Micro Machines – Retrospect

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

When all the exhaustive attempts at realism are woefully outdated, there will be a game that offers racing fun like no other, and the name of that game is Micro Machines.

 

In the mid 1980s, a toy company called Galoob latched onto the world’s burgeoning obsession with miniaturization, and had the good sense to combine this drive to make things ever smaller with America’s indefatigable love of cars.

The aptly named Micro Machines were huge sellers by the late 80s and early 90s, their popularity culminating in a genius product placement in Home Alone whereby these seemingly innocuous toys were used to thwart pesky burglars. Mums worldwide were no doubt mortified as children learned a new trick to make them even more annoying.

Before long a video game was lined-up as another vehicle to feature the toys, which had quickly expanded to include planes, boats, helicopters and even X-Wings. Such cross-branding was at that time becoming increasingly common; what was uncommon with Micro Machines was that they actually took a licence and made an excellent game out of it.

Codemasters began the series on the NES, devising the idea of making racing courses from different household environments, obviously mirroring where you would play with the toys in real life. My favourite course was the boats in the bathtub, watching out for the bubbles that slow you down, and the whirlpool that could suck you in.

Equally enjoyable were romps over workstations with the hair-raising ring-binder jumps, or the breakfast table epics with the track marked out in Cheerios. The most fiendish were the pool table races where you were in F1 cars, speeding across the baize and dropping into one pocket only to emerge from another elsewhere on the track, always careful not to fall to your doom on the outside edge.

The computer players were pretty evil – often your nearest rival would go nearly twice as fast as you were on a straight – luckily, the computer cars were terribly prone to foolish errors; falling in water, knocking each other off edges, or getting mired in maple syrup.

The game was also harsh on shortcuts – if you strayed too far off course (which it was easy to do) then you would blow up and be re-spawned way back where you left the track. It was fairly kind on extra lives though – bonus games earned for winning three races in a row let you try to beat the clock in a monster truck to earn extra credits.

Turbo Tournament, released in 1994, took the simple mechanics of the first game and expanded the tracks, characters, and the amount of players. You began with a race in the garden on ATV bikes, graduating to beach levels in sportscars, new improved workshop levels with moving drills, and the all-new Lost In Space pinball machine course, driven in dragsters.

The breakfast table was switched for the dinner table, the lines of the course now marked out in peas, and the hazards including wine bottles, pepper pots and the awesome rotating corn-on-the-cob bridge. The bonus levels retained the monster trucks, but set them in a treehouse and had you collecting mini-Micro Machines while trying not to plummet to a premature demise.

The Megadrive cartridge came fitted with two controller ports, effectively allowing you to bypass the need for a separate adaptor. What was more, you could double up on pads and accommodate up to eight players simultaneously, taking multi-player gaming to a new level. This was made possible by the fact Micro Machines had an exceptionally simple control system. Left, right, accelerate and brake/reverse. They added a horn button for added amusement, which also doubled as the ‘fire’ button on the tank races.

The 1996 edition improved the graphics yet further, and added lots of excellent new races – the camping level with the races over tents and between fearsome flames of the gas stove still fill me with dread, as do the solar cars on the Bunsen-burner-and-electric-conductor-equipped science lab level. Planes featured in a race through a nursery, and the treehouse level from the previous game was granted a three courses of its own, with your 4x4s struggling to survive over branch bridges, tiled roofs and a vicious jump across drainpipes.

By this point, 16-bit consoles were clearly creaking and ready to pass the baton to the next generation. With Micro Machines V3, the leap was made to the original PlayStation console. Although enjoyable, V3 failed to quite match its predecessors as issues with the inevitable transition to the third dimension introduced unnecessary layers of complexity.

With early racing games there were two choices of perspective – the top down view of games like Micro Machines, or the Outrun-style ‘behind the car’ view. With the plethora of vehicles on display, Codemasters had taken the smart choice in choosing the top down view. However, with the advancement to 3D it was necessary to alter the camera angles on occasion, if for no better reason than to show off the graphical powers of the 32-bit machines.

This detracted from the simplicity that made the original games so compelling. You could easily find yourself distracted by the fancy new textures and three-dimensional obstacles, which could cause crucial delays in tight races. This incarnation was ported to the N64 with few alterations as Micro Machines 64 Turbo, where the same problems held true.

Soon after, the series began a decline in commercial fortunes that matched that of the toys. But somewhere in a corner of gaming history, when all the fancy graphics and official manufacturer’s licenses are stripped away, when all the exhaustive attempts at realism are woefully outdated, there will be a game that offers racing fun like no other, and the name of that game is Micro Machines.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Swimmer also charged with crossing double land lines and excessive speeding
News
people
News
i100
News
moneyForbes 400 list released
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    1st Line Service Desk Analyst

    £27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

    Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style