It feels like Codemasters has been testing the water for a potential return of its much loved matchbox racing franchise. A few years ago we had Toybox Turbos on PlayStation 3, which was a Micro Machines game in all but name, and a fairly good one at that. More recently, a Micro Machines mobile game popped up, and again, was fairly well received. The good news is that we now have a brand new console entry in the series. The bad news is that, well, it’s rather disappointing.
Having laid a solid groundwork with the aforementioned Toybox Turbos, Codemasters decided to make a big leap away from it. Micro Machines: World Series has next to no single player content whatsoever, pinning all its hopes on multiplayer. Of course, Micro Machines is celebrated for its multiplayer scuffles, but to obliterate single player altogether when it was already present in the last game of this ilk seems a bit drastic.
Instead of a robust single player element to faff about with, the big focus here is online. Of all the games to influence a new Micro Machines title, Overwatch would’ve been the last on our list, but there are some surprising similarities throughout the design, from the UI to – gulp – loot boxes. Competing online will earn you experience points, and each time you level up, you earn a loot box, each filled with a gaggle of cosmetic items like vehicle skins and other inconsequential fluff.
What’s strange is that playing offline doesn’t earn you anything at all, other than maybe some Trophies. It doesn’t count towards your level, and there don’t appear to even be any leaderboards for race times. The online really is the meat of the game, then, and thankfully, it seems to work fairly well. Matches rarely take more than a few seconds to find (empty slots are filled with AI racers), and lag was never really a problem in our experience. The general performance of the game isn’t great, however, struggling to hold up 30 frames-per-second quite frequently.
These problems most commonly crop up in World Series’ big new addition: Battle mode. Ranging from free-for-all death matches to king of the hill, these battles take place on purpose-built arenas that follow the same themes as the race tracks. The twelve vehicles on offer each have their own set of weapons and abilities for use in Battle mode, as well as a unique ultimate power that charges up as you play. This, again, recalls a certain team-based shooter, right down to some very familiar presentation.
That’s not a problem in itself, but unfortunately, Battle mode doesn’t quite work. It has potential for some haphazard fun but the action falls into complete chaos almost instantly, and while each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknesses, it doesn’t appear to make a huge amount of difference. The maps are possibly a bit too large and complex for their own good, too; there always seems to be one or two cars driving around that don't seem to have a clue where the objective is.
Outside of Battle mode, you have the more traditional Race and Elimination events. The racing fares better than the combat, although the controls are oddly slippery. The handling for each car varies a little, but generally you’ll be sliding around all over the place until you figure it out. It can make the first few races a bit of a chore, especially when the AI drivers offer a stiff challenge to top it off.
Eventually you’ll get used to the handling, and memorising the tracks won’t be far behind that, as there are only ten. They tread similar territory to what’s come before: the kitchen table, garden, workshop, and pool table are all present and correct. What’s new is a heavy-handed coating of other Hasbro properties. The brand's board games line some of the tracks (one Battle arena takes place on a Hungry Hungry Hippos board) and the pickups are all Nerf products: a hammer, a machine gun, and a bomb that drops behind you. It’s not terribly intrusive, but it does come across as a little tacky.
The saving grace of the whole game, really, is four-player local multiplayer. There is still a lot of friendship-ruining fun to be had in the classic Elimination races, where the camera follows the front of the pack and stragglers are forced offscreen. You can’t play regular races in offline multiplayer, however, which seems like another odd decision.
World Series is a hollow shell of a Micro Machines game. Codemasters has focused on an undercooked Battle mode and online play to the detriment of the core racing. The local multiplayer is when the game is at its most enjoyable, and zipping around the colourful courses in miniature cars remains a fun novelty. However, some glaring omissions and the small number of tracks and cars means you probably won’t stick around for long, and no amount of loot boxes will change that.