Table Top Racing Vita Review - Team VVV

Reviews Table Top Racing Vita Review

Reviews

Martin Bigg

Writer

Posted on

Game: Table Top Racing

Platform: Android, iOS, Mobile, PSVita

Publisher: Playrise Digital

Release Date: 31/01/2013

If you’re a Vita owner pining for some racing action, your options have been severely limited lately. So limited, in fact, that the ever-reliable Milestone has been the sole provider for racing games on Sony’s portable powerhouse over the last few years, providing ports of their annual licensed racing simulations, i.e. WRC and MotoGP. While technically impressive, they’re all a bit too po-faced for a handheld, principally because they weren’t originally designed with mobile gaming in mind. Indeed, the Vita is decidedly devoid of casual, pick-up and play racing titles that would arguably be better-suited to the console. It’s always a tricky balance, however, since the Vita is marketed to a more hardcore audience looking for console-quality gaming on the go.

It wasn’t always like this, however. When the Vita first launched, there were plenty of accessible arcade racers to choose from. WipeOut 2048 and MotorStorm RC were by far the best of the bunch, showcasing the console’s capabilities and untapped potential like any launch title should. WipeOut was a technical triumph, and still remains one of the best-looking titles on the Vita today. MotorStorm RC, on the other hand, was a perfect demonstration of the Vita’s dual stick setup which was, and still is, a luxury for handheld games consoles, whilst offering outstanding value for money with its cross-buy incentive that granted you access to the PS Vita and PS3 versions for the price of one. Oh, there was also the obligatory Ridge Racer and Asphalt sequels, but the least said about those the better.

Indeed, the Vita has been crying out for a fun, accessible racer that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Enter Table Top Racing, a budget combat racer from Playrise Digital; a Liverpool-based indie developer founded by the co-creator of WipeOut, incidentally. Originally a hit mobile game on iOS and Android nabbing numerous awards, Table Top Racing has you racing miniature motors on child-like courses constructed out of giant-scale household objects on table tops, with an arsenal of weapon power-ups to spice things up.

Micro Machines

Granted, it’s not exactly an original setup. While WipeOut was highly innovative for its time, the same can’t be said for Table Top Racing, which unashamedly takes its cues from Codemasters’ classic Micro Machines series. It’s not the first game to mimic Micro Machines, and it probably won’t be the last. Indeed, as soon as you play a level set on a kitchen table, it’s hard to avoid flashbacks from the iconic breakfast table level in Micro Machines V3 all those years ago on PS1. Still, it’s a winning formula nonetheless that’s well worth revisiting, and feels right at home on the Vita, a platform that isn’t exactly overrun with casual racing games compared to the iOS and Android mobile market, which is heavily saturated by comparison.

MotorStorm RC is undoubtedly Table Top Racing’s closest competitor on the Vita. What sets it apart, however, is that it’s played from an external behind-the-car perspective by default, making it play like a 3D re-imagining of Micro Machines which was probably the intention. You can still opt to play with a traditional isometric viewpoint if you’re feeling retro, but it’s hard to go back to such a restricting view that makes it difficult to see ahead.

The Vita version is being touted as the definitive version; a tagline that is fully justified thanks to its crystal clear 1080p resolution and rock solid 60 frames per second that keeps the racing fast and fluid. It also has a vital asset that the touch screen mobile version cannot compete with: real physical buttons. It makes a world of difference, as the vehicle handling is noticeably more responsive with the Vita’s thumb stick. You also have direct control of acceleration and braking, unlike the mobile version which puts you on rails.

If in doubt, flatout

Table Top Racing’s handling is pure pick-up and play, with tight, nippy controls that rarely require you to slow down for corners, resulting in satisfying, but controllable slides when you over-steer. In short: it feels fantastic, and the precision offered by the Vita’s thumb stick puts the cumbersome controls of its mobile equivalent to shame.

My only gripes with the controls was that the rear view was initially assigned to the rear touch pad, causing you to accidentally activate it mid-race which was needlessly frustrating (this has since been rectified with a patch update enabling you to switch it off), and the fact you can’t customise them. Table Top Racing insists on using the right stick to accelerate, so if you’d rather use X or the right shoulder button you’re out of luck. An option to navigate the menus without using the touch screen would also have been appreciated.

In most racing games, walls, tyres and trees are typical track-side objects you have to avoid. In Table Top Racing, it’s the conveniently-placed massive muffins, over-sized sandwiches and soda cans that catch you out. Each of the eight tracks have a distinctive design, ranging from toy tables and workshops, to beaches and BBQs. They’re all well-designed and have colourful charm, but I can’t help but feel the designers could have perhaps been more creative.

Routes are mostly linear and flat, and would have benefited with more elevation, shortcuts and OTT jumps. They’re visually vibrant, but some low-res textures mar the aesthetic, as does the blocky trackside furniture. Then again, being a mobile port, Table Top Racing was never going to be graphically-ground-breaking, but the sharp resolution, swift loading times and buttery smooth performance make up for it. The cars fare better, and even sport real-time reflections which you wouldn’t expect from a game that isn’t striving for realism. It’s still the best Table Top Racing has ever looked.

