In the distant past of 1991, the racing genre was a sparse one. Save for F-Zero and Mario Kart, little existed to break the mold; that is, until Micro Machines. Employing a top-down perspective on toy cars and boats, this classic allowed players to swerve over rulers and through bubble baths, taking the genre down to a miniature scale of frenetic speed. Tabletop Racing rings most clearly as a successor to those games – but does it stand up to the heritage of its predecessors?
The similarities are obvious immediately. Once again, you are small cars on tables littered with various items blocking your way. Each table houses a theme – workbench, teppanyaki table, diner – and the choice of cars ranges too from simple ice cream trucks to famous cars of the past. Much effort has been put into varied game modes as well: time trials and combat races in the more mundane area are well-representned, and pursuits (chase a single car and ram into it) and eliminations (the person in last place eliminated every lap) make up the meat of the game. Each set of challenges ends with a multi-race Season Finale much like the Mario Kart grand prix. Special challenge races and drift courses add in extra variety; with every one of them having their own three-star rating system, there’s a great deal of replayability on offer across the board.
The oddest choice in core gameplay, however, serves as the greatest detraction. Many of the game’s features and cars are locked away behind money and XP barriers. Often, races will require a specific car which won’t stand a chance unless you dump huge amounts of gold into its upgrades. Stockpiling all this gold requires a lot of grinding out races; though this does add gameplay and give the player something to strive for, having to replay the same races over and over just to afford the new stuff slows the pace down terribly. There are microtransactions for the impatient, of course, harkening back to Tabletop’s roots on phones and tablets. Whether the player finds that helpful or not is up to them.
But you can’t be too harsh on a product for wanting you to work for your rewards. What is much more worrying is how, looking back at Micro Machines for comparison, there just isn’t as much fun in the product. Where the now 23 year old game had jumps and narrow bridges, slicks of spilled orange juice and oil, and even the ability to veer off the track and cut corners, Tabletop Racing really just uses its concept as window dressing. With not even a brake or reverse at your disposal, each track quickly becomes a collection of turns with only the theme of each table to differentiate them. Though the racing itself is still fun and often very competitive, not utilising this concept more feels like a very big missed opportunity. Whether things become more fun in online play is a mystery: fatally for a game like this, there’s simply nobody playing in the online scene.
When looked at in totality, Tabletop Racing is a game perfectly encompassing the “good but not great” mindset. For all the times that it is competitive, fun, or tense, there are just as many times when you’re listlessly driving around the tracks, chasing that third gold star to eke out a little more money to afford the next upgrade. Competently made and very cheap at $8.95, there are certainly worse ways to spend your Vita time. Just don’t expect to still be careening around waffles and coffee a week later.
- A good variety of modes and cars
- Wheel upgrades add strategy
- Ultimately shallow
- Lots of grinding required