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Reviews

Micro Machines V4

A 16-bit classic returns - but be sure to make some friends before you play it.

Not enough games have big comedy hammers in them. Perhaps we would have been less disappointed by Sony's E3 presentation if Phil Harrison had demonstrated the new motion-sensitive controller with a giant hammer and not a fl ying joypad... well, OK, maybe not. But as the hammer power-up demonstrates by attaching a massive great mallet to the front of your car, letting you squash your opponents fl at, Micro Machines V4 embraces fun, just as the original games did on the Mega Drive in the early '90s. In fact, the first thing you notice when you play V4 is how faithful it is to the 16-bit classics. There's no music during races - just the sound of tiny engines, incidental background sounds and now the 'bloop... BANG' of weapon pick-ups. It's reassuringly familiar, like your mum's cooking.

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But, of course, there are changes - the biggest being the camera. The default setting always sets the camera behind the cars - not a chase view as such, more isometric - and it shifts to keep the next corner at the top of the screen. It works like a charm, making control enjoyably straightforward. There is a fixed 'classic' option, though. But this only illustrates why the camera needed to be changed in the first place.

The cars handle exactly as you'd hope, too, with some great powerslides accessed by sliding your thumb from q to e. It's responsive, fun and satisfying - made all the more so by the quality of the in-game physics. For instance, you can knock dominoes into your opponents' path or scatter peas all over a supermarket checkout belt, sending your tiny foes hurtling headlong into the Jolly Green Giant's finest. Yes, control is excellent, even compensating for minuscule alignment errors on straights, correcting you so you don't lose speed by constantly tapping left and right. It can be infuriating to lose a point just because certain sections of the track squeeze the camera's view so that the trailing edge touches you but, mostly, it's pretty fair.

SAME AND SHAME
There are new environments, as you'd expect, which offer cosmetic variation but essentially the same challenges as ever. The chicken coop features vicious beaks pecking at your car and the salon offers both kinds of hairpin, each as lethal as the other. However, the new locations can't excuse the omission of some of the old ones. We remember choppers, tanks and speedboats. Where are they now? Forcing your opponent down the plughole is one of the series' most treasured moments - and is sorely missed here. So you're left with the cars. 750 of them, to be exact - but they're so similar, you won't bother unlocking them all. But the power-ups are disappointing. Where other racers provide you with position-specific weapons, such as speedboosts when you're near the back, V4's pickups are always the same. Get behind in a non-battle race and you may as well restart. You'll never catch up.

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Visually, well, most of the processing power seems to be used on the physics. The textures are bland and some tracks have terrible moments of slowdown, which is a pity. There are some smart effects - like sun glare on your car's roof and reflections in polished wood - but there's not enough bright colour and it's a bit subdued as a result. Adding to the sterility is the omission of the chirpy racing characters of old. No Dwayne, Spider or Cherry here - just cold-looking menu screens.

Predictably, V4 is best played in short multiplayer bursts, where it remains as fun as ever, and is certainly where the joy of the game is at. Playing through the single-player challenges isn't a chore, as such, but it doesn't feel rewarding either - and you'll finish them all in five or six hours.

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