There is something fundamentally fun about racing tiny cars across a breakfast table and pushing your best mate off it onto the floor. It's as silly as it sounds, and the cackles of glee that come from local multiplayer races are some of the loudest I've heard in ages. This is Toybox Turbos, which is essentially a new Micro Machines game from Codemasters… only it isn't because Micro Machines aren't 'a thing' any more. Dead license and all that. But squint a bit and even the logo is similar. Come on, we all know what this is supposed to be.
Driving the cars is easy. There's one button for accelerate, one for brake/reverse and one to beep your horn (which never gets old, except after five seconds). The default camera swoops around to make sure you are always racing 'into' the screen, Micro Machines V4-style, although the top-down retro alternative is there if you want to keep things old-school.
Some moderate steering correction is evident, straightening up your vehicle after corners so you don't crash or zig zag your way down the straights. It can feel odd when it kicks in through fast chicanes, but it does mean newcomers or your crap-at-games dad should be able to enjoy the racing instead of fumbling around just trying to get the car to go in a straight line.
The track locations are well-realised, with familiar settings like the classroom, breakfast table and science lab. However, other memorable locales like the toilet seat, garden pond, beach and bathtub are all absent. And while racing into the crumb-tray of a toaster then blasting out of the top is ace, I wish there were more moments like it.
There are currently no plans to bring the game to PS4 or Xbox One, instead sticking with 360, PS3 and PC. A shame, as there were several points during this review that I reached for the Share button, only to remember that's a new-gen feature. The game runs on the massively versatile Ego engine, which powers everything from F1 Race Stars to DiRT 3, so it should be theoretically easy enough to port elsewhere. Mind you, Ego hasn't appeared on new-gen at all, yet. So maybe it won't.
The visuals are smooth and colourful, though slightly stylised, eschewing photorealism in favour of a more cartoony look. While I'm really glad it's a console game, it does look, sound and feel like a mobile game. This presentation style has 'iOS' written all over it, but there's no mobile version to speak of.
It's also oddly inoffensive. As a case in point, the calculators in the classroom levels spell 'BIG OL BEES' (I think... not even sure what that means) when any real kid would have left it displaying BOOBIES. It's the law, or an old tradition, or a charter or something.
While the consoles are some eight years old now, the Ego engine that powers the game is still rock solid. Physics objects litter the track, whether it's a line of paperclips denoting a corner, or slices of mushroom that are simply there to get in your way. Racing along with a Wotsit (or Cheese Puff, depending where you come from) stuck under the front of your car is funny. Fact.
A few hazards have gameplay benefits. For instance, if you get set on fire by a gas cooker, you can drive faster for a few seconds. If you hit something in that time, you explode, but if you drive through a puddle, your fire is extinguished and you're back to normal. It's that kind of risk and reward that makes multiplayer racers great, but again, there's not quite enough of it.
There is more to contend with besides the environments and the other racers. Taking a leaf out of Micro Machines V3/V4's book, there are items scattered around the track for you to use. These include a turbo boost and defensive weapons like mines and an EMP, but also a machine gun that will destroy a rival's car if you land enough shots. Oh, and that wonderful, round-headed hammer is back, squeakily smashing opponents into tiny pieces. Love it.
Outside the regular weapon set, there's also a homing missile, but this can only be used when you've been eliminated from the current round. Just align the crosshairs over the car you want to hit, then fire when it locks on. It's not guaranteed to hit home (and it's disappointing when it doesn't), but it's exactly the backstabbing, friendship-smashing gameplay element this kind of schoolyard competition demands.
Seeing as the game sticks to the old-school Micro Machines template so faithfully, it's little surprise that old flaws are still apparent. As has always been the case, the 'reach the edge of the screen' system for winning means that if you're ahead of the pack, you can't see the corners coming in time to react to them. Similarly, the shortcuts are too easy to use once you know where they are, making them the default route after a few laps.
And of course, in a game that's all about multiplayer fun, the single-player mode is not as entertaining. It's perfectly adequate, with cars to unlock, bosses to beat and a three-star system to test and reward all skill levels. However, without any personalities behind the enemy cars, progress doesn't feel like it means very much. Even so, the all-new lava-esque line that chases you around the track is a stand-out, and some very taxing time attack runs will test hardcore players. But after two evening's play, I had all the stars and vehicles and the only reward was a mirror mode for multiplayer. Ho-hum.
Not that it really matters. Most importantly, Toybox Turbos is great fun in multiplayer. It is a modern game from a beloved, retro-shaped mould and it looks and plays just like the Micro machines games you remember. Truth is, those classics have aged pretty dreadfully, so the fact that this new game is comparable to the rose-tinted image of 20+ years of nostalgia is a massive achievement. One worth jumping up and down about. While spinning around. You know, like the cars do. I'll get my coat.
This game was reviewed on PS3.