Let’s Talk About Micro Machines ’96

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Look, I’ll level with you all right now because I think you’ve got an idea as to what type of person I am through the types of games that I love and dis…love and you deserve the truth from me sometimes. There’s no easy to say this but… Micro Machines ’96 really isn’t as good as this review title makes it out to be. I mean, you know that I tend to categorise my games into four groups. It’s either I like them, am indifferent to them, don’t like them and HATE THEM. And yet here I am feeling as though I ought to put this one between two stools because this is NOT as good as Micro Machines 2 and really isn’t THAT good a Micro Machines at all. It’s realistically third in the pecking order, just ahead of V3… which is really only OK at best.

But there’s one thing that pushes this game into the echelons of the ‘Talk About’ title and I will eventually get to that. I don’t exactly want to throw that right at you off the bat in the hope that you’ll actually… you know… read this review. I’m not daft to let you all know “HERE’S WHY THIS GAME IS GOOD/SHIT” in the first paragraph and then draw it all out for 2000 words. Instead, I’m gonna make you work for it…

You’re ready to start scrolling through this review now, aren’t you? Well fuck you because maybe if you don’t read this review then you won’t get the antidote. To what? Ohhhhhh. NOOOOOOW you wanna listen to me. Well… maybe if you read this review, I’ll send you the link you need to airlift some antidote to your doorstep. Huh? HUH? Maybe you didn’t think that I’d thought this out, did you? WELL SCREW YOU, I THOUGHT OF EVERYTHING. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA…haa… Halloween is over, isn’t it? Fuck.

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Ahhhhh, Micro Machines. Those glorious little turbo-charged cars are back again and it’s time to wheel out the miniature cars, vans, dragsters and boats for yet another glorious instalment of miniature racing car sex.

This time, Codemasters and Supersonic have updated things slightly and changed some things that really didn’t need changing and also… made things ever so slightly more frustrating. In fact, Micro Machines ’96 actually feels like something of a massive downgrade for the series that only got worse with the release of the godawful Military spin-off, a game I have spoken of before but absolutely – ABSOLUTELY – refuse to speak of anymore.

’96 is the sort of stop-gap between the quality of the 2nd game, a game that still ranks in my personal top ten favourite games ever, and Military, a game that I said I would mention again but have done so ONLY TO REITERATE HOW AWFUL IT IS given that it’s in my top ten LEAST favourite games ever, purely on how it ruins EVERYTHING that made the 2nd game so great.

But ’96 didn’t really help matters.

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Unsurprisingly, the game is pretty much the same set-up as its predecessor in that miniature racing cars, vans, dragsters, boats and jeeps all traverse the same locations plus a few extras for good measure (clearly to show they still had good ideas between their ears). The game is now split up into two smaller segments. Instead of racing 25 races on the bounce, like the previous two games, you can race the easier 10 race version of Challenge and a new 15-race version called Pro Challenge.

Basically, this is races 1-10 and 11-25 split up into two smaller parts. On the one hand this makes it easier to complete in one sitting so you’re not trying to get through all 25 races before dinner and having to switch off half way through or something. 10 races feels manageable but a mite too short. 15 races feels reasonable and actually does work in this set-up. But part of me is conflicted… In my head, I would have preferred the option to go up the difficulty from the 10 races to the 15 races and then through a 25-race version as well. It’s not a BAD THING per se, but something doesn’t feel right about it.

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And as for not feeling quite right, get a load of the character sprites now. 4 of the old racers were dumped from the roster and replaced with a set of racers that STAND OUT so badly in terms of design that they really do not fit at all. Joline, Ray, Sara and Indra are introduced with a front-on look, much the same way as Micro Machines 1 did. Every other racer is introduced in their old format looking off to the left slightly (save for Walter but he is the exemption here for whatever reason), so these four newbies look very out of place. What’s even worse is that almost NO effort was put into their sprites at all. In fact… the general graphics for the characters have taken a MASSIVE hit. Characters don’t have the same vibrancy or fluidity as their predecessor’s counterparts. I mentioned in the review of Micro Machines 2 that Spider went from this:

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…to this:

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And I still stand by the fact that it looks dirty and distinctly blah. Characters lose their facial features and any sense of dynamism through the charmless new sprites and everything looks ropey at best for each of these characters. Their win/loss animations have taken a hit and the results screen is now a static character results page.

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So the bouncy character sprites are gone and the level of presentation slips dramatically to a real low. It feels as though zero effort went into this side of things. It feels like an afterthought. Why they felt the need to replace characters – particularly Jethro – didn’t make much sense. And as for Ray’s win animation. All he does is smile. SERIOUSLY. He has ONE extra frame as opposed to 2. Even THAT’S lazy in reality. Indra’s lose animation is just a VERY SMALL shake of the head with her nose up slightly… it just… irks me. A lot.

