Super Toy Cars tries its best to be a colourful and fun take on the old-school miniature arcade combat racing genre which aims to bring back memories of when you used to construct race tracks from Lego bricks and toys on your bedroom floor (or was that just me?). It takes obvious inspiration from classic titles such as Micro Machines with tracks made of everyday household items set across different rooms within a house.
Super Toy Cars was developed by Eclipse Games, a small independent development team based in Spain with a particular interest in classic games. Super Toy Cars first released in 2014 for the PC and Wii U, followed by an Xbox One release last year. It finally made the jump to Sony's PlayStation 4 console early this year which this review will be focusing on. You can currently pick up Super Toy Cars on the PlayStation Store for £7.99
Getting to grips
Your very first encounter of Super Toy Cars will be experienced through the tutorial mode. Here you are taken through the very basics of the vehicle handling and how to use speed boosts. You're also introduced to the game's three camera viewpoints: near and far chase (behind the car) cams and a top-down view for that retro experience if you prefer. You'll also get to decide which of the two drift styles you would like to use: either press and release or hold to drift, which can be changed at any time during a race from the pause menu.
The top-down view is a welcome option, but the viewpoint is suspended quite high reducing your toy car to ant-like proportions. Negotiating turns becomes tougher as you can only see a small amount of the track ahead of you. Relying on track knowledge or perhaps the mini-map is the way forward here, but it's fair to say this view will take some mastery which many will probably find too off-putting.
Vehicle handling varies massively depending on the type of vehicle you are using. Personally, I found the vehicles that were easier to drift were by far the most fun to use. Switching from a drift-style vehicle to one that tended to understeer made the latter feel slow, boring and a bit pointless by comparison. Controls are kept very simple: the face buttons are used for speed boost, powerups, and drift. Changing viewpoints has to be done through the pause menu which feels a little clunky - it would've been nice to have the option to do so on the fly during a race.
Aside from the tutorial, Super Toy Cars on the PlayStation 4 console features two modes: Career and Quick Race. Quick Race will grant you access to all five different events, all 15 race tracks, a choice of three difficulty options and all 16 vehicles so you can instantly jump into the action. It is also the place where you'll find the option to play with three others in 4-player split screen local multiplayer.
The five different event types in Super Toy Cars (which all begin from a standing start) are pretty standard fare with traditional 3-lap races, elimination mode where a car is eliminated every 15 seconds until only one vehicle is left, time trial mode with set times to beat, and time attack where you must pass checkpoints to extend your time and complete two laps before the timer runs out. Super Toy Cars does, however have an unusual mode which sets itself apart called evade - essentially, this is the aforementioned elimination mode but with the added twist of the track now littered with mines to avoid which I found fairly entertaining.
Sadly Super Toy Cars on the PlayStation 4 console has two major modes missing when compared to the already released PC version. Gone is the online multiplayer mode which is a huge disappointment as it limits the fun of the game significantly. Also missing is the track editor which was “particularly hard to implement” according to the developers and so the feature was sadly dropped as well.
Sweet and simple?
Super Toy Cars is a simple, bright and colourful game which should appeal to the younger audience, and so can perhaps be forgiven for having less than stellar graphical quality. During a race for example, the environment beyond the racetrack is largely blurred out, presumably to keep performance up. Seeing an in-focus foreground with a blurry background can be somewhat jarring at first but you get used to it quickly as your main focus will of course be on the action happening on the track.
It's a shame we couldn't see the full environment clearly as I feel it would've helped with the feeling of really being there as a miniature toy car. Much of the trackside detail too is fairly blocky in appearance but this may have been a design choice as it can actually give Super Toy Cars a certain charm.
The music featured in Super Toy Cars can get very repetitive indeed due to the low number of tracks available. The music is very much love it or hate it depending on your tastes. The vehicle sounds however are surprisingly good: you can actually hear the vehicles accelerate through the gears (not that there is an option for manual gears, though).and every shift in gear prompts a spit of flame from the exhausts which is a nice touch. Each vehicle sounds slightly different from the next and all sound throaty and purposeful, especially considering we are talking about small toy cars here.
Cute but deadly
Power-ups in Super Toy Cars are split between two types: those that you fire ahead of you and those you drop behind your vehicle. Dropped weapons include oil and glue spills which will reduce grip and slow others down respectively. Then there's the mines which will send your opponents spinning and spring traps, which are particularly evil, will send others flying backwards should they be unlucky enough to drive across one.
