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'Micro Machines' Has a Mean Learning Curve, But It's Still Grabbing Me

I love the way 'Micro Machines: World Series' Plays, but I can't seem to, well, win.
All images courtesy of Codemasters

Micro Machines: World Series is so goddamned cute. It's in the style of the beloved older games in the series, an isometric racer/battler with tiny toy cars (the real thing, after all) that takes place in cute "home" arenas.

It's all meant to evoke a fun playground and safe, wacky, childish spaces—there are courses in chaotic kitchens, with spilled cereal and marmalade and a curious doggy trying to snatch a snack. There are playrooms with toys and air hockey tables and pool balls and even a few shop class throwbacks, all of them are lovingly rendered and designed with a keen eye for obstacle placement and pacing.


I really, really like this game–I think it has fantastic level design and awesome, wacky physics, and it just feels great to play. But I am so epically, comically terrible at it that I fear my brain is broken every time I play.

Here's what happened.

Sometimes, when you receive code from a publisher, you get a little review guide: some tips and information made to make your experience with a given game smooth. This is a multiplayer game, and I was to definitely play it with others. I was also told to practice in the arenas, since the AI can be tough, every car handles very differently, and there are a LOT of obstacles in these tiny, adorable death arenas.

"Ok, cool," I thought. "I'll get the upper hand by practicing with the AI, and move on." I've put a few hours into the game, and… I'm still there. Playing against the AI in the practice mode. Worse yet, I think I've only ever not come in last once.

See, while I play a lot of racing games (from the kart racers all the way up to the Forza's and Dirt's of the world), I never really played a Micro Machines game. And that isometric perspective comes along with a car-relative control scheme. The controls always work from the perspective of the car, so, if you are racing away from your POV, right is right and left is left. But, if you are racing toward the camera, it's the opposite.

After a few hours, I'm ok with the straight up and down sections, but in the change-up—in those harrowing sections where the road turns wildly, from away to towards or vice versa, nine times out of ten, my brain just… glitches. And my poor Micro Machine (usually Dr. Mel Practice's ambulance!) goes careening off the track to her death. And I lose. I lose every time. To the glorified practice dummies.

Yet I'm sticking with it, and finding excuses during my day to go "practice" losing to a bunch of fake cartoon racecars. Because when I'm not screwing up, it feels so good to race on these tracks, avoiding toys and errant snacks and other details, blasting at other cars, swooping through turns and over ramps.

It feels—here it comes—like a 3D platformer, albeit one on a set track, with all of its timing and jumping and wildly different handling among characters. It's extremely fun to, say, swing around looping corners on the Pond stage, over the ice. It's wild to fishtail over the air hockey arena's curves and slam an opponent into errant pretzels on the pool table.

Maybe, one day, I'll even win. I cherish the thought.