Unfortunately, the tracks suffer from sterility – adding some animated obstacles and dynamic objects to smash into would have livened up the environments considerably. Even incorporating the objects into the route more would have helped: instead, you’re always whizzing past static objects strewn down the sides of the track that you rarely have time to admire, so many of the details go unnoticed which only heightens the limitations of its mobile origins when the Vita is more than capable of rendering more elaborate scenery. You could say its simplicity is endearing, but Vita owners expect more – a dedicated handheld appeals to a different audience than casual smartphone users, and Table Top Racing struggles to steer away from its simplified smartphone origins. The winding paths are still fun to race on, but the novelty quickly wears off, and the track design feels uninspired overall.

Speed racer

Races rarely last more than a couple of minutes, making it ideal for playing in short bursts whilst on the move. The downside to this, of course, is that the eight tracks soon become very samey, despite having the option to play them all in reverse.

Fortunately, the four career championships are varied enough to ease the repetition. Events range from standard races with or without power-ups, time trials, hot laps and Eliminations, along with Pursuits which are a particular highlight. Here, Table Top Racing goes all Chase HQ: the objective is to simply seek and destroy an evading opponent within a set time. They’re engrossingly challenging – every fail spurs you on to have just one more go after getting so tantalisingly close to victory. Weapons are disallowed, so you have to rely on a strategically-timed boost to shunt them into submission.

Table Top Racing requires little driving skill to finish a race as you can simply hammer around corners without consequence. To compensate, the core racing is always close (partly down to the obvious rubber-banding, admittedly), making for some intense photo finishes as the opposition steadily becomes tougher throughout the championships.

Ramping up the intensity is an arsenal of weapon power-ups obtained by smashing boxes stashed around the track, steering Table Top Racing right into kart racer territory. However, like the tracks, there is little variety or imagination to be found here – you have your standard homing rockets, nitro boosts, EMP blasts and rear bombs that have been used in countless other games. Some can also be used to deflect incoming attacks from opponents, and the power-ups certainly make the races more chaotic with all the usual frustrations of having first place snatched from you at the last second just as you’re about to cross the line – without weapons, this would be a very vanilla racing experience. But the power-ups are disappointingly tame and limited compared to some of the wacky weapons in WipeOut.

Table Top Racing’s vehicle roster reminds me of my cherished childhood Matchbox toy car collection (except they’re not scratched beyond recognition or missing any wheels), with 17 not-so-discretely designed cars that bare more than a passing resemblance to their real life counterparts. There’s a wide variety of vehicle types, too: you start off in a sluggish ice cream truck, before upgrading to a Willys Jeep and VW Camper Van knock-off. Earn enough coins, and you’ll soon be able to afford cutesy cars resembling a Camaro, Corvette and Veyron among others, along with novelty vehicles including a driveable hot dog and the ‘Bunnymobile,’ which seems to be a parody of certain pooch mobile. Clearly, someone on the team is a Dumb and Dumber devotee.

One of the vehicle designers also appears to be an auto aficionado, because there’s even a car based on a BMW 2002 Turbo, right down to its Trans Am racing livery; a car you don’t often seen in racing games outside of Gran Turismo and Forza. Some of the custom names also raised a chuckle – hats off to whoever named the Range Rover rip-off the ’Treemaster C02.’

Each car can be upgraded with coins earned for achieving podium positions, but you have no control over which attributes to upgrade. Upgrades soon become necessary to complete later races In-game, however. Which brings me onto the small subject of micro-transactions: yes, they’ve been carried over from the free-to-play mobile version despite the Vita version being a paid game, allowing you to purchase coins in order to unlock the faster cars or buy upgrades instantly. Thankfully, coins are awarded liberally as you progress even when you’re not racing in a career championship, so there’s no ill-feeling. It’s all a bit redundant, however, when you’re offered the next fastest vehicle after completing each championship.

In the days of devious downloadable content, it’s refreshing to find that Table Top Racing offers genuine value for money, packing in a wealth of extra content for its modest £4.99 price tag. In addition to the four main championships, there are a myriad of special events, some of which are vehicle or rank specific to keep you grinding, plus a long list of increasingly difficult drift events which are only accessable with the Nissan Skyline lookalike, aptly. They’re great fun, and it’s satisfying when you successfully manage to balance drifting with boosting and chain it all together. Unlike MotorStorm RC, there’s no cross-buy incentive for separate console versions; a missed opportunity to expand the user-base which is somewhat limited on the Vita, although it’s clearly better-suited to a handheld than a console.

There’s also online multiplayer for up to four players, but I was unable to access it and find any games, which probably says a lot about the stifled community, sadly. Alternatively, there’s also an ad-hoc option for local multiplayer if you have friends who own the game.

It may not be very original, and some Vita veterans may desire something with more depth to hold their attention, but this is ultimately a very playable port of the smash-hit smartphone version. Table Top Racing is a frantic, fun-filled racer that any racing game fan who owns a Vita should try. It’s just a shame it lacks enough substance to hold your attention on a dedicated handheld.

Our Review

7 /10

Summary

It may not be very original, and some Vita veterans may desire something with more depth to hold their attention, but this is ultimately a very playable port of the smash-hit smartphone version. Table Top Racing is a frantic, fun-filled racer that any racing game fan who owns a Vita should try. It’s just a shame it lacks enough substance to hold your attention on a dedicated handheld.

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