(This review was carried out on the PlayStation 3, using a retail download code provided by Codemasters Racing)
Even though we’re now a year into the eighth-gen age of videogaming, it seems Codemasters Racing just doesn’t want to let go of the soon-to-be-fizzled-out era.
First, we thought this summer’s GRID Autosport would be the studio’s seventh-gen swansong; then the chatter turned to the recently-released F1 2014 being the last big racing game for the older consoles. And now, with an all-new year upon us, Codies has only gone and dropped a Toybox Turbos-shaped bombshell on these unique proceedings we find ourselves in.
It’s good to know, then, that there is a fair bit to like about this table-top arcade racer, even if it is objectively the weakest game from Codemasters’s 2014 line-up.
Everything but the kitchen sink
Anyone familiar with Micro Machines games of old (which, coincidentally, were mostly developed and published by Codemasters) will be instantly be at home with Toybox Turbos’s core mechanics and features. Though the toy brand license is no more, you still get an array of cars to compete in (35 in total, seven of which being locked off as ‘Elimination’ boss event prizes) across a variety event types and track locations, the latter of which have with their own unique table-top theme.
For example, players will be given the chance to race around those town map carpet things in New York cabbie caricatures in one race, jumping over toy train sets with Tonka-style bulldozers the next, before rounding things off with a speed run around a snooker table. It’s all standard top-down racing game fare, and there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest.
Likewise, the power-ups you’d associate with a game of Toybox Turbos’s calibre are also a prominent part of the game, with the familiar likes of mallets, mines and machine guns forming part of the arsenal you’ll regularly use to gain the advantage out on track.
Table top racing
Those in the market for this type of game won’t be looking for intrinsic depth and nuance to the driving mechanics, and Toybox Turbos fits that brief by controlling exactly the way you’d expect from a top-down racer. Though there will be moments where a lift off the throttle and a quick dab of counter-steer will be required, a good chunk of your time spent racing will be at max throttle with quick flicks of the left analog stick.
In general, the handling is quite responsive, and – bar the minor differences between each the way each cars drive and steer – there isn’t any massive learning curve to overcome. That said, whilst Toybox Turbos is probably this year’s most obvious definition of a ‘pick-up-and-play’ racing game, there are a few bizarre quirks to be found in the title’s driving model.
This particularly manifests itself in the collision physics, which at times can be frustratingly unpredictable in the more difficult races. Whilst it’s more than acceptable when the AI competition is competitive-but-complacent, the chaotic destruction derbies in the game’s later events turn what were once enjoyable challenges into the kind of challenge that’ll send even the most emotionally measured of racing game fans into instantaneous rage quitters.
Granted, this may have been magnified by this reviewer’s aim to beat the game as soon as possible (mainly to ensure enough time could be spent properly testing The Crew). But, it does come across that Toybox Turbos’s difficulty in later levels is more due to the aggravating odds against you, regardless of how often you tweak and amend your play style.
All for one, one for all
Besides the singleplayer component, Toybox Turbos also comes with two forms of four-player multiplayer modes: the traditional split-screen type, and the more of-the-times online component.
Along with sharing the same max player limit, the split-screen and online multiplayer portions of the game are limited to a solitary ‘Elimination’ mode. Just as with the single-player boss battles, players are tasked with beating the competition by driving so far ahead of them that they’re no longer featured on the screen.
With the added (and often chaotic) unpredictability of having actual people to race against, the multiplayer racing is unsurprisingly more hectic than it is in the singleplayer. Though there’s undoubtedly a propensity for dirty driving to play a part in deciding outcomes, it is a mode that’s just as gripping initially as the solo modes, and the party game potential of the split-screen may be the one draw players have to keep Toybox Turbos installed on their hard drives.
What really stops the multiplayer from being a long-term highlight is the solitary event type, which quickly loses its appeal once the feeling of repetition starts to really sink in. In short bursts, Toybox Turbos’s multiplayer might keep players coming back for more, but it’s certainly something that players can’t rely on day-in and day-out to satiate their appetite for table-top racing once the singleplayer content is done and dusted.
Given this is an £11.99 download-only game, it would perhaps be unjust to be too critical on Toybox Turbos. After all, here’s a game that seems to know exactly what it wants to be, and nails it to a tee – anything less than an average rating is hard to justify.
Then again, it’s also difficult to present the game with the higher scores we normally associate with the big-budget releases. Whilst Toybox Turbos can be terrific and sometimes engrossing game when it’s firing on all cylinders, there are also quite a few moments – namely the repetitive multiplayer and highly frustrating AI difficulty in later levels – that wipe the sheen off what is otherwise a slickly-polished arcade racing game.
In the end, it’s the lack of variety in the multiplayer that holds Toybox Turbos back from being more than just ‘good’. Other than that, there’s a fair amount to like about Codemasters’s latest release, and – with a few tweaks and improvements – a more refined and consistent successor to Toybox Turbos could be a mighty fine way to re-establish the top-down driving game genre