Published on August 27th, 2014 | by Chris Scott0
Table Top Racing Review
Summary: The game is colorful and the racing is fun but everything else holding Table Top Racing together just doesn't quite get it right.
As someone that loves to compete and win, there is something compelling about the simplicity of racing. So despite not being a car aficionado, I’ve always loved racing games. While I play, and greatly enjoy, simulations like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, I prefer the fast paced and simplified action of arcade racers, having cut my teeth on the likes of Pole Position, Rad Racer, and Micro Machines. Micro Machines in particular holds a special place in my heart as a game I rented many times from the local video store and played non-stop on my Nintendo Entertainment System while I had the opportunity. The game was special in that it didn’t attempt to put me in a realistic setting for driving a car but instead brought to life the tracks my imagination had created for my toy cars in my real environment. And I loved it.
When I saw Playrise Digital’s Table Top Racing come across my desk for the Playstation Vita I jumped at the opportunity to play it. The game seemed like a 3D version of the game I loved so much 20+ years ago. The good news is that the game is exactly what it looks like, albeit with a few quirks here and there that knock it down a peg. The bad news is that I’m no longer a 12 year old boy imagining how to race my toy cars around the kitchen and as such that factor doesn’t resonate as strongly.
Table Top Racing is broken down into a few different play modes, each with a few different approaches to standard racing. The Championship Cups are the primary draw for newcomers. They feature laddered events that culminate in a multi-stage series type race and represent the most structured form of a career that Table Top Racing offers. Then there are level based, car specific Drift and Special Events. Drift events task players with sliding around a track to secure the highest drift score in a set amount of time, while Special events see players doing task based challenge races similar to the ladder events in the championships. And finally there are quick races and online multiplayer. All of this together presents players with quite a bit to do.
Having a lot to do in a game doesn’t necessarily equate to fun though. Fortunately most of the racing in Table Top Racing is quite fun and the level design is exactly what you’d want out of a racer like this. Featuring colorful courses right out of your own childhood memories, the racing is quite fun. Nothing quite beats scoring a missile hit on the lead car or firing up your shield right before you yourself get hit.
That said it does have some nits that I personally like to pick. Like many arcade racers, Table Top Racing has a very aggressive rubber banding system. This works wonders when you make a poor turn or get run off the track as it allows you to quickly get back into a race. However, it is always super demoralizing to see what should be your huge lead disappear due to the game wanting to keep things interesting. This happens a lot over the later staged races. It doesn’t help things that the control of the racing itself is a bit loose and a slight nudge too far on the mini sticks of the Vita can spell doom on the last few turns of a race.
The give take of fast and fun racing vs. feeling cheated at the last minute is one that has long plagued arcade racers. This comes from their original coin-op origins and can be a major turn off for some of today’s gamers. Fortunately the races are never longer than a few minutes long and jumping back in to retry is super fast and finally winning a race after five or six tries feels great.
The biggest issue with the game though comes in the form of its progression system. Cars are unlocked as either prizes for winning the championships (of which only a couple of these exist) or through purchase via the in-game currency. Like many mobile games, and Table Top Racing hails from a mobile lineage, the in-game currency is earned by getting one to three stars on the racing events. Once three stars are earned the event is considered mastered and becomes near worthless to play in regards to generating currency. I can see the value in this, as it always pushes players forward on the event scale, however as the AI ramps up in difficulty on later events, you’ll need faster and better upgrades or cars to compete. Make one wrong selection in regards to cars or upgrades and you can really back yourself into a corner forcing a lot of grinding for meager credits.
This is all the more evident due to the inclusion of an in game store where you can purchase additional currency. While it is true that everything can be purchased via credits earned in-game, I myself made an error of purchasing cosmetics for my Ice Cream Truck and Jeep. Then I realized I had made a major mistake in regards to what was needed to progress and I struggled to get back where I needed to be. This functionality is a holdover from its original mobile release and it doesn’t quite work. Still the core racing itself is fun and grinding out the credits via quick races was doable, if a bit long and frustrating.
At the end of the day, the toy car racing through imaginative tracks like a Hibachi Restaurant, Toy Room, and Dad’s Workshop is great fun. That said, the level design isn’t quite as fun as I remember the Bathtub or Breakfast Table tracks from Micro Machines. As a game to quickly jump into for a few minutes of time wasting, it suffices just fine. But that is the problem here, suffixing as a time waster and being a solid handheld game are entirely different and Table Top Racing on the Vita retains too much of its mobile roots for it to be wholly recommendable on handhelds.
Note: This review was written with material provided by the publisher. For more on our review process, please read here.