>> Friday, November 16, 2007
A long-time favorite for other systems, the CD-i version of Micro Machines by Codemasters brings all its cartridge-based assets to the CD format with virtually no added features. And that's the way we like it. The idea is simple -- take miniature race cars and drive them around the dream tracks a six-year-old might think up on a particularly inventive rainy day. Formula-One cars race around the rails of a billiards table, whizzing around balls and into the pockets... mini-speedboats power around the bathtub, jumping over bars of soap and bottles of shampoo... dune buggies zip around a sandbox, cutting turns in front of sand castles and jumping over mini-moats. The action is equally-streamlined: players see a top down view of the playfield that scrolls along with the action, using the touchpad to turn the car clockwise or counter-clockwise. Take out the scrolling and it's the 20-year old arcade classic "Sprint", or the "Spinout" game that shipped with the old Magnavox/Philips "Odyssey2".
In short, it's a game that takes about 30 seconds to learn, and three hours to beat. If you're really good. Standing in your way is a cast of characters of varying skills. You choose one as your driver, and must beat the rest on 36 wacky tracks. Finish first or second in a four-person race and you advance to the next race; fail and you lose a life and must race the same track again. Beat a computer player enough times and he or she is forced to resign.
Fortunately, speed isn't your only ally in Micro Machines. It's also fair game to bump, rear end, cut off, or otherwise harass the computer's cars. In fact, such techniques are virtually necessary, since at least one of the computer cars will always be naturally faster than you... an advantage that can be negated with a proper bump right near the edge of the table, the side of the water, or other appropriately lethal traps.
The above applies to the one-player ''challenge'' game, which is the superior play-mode. With two players, or one easily-amused player, you can also race ''head to head''. These races put just two cars on the track -- the goal is to get so far ahead of the other player that he falls off the screen. Do this enough times and you'll win the race, even if you haven't finished a lap. But this mode isn't as satisfying, since sharp turns that go from horizontal to vertical scrolling make it extremely easy to get a screen-ful ahead.
Micro Machines is a near-perfect 16-bit cartridge game, one which realizes its modest goals with class, and the CD adaptation doesn't mess with success. The only addition are some short, choppy, 3-D animations that establish the location of each race. Scrolling and control on the CD-i aren't as refined as in other versions, but are at least adequate.
One annoyance is the lack of the now-standard means for advanced players to skip earlier levels. Micro Machines has no passwords, no codes, no entry in the CD-i player's memory, nada. If you're having trouble with the 31st race, you'll have to play through the previous thirty, every game, just to try again. It may improve the game's shelf-life, but the preliminary races get tedious quickly, and for a game that will take hours to complete, it's questionable whether players will hang in long enough to play the game through.
Despite that, Micro Machines is a rare thing: a sprite-based action game for the CD-i. It's a fresh breath of simplicity and speed on a platform better known for ponderous puzzles and distended adventure quests. Assuming you've already played the best action game for CD-i, The Apprentice, Micro Machines deserves a spot on your shelf. The machines may be miniscule, but the catchy game-play is no small accomplishment.
Thanks to Chris Adamson