One of the best modes in the Micro Machines games was undoubtedly “Head-To-Head”, in which the goal was to reach the furthest edge of the screen while pushing an opponent to the opposite side. The balance of risk and reward resulted in a nail biting play experience where one mistake would cost you dearly, the most talented players always taking home the gold medal. Developers Nordcurrent seem to think this mode is pretty good too, having created Monochrome Racing, a title that is entirely based on this over 15 year old premise.
After being asked to create a profile with which to track progress, you then embark upon the Career mode, picking from a selection of 12 vehicles and adding nondescript upgrades with a starting balance of cash that's later boosted by victory on the asphalt. Then it's to the track where four simply designed but clearly defined racers brightly adorned in blue, red, yellow and green gather on the starting line to compete on the monochrome landscapes from a top-down perspective. It's here where everything falls apart.
While there are eventually over 80 tracks available to choose from, many are remarkably similar to one another in layout and none add any of the variety seen in similar 2D racers. Not that you see much of those courses anyway, because in the just-shy-of two hours it takes to complete the title, you'll be hard pushed to finish a single lap.
The AI in Monochrome Racing is quite simply atrocious: opponents crash into one another at every opportunity, completely misjudging every corner they take and even spinning out and facing the wrong direction on long stretches of straights. It appears that your competitors cannot handle the game's extreme oversteer, jeopardising their own races every step of the way, turning the opposite direction to approaching turns, ploughing into a wall and potentially blocking the progress of others. There are two weapons at everyone's disposal during races – a nitrous explosion and a small mysterious circle that slows opponents when they drive through it – as well as a few on-track bonuses such as a full repair bonus, but you'll never need to use them to win. Ever.
The majority of races are over by the third corner thanks to competitions ending after just one victory as well as the general incompetence of the AI, the only time you won't top the podium is when you're unfortunate enough to become involved in their moronic driving accidents. This rips any enjoyment of competition from the title, each victory feeling hollow and undeserved. After a race is over it's back to a menu screen with one too many button presses to get to the next track, meaning that you'll spent almost as much time selecting options as behind the wheel.
A Time Trial mode would have been greatly welcome so that players could focus on the otherwise passable driving engine, but there isn't one, so with the single player a write-off we turn to multiplayer — with up to four human players — the core game improves dramatically. However online options are non-existent and the likelihood of getting three mates round for a session of a mediocre WiiWare racer is fairly slim.
With decent competitors — or even just some competent path finding — Monochrome Racing could have been a fun little diversion for a few hours, especially considering its low price of 500 Nintendo Points. Yet the AI is completely broken making playing alone a chore. Multiplayer options are limited and there is no variety to the environments you race on. 500 Nintendo Points is enough for a NES game on Virtual Console and almost anything on that service that promises high octane thrills is better than downloading this train wreck. When there are far more sophisticated racers, from literally decades ago out there, it truly highlights just how poor this offering is.
Absolutely one of the worst executions of a racing game to date, it's astonishing just how badly Nordcurrent has faired with this top-down racer. The rather unique visual style has some scope for potential and in multiplayer some of the major issues are avoided, yet this isn't enough to repair the damage caused by the main thrust of the title: its Career Mode. Featuring some of the most horrendous AI yet seen in a drive-em-up, this sole failing totally undermines every other aspect of an otherwise par-for-the-course racer.