That's what Micro Machines World Series from Codemasters and Just Add Water attempts to do with its miniature toy cars, racing and battling in gigantic environments. But major design issues and a lack of content make this one hard to recommend.
Just like the real thing only smaller
The basic concept of the Micro Machines series, which began with an NES game in 1991, is to race tiny cars (based on the Micro Machines toy line, formerly owned by Galoob and now wasting away under Hasbro's ownership) across real-life environments like tables and yards. It's a lot like Table Top Racing World Tour, only played from an overhead perspective and with a slightly wackier tone.
The Micro Machines series has had its ups and downs, with some entries providing great single-player and local multiplayer fun, and others dropping the (tiny) ball in various ways. World Series has the unenviable distinction of being one of the lesser games in the series, in large part due to its strange focus as an online multiplayer game.
You see, World Series has no single-player campaign of any sort. That's a very basic ingredient of nearly every arcade racing game, and something the $10 cheaper Table Top Racing certainly delivers. Instead, all but one game modes are 12-player online races that substitute AI players for any missing human players. Barely anyone plays this game (it's a train wreck), so you usually get matched against 10-11 AI racers. The AI can't be customized, and they are relentless, winning most matches.
With no campaign to work through, the only overall goals are increasing your player level (and eventually prestige leveling, Call of Duty-style) and collecting skins and inconsequential items for each of the game's twelve pint-sized vehicles. Each time you level up, you win a loot box with four random items. Any doubles received are converted into a small amount of money that can be spent on individual customization items.
Now, customization stuff can be a fine motivating factor in games. But the game itself needs to be good, and you also need to be able to really see and show off the gear you equip. Here, your car is extremely tiny and nobody plays the game anyway. Slowly grinding away against mostly AI racers just to level up and get a few random junk items doesn't exactly inspire repeat play sessions.
World Series offers these basic game modes:
- Special Events: Themed playlists that are available for a limited time only. As of this writing, the next special event takes place in four days. Compelling!
- Quick Play: The main game mode, despite the name. You can select from three queues: Battle, Race, and Elimination. Race is the only game mode that offers any fun at all, although always having twelve cars in the running makes things way too chaotic and random. We should definitely be able to reduce the vehicle count to a more manageable number.
- Ranked Match: Upon reaching level 10 (which feels like it takes forever), you can play ranked matches. Nobody really plays Ranked – maybe locking it behind a level requirement was a bad idea.
- Skirmish: Play single matches against AI or up to four local players. Only the Elimination and Free-for-All game types support local multiplayer, though. Races are limited to single-player only.
World Series has an in-game party system that allows a group of friends to stay together in the same group between games. That's good, and something we'd have loved to see in Dead by Daylight. But getting into matches usually takes quite a while. After you or your group leader selects a game mode, you'll wait 60-90 seconds to be put in a game – and usually the rest of the game is populated by AI bots anyway.
Players have precious little control over what type of online game they'll play. Choose anything but Race and you'll likely get stuck in the same game type (such as King of the Hill) over and over, despite games like Capture the Flag existing. The track selection is poorly randomized as well, so you'll probably play the same few tracks nearly all of the time while other tracks barely ever come up.
After an online race ends, the game awards XP based on your performance. In any other game, you'd then be dumped back in the lobby or matchmaking would automatically commence. Here, you get an obnoxious full-screen "Session Ended" message every single time. Thanks for telling me the match that just ended has ended, Micro Machines! I wouldn't have known if you didn't blast that idiotic notification. Haven't the developers played an online game before?
The Xbox One version of Micro Machines World Series has 44 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Many of these will be all but impossible for normal players due to their focus on specific conditions in online games.
You'll have to perform environmental kills (such as pushing opponents into Hungry Hungry Hippos) in matchmade online games while AI opponents thwart you the whole time. There are so many level-specific online Achievements, finding a boosting group of 10-12 players is the only real hope of completion. And there's a Platinum Trophy-style Achievement for unlocking all the other Achievements, to boot.
Micro Machines World Series is a poorly conceived installment in the generally likable Micro Machines series. The core racing can be enjoyable at times, although it often feels random or unfair because you have so little warning of obstacles and such limited control over your vehicle. The environments themselves can be fairly amusing, sometimes employing clever transitions like a drive through the corner pocket of a pool table. All told, they take better advantage of the toy cars theme than the overly sterile Table Top Racing World Tour.
- Racing tiny cars across gigantic environments can be fun.
- Play as a few GI Joe vehicles.
- No single-player career mode.
- Tracks have too many pitfalls, and players have too little time to see and react to them.
- Feels like a free to play game that's being sold at a premium.
- Needless Nerf advertisement at the bottom of the screen during races and "Session Ended" message whenever games end.
Still, you can't just release a racing game at this price point with no campaign, no real incentive to keep playing, and so many unenjoyable game types. World Series feels like a free to play game that the developers decided to charge $30 for. From a developer like Codemasters that is renowned for its racing games, World Series is an obvious misfire and destined to be forgotten.
Micro Machines World Series is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. It costs $29.99.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.