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But it’s not just the character graphics that have taken a hit; it feels as though the game’s graphics in general have got slightly worse. The crispness of the prequel feels lost. It’s like we’ve gone from HD back to standard definition. The charm of 2 has been lost somewhat and although everything moves well enough and a few new animated segments and features have been included, it does feel as though the graphics have been cut back on a heck of a lot. And perhaps there is a really good reason for that.

But before I get to that point, the actual gameplay – the core of the game – just retain its spark somewhat. Not quite in the same way as perhaps it OUGHT to and there are a lot of tracks and difficulty spikes that make the game feel decidedly less fun that it’s previous iteration, but the spark, particularly in multiplayer, is still there. You will still have an immense amount of fun playing this version, and there IS a new Ferry Fiasco style track using a printer that works in the same way and will cause JUST AS MUCH PAIN AND MISERY as Ferry Fiasco did beforehand.

I SAID I WOULD STOP TALKING ABOUT IT. LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO. NOW I HAVE TO GO AND PUNCH MY BROTHER. YOU HAPPY NOW?

You made me punch my brother. You bastards.

HE HAS A WIFE.

You’re horrible people. You’re all horrible.

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But gentlepeople of the interwebs, let me explain to you why it’s possible the graphics have take a spike downwards and the gameplay isn’t quite as solid as it could be. There is a very probable case for this game’s defence:

YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN TRACKS

I even had to bold AND italicise that for effect. Let me say it again for effect:

YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN TRACKS

HOLY SHIT.

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This game manages to survive in the ‘Talk About’ category PURELY for this fact alone. In fact, had this game only been a MAKE YOUR OWN MICRO MACHINES TRACK simulator, that would have been enough for it as well.

Hours and hours of time are lost to this. This is an exceptionally simple and yet also very powerful little tool that provided hundreds of hours of gameplay time, creating, perfecting, trialling and racing around your tracks to your heart’s content.

THIS, gentlepeople of the interwebs, is where the game’s fun all went.

AND IT IS GLORIOUS.

Simply put, Micro Machines ’96 lives on this alone and it is FUCKING BRILLIANT.

The set-up is blisteringly simple, albeit it does take a little bit of getting used to. You start off with a large square of space and four different styles of track: grass, dirt, garage tiles, and tabletop. There are four different floorings as well (70s cork floor, garage tiles but different garage tiles, darker grass and blue carpet).

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As well as this, you’ve got your standard blocks that you use to create your track: verticals, horizontals, corners, blank and floor blocks too. Creating the track itself comes first and although you do have a minimum length and a maximum length, there’s enough to deal with to make it as fun as possible. It allows you to be all manner of creative and evil all at the same time. Add in obstacles on the side of the track for players to crash into and you’re basically setting your friends up for all manner of hilarity when they zip round, hit a wall, career off the track and the floor, while someone else spins out on paint, flicks their car over a load of sweets left lying around that cause the car to overshoot off the edge and you have yourself the recipe of plenty of bruised faces, split lips and raw knuckles from causing all manner of horrific fights.

WARNING: This game MIGHT cause loss of friendship. Tread carefully when playing. You wouldn’t want to lose all of them in one sitting, would you?

Seriously. Don’t answer that.

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Track have to be complete loops so doing figure of eights, no matter how much you try to, doesn’t work – which is a shame but generally makes sense in the grand scheme of things – but including precarious jumps and ramping the car’s speed up to full does often create for hilarious circumstances. You do have to be quite careful with how you include jumps as making the gap too large (three squares maximum at the highest speed) will obviously mean the track remains unfinished or non-completable… which is a word now. Shush. I’m a teacher. I can get away with this shit.

Testing your track regularly is a must so that even YOU don’t fall foul of your own twists, turns and trickery. I mean… it’s kind of that little pre-cursor to Mario Maker in that if YOU can’t complete your own evil creations, who the fuck is going to?

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Also, anything laid out in the middle of track will render it incomplete and unable to be tested so don’t shove a paint splatter in the middle of the track and hope you’ll get away with it: you won’t.

But as I say, once you’ve had a blast creating the tracks, you and your friends can all have a go at racing around them, playing the head to head game against 4 players (or even teams, which is still as hilarious as it was in the 2nd game). Therein lies most of the fun. The game even boasts a password feature so that you can load up your friends’ courses and play them if you haven’t got any more room to save tracks on the cartridge – which is a problem.

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Essentially, ’96 wasn’t the sequel that people were expecting. It was more of the same with ramped up difficulty, worse graphics and lot less charm to it…

But fucking hell, if you don’t get any enjoyment out of that track creator tool then you’ve got no soul.

Much like the rest of the series.

OOOOOOOH. That’s right. I went there.

No racing car sex for anyone now.

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