If we were to talk about unofficial NES games, what would spring to mind – maybe Bible Buffet, or Action 52, games that were not exactly renowned for their quality however if those type of games left you feeling like the only quality was released on official cartridges (*ahem* read The Simpsons’ games *ahem*) then fear ye not – along came a company that cared about the quality of the games, and one of those games in particular linger long in the hazy memories of the console. The company, well in the UK were known as Codemasters and the game, the miniature racing game Micro Machines. Does the game make you want to vroom off into the sunset or off a large cliff.
Micro Machines was released on the console in 1991, and like most of the Camerica/Codemasters cartridges it was not on the usual grey NES cart’s, no Codemasters had a habit of putting their games onto uniquely designed cartridges. This could be in the form of large square carts, or small rectangle carts with a triangular piece of plastic drooping down, having to put another cartridge in a slot to ensure it works. There are reason’s that the games were not released officially, with Codemasters being the UK distributor of the Camerica series, however in Micro Machines it was worthy of an official release.
Micro Machines is a racing game based off the popular toys, that has an overhead view in the races. You’re not just racing Formula 1 cars as perceived on the box oh no, you could be racing in speed boats, monster trucks, pretty much anything and everything you can think of. Except a Segway, that’s a disappointment but to be fair they weren’t invented when this game was released. The idea, with pretty much all racing games is to race against three opponents and get to the finish line first having completed three laps. If you win three races in a row, you get taken to a bonus stage where it is just yourself and your driving abilities in order to complete the lap in under the allotted time given – if you succeed you get an extra life, while not completing it means, well, you’re a failure. Sorry to disappoint you kids.
When you turn on the game, you get the option of playing a 1 player game or go head-to-head in a two player game, so kudos for actually making a game two player – as mentioned before too few games on the console where two player, and I don’t count games like Super Mario Bros and Wrecking Crew in that as they were turn-based and not co-operative local multiplayer such as Battletoads. When choosing 1 player mode, you then get to choose your character from a surly crew of some stereotypes such as the Chinese character being called Chen and the really cool looking dude being called Spider – it doesn’t say if the differing characters play differently, so for now it seems personal choice who you select. You then enter a qualifying race on a speedboat where you first get to grips with the racing and deal with the simplistic yet effective controls. As mentioned above, over three laps finish second and above and you progress – if you don’t you lose a life, and only having three lives to start with you really should be saving these for the later levels.
The controls are typical of racing games released on the NES – simplistic yet effective. The A button accelerates the car, the D-Pad steers your car and to brake, well as much as it’s a presumption it is the B button why would you want to brake? Obviously you might say to slow your car down, but personally it seems more effective to just release the accelerator button and drift round the corner. The controls are reactive and in fact the handling of the vehicle can change depending on the vehicle used in the race, for example, the Warrior-type trucks used in the garage-based levels have slow acceleration but turn really well, whilst the sports cars will race off at the speed of light so turning at full speed will make you drift off the edge losing valuable places to your opponents. Graphically, the colours are bold and contrasting and it feels like the developers took great care designing not only the vehicles (though it is a shame your vehicle is an exotic shade of grey) but in terms of the levels your racing on. Rather than racing around a race track like a Formula 1 car, or in fact dirt tracks like Ironman Stewart’s racing, your treated to everyday environments such as breakfast tables with orange juice slowing you down, garages where globs of glue slow you down and in the bathtub navigating round bubbles and impending doom moments such as the bathplug and swirling around in it. It was a really good touch of the developers to use everyday scenarios for their miniature vehicles, though the thought crosses that when you leave a room, you never know if miniature vehicles will be racing round dodging the mess you left behind!
For an unofficial cart that was never officially endorsed by Nintendo, Micro Machines is a fine example of a game, not just a racing game but a video game in general, done well. The graphics are bold and advanced for the console and are aesthetically pleasing on the eye and makes you feel like you are on the breakfast table racing round. The music and sound effects suit the game well and the controls as mentioned many, many times in the review are responsive and makes you feel that if you do come second or not do as well as you think, it’s due to player error and lack of skill. The game can be found on your favourite online four-lettered word acution sites so if you do get the chance, do add this to your collection and bask in the knowledge your sticking it to Nintendo, with their grey carts and the seal of quality, who needs them when you got games like Micro Machines and Action 52!…wait….
Rating – 5 out of 5