, a Hummer, an old school roadster, a hot dog truck and many more.
With all these great cars to drive, it's a shame the core game isn't more interesting. What should have been a fantastic gimmick ultimately feels wasted, with so much potential left untapped. The gameplay is solid and it looks good on the Vita's screen, but Table Top Racing is a better idea than game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.