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Micro Machines V4

For: PSP

The pocket racers return to pocket gaming after a six-year absence. Has the wait been worth it?

Product: Micro Machines v4 | Developer: Supersonic Software | Publisher: Codemasters | Format: PSP | Genre: Racing | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc)
 
Micro Machines v4 PSP, thumbnail 1
The premise of Micro Machines – race miniature vehicles around large-as-life locations – is so simple, extended play affects how you look at the real world.

That remote control, discarded by the sofa? That'd make a spectacular jump down onto the rug, if you were driving a car one-and-a-half inches long. The kitchen draining board, with strange stains? What an amazing figure of eight for drivers with heads smaller than the PSP analogue nub. The area where I spend eight hours a day, typing words into a screen whilst occasionally (read: 'often') looking at dubious pictures on the internet? It's an embarrassing, haphazard mess; one that barely has room for normal-sized elbows, let alone a perfect race course for tiny men.

So here's an unexpected side effect of playing Micro Machines V4: I've decided to tidy up my cluttered desk.

Here's another: I've been reminded how publisher greed is ruining gaming.

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Things start off encouragingly. The juxtaposition of tiny vehicles speeding round life-size locales has entertained for 15 years – and it continues here. Forget the hassle of recreating a Formula One course pebble-by-pebble so you can brag about it on the back of the box; here, Micro Machines V4 developer Supersonic Software has designed tracks that are only possible in videogames – screaming across pool tables, racing round cookers, and, remarkably, over rooftops.

Whilst these courses are imaginatively designed and fun to race, visually, V4 lacks vibrancy. Fans of the original games will long for a return to the more colourful, unfussy, two-dimensional worlds of old. Of course, the series has been 3D for nine years, but in its first PSP iteration, it lacks polygonal charm. Most disappointingly, there's occasional slowdown when using certain power-ups – though not frequent enough to cause too much irritation.

But Micro Machines has never been about Gran Turismo graphics. Even when it visually used to resemble Lego rather than Micro Machines, the game has always been about the simple thrill of racing round ridiculously fantastic courses. Little has changed here: look past the odd glitch, the odd screen tear and it's as playable as ever.

In single-player mode, you must complete the numerous variations of courses, difficulty levels and modes – battle, race, checkpoint and league – in order unlock later levels and grow a digital collection of 750 vehicles. The collection of cars can also be traded between other Micro Machines players, which is a nice touch.

In multiplayer, the game really comes into its own. Race fast and play dirty, with two players sharing one PSP between them or up to four players over wireless LAN.

So far, so Micro Machines: good fun in single-player, often a right giggle in multiplayer. But what's not so positive is this game's adherence to a worrying trend in gaming: that of micro payments.

Tantalisingly, Codemasters lists the existence of a 'retro' camera, which presents the game in the classic-top down view. I remember the original game, so this obviously appealed. However, the option needs to be bought as part of a code pack from Codemasters.

It's only £2.99 but, come on, we've just paid 30 quid for something little different to V3, released in 1997.

Yes, the view can be earned by completing the Legend mode – but what's the point of forcing someone to play all the way through in a manner they're not happy to? And if it's a throwaway extra, why advertise it in the manual?

This code set also unlocks all cars and enables you to adjust the game's speed. But it doesn't end there. To get the most from the PSP version, hook it up with the PS2 game – basically the same, though you can't play it on the toilet, unless your lounge is one – to unlock more courses. It'll be 10p per play next, you'll see.

Which is all a shame, as Micro Machines V4 is completely playable and overall good fun. It just seems needlessly greedy.

But if the publisher can charge three quid for an extra view, I'm going to let it unlock what would have been Pocket Gamer's score. Codemasters, give me twenty quid and I'll give you the extra point.

And, brilliantly, that'll pay for a cleaner.

Micro Machines V4 is on sale now – click here to buy.
 
Micro Machines V4
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 5 July 2006
Perfectly playable, but gameplay and economic niggles make it far from essential
 
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