Table Top Racing Review (PS Vita)
There’s something hugely satisfying about being tiny. Whether it’s those giant bathroom levels that people made in the 90’s for Unreal Tournament and Quake, or a breakfast table with cereal boxes and spilled milk as roadside obstacles in Micro Machines on the Mega Drive and SNES, it’s always been fun to be small. Table Top Racing certainly owes a debt to Micro Machines conceptually, but instead of the top down view, Table Top Racing uses a camera and style of gameplay much more like a kart racer. You’ll be firing homing missiles, dropping bombs and boosting your way around the track in a way that will feel familiar to pretty much anyone who played THAT seminal karting game.
The course design in Table Top Racing is the high point. It’s a nice looking game and there’s a smoothness about the gameplay when you’re buzzing through the environments that immediately hooks you. Racing through the well designed courses, you get the feeling that the dev team had a lot of fun designing the devious obstacles in each one. These environments include the aforementioned breakfast table (complete with cereal boxes), a wooden work bench with tools and pots of paint strewn across your path, and a picnic table which includes rather pretty tropical vistas. The sense of scale is convincingly portrayed; you really do feel like a tiny toy vehicle. The most impressive and imaginative level for me was the Japanese restaurant grill where you were swerving between bottles of saki and sizzling tepanyaki beef.
While the actual driving feels good, it varies quite a lot depending on the vehicle you’re controlling. Starting vehicles like the ice cream truck and jeep feel easy to control, but the faster race cars can feel skittish. You will get used to the driving, but the underlying physics always feels a bit basic and you often feel like you’re gliding over the terrain rather than driving a wheeled vehicle over it. Perhaps it’s because of the games heritage as a mobile title, where accessibility and simplicity were a necessity because of the game touch screen controls. The drifting also feel really poor and seldom comes into play in races, and as a result the actual racing feels like it’s lacking in depth.
Perhaps the poorest aspects of Table Top Racing are the weapons and collisions. An EMP pulse or the impact of a rocket won’t result in any pyrotechnics. Instead the anticlimactic response will be that the victim of the attack will slow down a bit, like they had just driven into treacle. If you look at the classic karting games, hitting an enemy with (oh, I don’t know) a red shell will result in a big bang followed by stars and the victim being thrown into the air, flipping over and landing, somewhat dazed. The feedback you get from power ups and weapons is crucial, and in Table Top Racing you never feel any satisfaction from nailing an enemy with a well timed homing rocket.
Worse, the collisions between vehicles feel weird and weak. Sometimes the top heavy vehicles will wobble about a bit before falling over comically, with no feeling of weight or impact. Jostling with someone trying to overtake you feels more like glitchy polygons getting caught together, almost like the developers didn’t want the little cars and vans to crash into each other. Part of the fun of this kind of anarchic racing game is bumping your enemies out of the way, but in Table Top Racing collisions just generally involve both vehicles slowing down a lot and kind of getting stuck together. It really deflates the fun.
The audio is also really weedy and nondescript, with sound effects failing to convey the chaos on the track and the music failing to raise the pulse. In-app purchases are also present, but you don’t need them at all as I found myself cruising through most of the games trophies without too much to hold me back.
Online racing was often a bit laggy, but surprisingly I was almost always able to find races, and the lobby system is quick and simple. Finding online multiplayer in Vita games is generally a fruitless experience, but in Table Top Racing it was fairly painless and also probably the most fun I had with the game.
The Vita is a lovely device but it’s a bit starved of good games right now. Table Top Racing is cheap enough that I don’t mind giving it a cautious recommendation. The cute courses and the decent track design do enough to make it worth playing for a while till a better racing game comes along.
3 small doses of fun for small amounts of cash out of 5