Fired weapons include a giant 8 ball which bounces off the track's walls and can be effective if used at the right time, and guided missiles which home in on your nearest opponent: simply wait for the lock symbol to appear over an opponent and hit the fire button. There's also a speed boost power up which will instantly fill your boost meter. Overall the powerups feel uninspiring and almost superfluous to the action. Indeed, you'll probably use them very seldom during events in truth thanks to the game's overall lack of challenge, particularly in the Career Mode.
Power-up icons lack any real character too and seem rather bland next to the often very colourful environments. It would have also been nice to see the power-up itself actually mounted to the vehicles rather than seeing the same dull powerup icon displayed at the rear of each vehicle.
All of the weapons that can be dropped, i.e. mines, spills and spring traps, all initiate a small camera style screen upon using them which shows the dropped weapon for 10 seconds along with any unsuspecting vehicle that happens to get run over it. It's a neat feature that can provide some satisfying results, especially when seeing your nearest rivals flip backwards courtesy of a well placed spring trap although admittedly these occurrences will be pretty rare.
As you begin the career mode you'll be given access to just one vehicle initially. Taking part in events will earn you money which can be used to either purchase new vehicles or upgrade your existing ones. The career mode is separated into eight episodes, each with 6 events for a total of 48 events. When starting out, you are granted access to the first episode only and you'll need to earn a number of points to unlock subsequent episodes. Points are earned according to your finishing position in events with a maximum of ten points up for grabs in each event.
There are no difficulty options in the career mode which is odd considering the quick race mode offers you no less than three difficulty options. This is such a shame as most will find the difficulty in the career mode to be simply too easy. The easy nature of the career mode reduces the purpose of having power-ups quite drastically as you'll no doubt spend most of the events out front chasing lap times rather than opponents to take down.
In the career mode you'll do battle with seven AI opponents with the likes of Tony Lightning, Liam Turbo and Mike Wind joining you at the starting grid. It's a shame then that you can't actually change your own name - instead you are stuck with the boring default “PLAYER” tag. As you wait for the event to start you'll sometimes notice your vehicle moving very slightly in a forward or backward direction which is odd. Another oddity is that when finishing events you have to pass beyond the finish line to actually register the end of the event, so if you decide to powerslide sideways so that you only just pass the finish line (I'm sure we've all done it) the game may not register your victory.
Perhaps the most annoying element found in Super Toy Cars however is the rather questionable physics. On flat surfaces the game behaves mostly well, only providing some frustrating moments when you get stuck by crashing into the walls of the track or the game deciding to reset your vehicle at inappropriate times. Luckily Eclipse Games have an option to disable the auto respawn feature which I highly recommend you opt for - you can respawn manually at any time during the race with a hit of the triangle button.
However, when the game asks you to negotiate half pipes or squeeze through tin cans it can get really frustrating. Half pipes unsettle the vehicles dramatically - you'll find your vehicle bouncing around if you dare to climb the higher sections of half pipes. Tin cans can be frustrating too. Drifting through the tin cans for example can be extremely difficult, but worse still, when you spot a gap either side of a can which your vehicle can easily fit through the game will often not grant you access, instead you'll hit an invisible wall and will often need to reset your vehicle. It's fair to say the veiled collision detection is completely off and so too are the physics when negotiating some of the game's obstacles which lead to some very awkward and frustrating moments.
Super Toy Cars features 16 vehicles which all take inspiration from real world cars, so you'll get slightly altered versions of the Volkswagen Beetle and Camper Van along with cars which resemble a Renault 5 Turbo, Pagani Zonda and even a Lamborghini of some description. Sadly up close these vehicle models leave a lot to be desired, there is a lack of detail and solidity to them which is a shame as the vehicle selection very much appeals to me personally. Vehicle names are largely boring which is surprising considering the bright and fun appearance of the game. It would've fit the theme so much more to have fun names replacing the existing ones. Eclipse Games have really missed a trick there.
Each vehicle has seven stats: acceleration, max speed, handling, weight, drift and boost. Cars with a high handling stat will tend to grip well through turns while those with low handling will often slide when turning. Depending on your driving style, you can opt for one or the other. Vehicles with high handling and max speed stats require some degree of finesse, as these vehicles will often understeer and require use of the brakes, which is not often the case with vehicles which slide around a lot. Cars with a low drifting stat were of course harder to drift and required a longer press of the drift button. These were also slower when actually drifting. Vehicles with a high drift stat were easy to initiate a drift with the drift button (and often not even needed) and carried more speed through the drift.
