A few years ago Codemasters, developers of some of the best racing games over the past 15 years, grabbed hold of the Micro Machines toy license and made a top down arcadey racer which was, to put it bluntly, bloody brilliant. Racing around in tiny cars, knocking other cars off the track and trying desperately hard to stay on the screen made for a deceptively engrossing game especially with 4 of you playing at once. Now, some 20 years down the line, TNT Racers arrives hoping to enjoy the same sort of success. And if it wasn’t for the fact that gamers’ expectations had changes in the last two decades it could possibly have been a must-have.
But the problem is people’s expectations have changed, and this game suffers a little as a result. But all is not lost; TNT Racers is still a very fun and accessible game and given the right circumstances could be one of the most enjoyable games you’ll play for quite a while.
For those of you not familiar with the aforementioned tiny car racer the idea in multiplayer was, and with TNT Racers still is, to drive fast enough to eliminate the other racers by forcing them off the screen. Unlike other racers, the screen doesn’t split to give everyone a nice central viewpoint; instead it’s the leader which gets the nicest view, with others behind clinging on as long as they can before they disappear off the screen. When there’s only the one car left that round ends, cars are reset, points assigned accordingly and the race restarts. Simple. Although it’s not.
Basic races behave exactly like this, only with a few extra toys to play with. Missiles, mines, massive hammers, anvils on strings and a few other weapons are on hand to mess with your opponent’s chances, and using these to either slow them down or blow them up entirely will help your chances considerably. But don’t get too cocky when you send a car off the screen to their initial demise – you haven’t seen the last of them. Instead, eliminated player return as ghost cars who are fully able to collect and use weapons against you, which is quite inconvenient when you’re about to win and some git who you blew up a few corners earlier attaches an anvil to your bumper and slows you to a near-standstill for a few seconds. That said, if it’s you who got eliminated it’s amazing fun getting revenge on your friends without having to resort to flicking M&Ms in their ears.
There are a few race types to keep things varied, most of which are playable on your own or with others. Some races you’ll just need to finish first, but in others it’s all about collecting points or destroying cars. Races carry on resetting and restarting until there’s an overall winner, which can make it a pretty tense affair when you’re moments away from winning (there’s a progress bar showing everyone’s current score in a church fund-raising thermometer style) and suddenly start to do very badly. Other single player occasions have you getting round a track in a certain time while avoiding cones or bombs, or just going all out as fast as you can for a few laps. It keeps things fresh through the single player mode, which plays out as three series of races – Normal, Fast and Turbo. Each consisting of 15 varied races, things start off quite steady and most people will race through the Normal stages (pardon the crap pun) in no time at all. But stepping up to the quicker events really makes things tougher, and you’ll need to be on your game to make your way through to the final few races. You’ll unlock a few extra vehicles as you go (including a pretty cool UFO) but there’s no apparent performance difference between them and it’ll turn into you just picking a car and colour that you like the look of.
But the star of the show is the multiplayer, without a shadow of a doubt. Games like TNT Racers are made for multiplayer fun – the slim single player mode proves this – and with a few friends sat on the same sofa bitching and moaning about being shunted off a bridge you’ll have a fantastic time. And yet, as I mentioned earlier, the expectations of multiplayer gaming is very different and people expect to be able to take a game like this online. However while there’s a perfectly usable online system in place, there doesn’t seem to be anyone playing. This, I fear, is a chicken and egg situation – nobody plays online, so nobody tries to set up a lobby. Because of that, nobody can find an online game so gives up. It’s a huge shame, because TNT Racers is a fantastic game to play with others, but as it turns out you’ll need to either bring people to you or organise a game in advance and set up a lobby at a specific time to make sure you all find each other.
And so, TNT Racers suffers a little at the hands of an empty online community. At £7.99 it’s not exactly a bank-breaker, but it’s also a decent chunk of money towards something that would be more suited to those without the luxury of nearby friends to come and join the fun. This is a good, fun racer with some nice variety and great local multiplayer, and that can’t be ignored, so if you’ll be able to fully enjoy everything the game has to offer then add one to the score. But for the majority of players I’d suggest you try the demo and see how you get on with it.
Micro Machines hasn’t quite been reincarnated, but its spirit definitely lives on in TNT Racers.
Reviewed on PS3