I had the most fun by driving the cars which were easy to drift. Indeed, it's not a stretch to say I would typically spend over half the race going sideways which is where I feel the most fun in Super Toy Cars is had. However if you're looking for a grip racing style then you are very much able to do so by choosing the car which suits you.
Competing in events and collecting large STC coins littered throughout the tracks will unlock new paint jobs and skins for all available vehicles. Aside from the usual selection of different colours, you'll also gain a collection of interesting skins. You can add camouflage to your off-roader, a colourful hippie design to your camper van and flames to your hot rod to inject a bit more character and colour to your races. There's even an Aryton Senna inspired red and white Marlboro Honda Formula 1 car livery in there too.
Tuned to imperfection
There are seven upgrades which are available for all vehicles: engine, turbo, tyres, gearbox, weight reduction, brakes and boost. Installing upgrades affect your car's stats in several ways. For example installing a bigger and more powerful engine will increase your vehicle's acceleration and top speed but will also add a slight weight penalty.
Considering Eclipse Games went to this level of detail with the tuning aspect of Super Toy Cars it was all the more disappointing when I tested a stock versus fully tuned Horns P100 vehicle only to see a 2-3% increase in lap times. At this rate I believe it's fair to say that tuning your vehicle will only give you negligible gains which is a shame, especially considering that they typically cost around 3-8 thousand a pop (or more for the fastest vehicles). Furthermore upgrading your vehicle does not alter the appearance of them either which is disappointing.
Super Toy Cars features five environments, each with three different track layouts which take place at different times of day for a grand total of 15 tracks. Each environment has its own theme, so for example the baby room environment is filled with kid's toys and you'll be driving through caterpillars and alien spaceships all within the confides of a racetrack built from alphabet blocks, rubber ducks and teddy bears.
The kitchen environment will see you racing on a track strewn with cereal boxes, fruit and beef burgers and you'll negotiate your way through empty tin cans. Then there's the largely uninspiring garage environment with oil containers and tools, the very colourful candy shop complete with cupcakes, sweet chutes and chocolate bars, and finally the street environment with cola cans, cardboard ramps and traffic cones.
Super Toy Cars is at its best when playing on the most colourful and bright environments such as the baby's room, candy shop and kitchen. These environments are teeming with colour and fit the Super Toy Cars theme well, whereas the Street and Garage maps are largely dark, dull and uninspiring by comparison.
You'll find most of the tracks have ramps, jumps and obstacles and some even have shortcuts which can cut a second or so off your lap times. Often you'll find small objects on the track which will slow you down should you hit them. These range from nuts and bolts to sweets and even Lego blocks depending on the environment you're racing on. These items can be sent raining down on you from unloading dump trucks or from sweet dispensers which help to keep the action more dynamic, although admittedly they often do not interfere with the race so much that they can decide the outcome of an event. Still, they're best avoided all the same.
I found the best moments in Super Toy Cars were when you really get to interact with the tracks: flying down a sweet chute going sideways or performing a 180 degrees slide on a water melon were very satisfying for instance. It's just a shame the game didn't feature more of these moments with tracks that were mostly flat, save for the odd jump here and there.
Tidy up time
Payouts for winning events in the career mode escalate as you progress through the different episodes. Soon you'll find that you'll be earning so much money that you can afford to buy the fastest cars after a very modest amount of time spent with the game. In short, the game's economy is too generous which negatively affects the game.
My first 100% completion play through of the career mode clocked in at a decent 3 hours and 45 minutes, however I was using every single car about the same number of times to extract the maximum time from the career mode. My second play through of the career mode, this time using my favourite vehicles exclusively, cut the time down to just 1 hour and 34 minutes. Once you've played through the career mode a couple of times and gained 100% of the game's trophies (which is not especially difficult) there's not a lot that pulls you back in for more play time.
Overall, Super Toy Cars is a fun game, but one that suffers some glaring problems such as awkward physics, poor vehicle collision detection, frame drops, invisible walls and the lack of difficulty options in the career mode. However, worse still the absence of the online multiplayer and track builder found in the PC version of Super Toy Cars really does make the PlayStation 4 version seem like only half the game it perhaps should have been.