This summer, it could be argued that the demand for a non-realistic racing game on Wii U has well and truly been met, and another kart-style title is perhaps at the bottom of our wish list as a result. However, standing tall in the face of its moustachioed overlords, Eclipse Games has treated the eShop to an extra slice of arcade action with miniature combat racing — no assembly required.
Super Toy Cars is something of a modern take on the classic Micro Machines series, which pitted tiny vehicles against one another in a variety of races around familiar household locales. It’s the kind of action only a kid, (or kid at heart) could dream up, as nostalgic afternoons spent rolling toy cars around the living room are rendered fully playable once more. It’s a fun concept that opens up a whole slew of imaginative possibilities, but your enjoyment of Super Toy Cars will likely rely on your ability to forgive quite a few of the title’s quirks and mis-steps.
As it turns out, racing along table-tops and garden paths isn’t so dissimilar to the norm. Although tracks are a fraction of the size, career mode follows the same structure as many other titles in the genre — in single player you’ll select a car and take on a series of ‘cups’ or stages, each consisting of six events that will test your miniature driving skills. There are actually quite a few cars to choose from, ranging from sportier models to clunky road-hogs, and these can all be customised as you see fit. Credits are earned both on the track and as a reward for winning events, which can then be used to purchase additional vehicles or on upgrades for your favourites.
Each vehicle handles differently, which encourages experimentation but exacerbates an ever-changing sense of weight and momentum. Improving boost duration, top speed and acceleration with upgrades can help even off a particularly bad ride, but then the physics engine suddenly steps in to remind players that they aren’t fully in control; it’s a permanent source of both hilarity and frustration, hovering between wonky and utterly manic depending on its mood. Making contact with another car will either send you bouncing off each other or lock you together in a doomed embrace, and attempting to land a jump will have players crossing their fingers tighter than the Dukes of Hazzard.
Fittingly enough, as a result of this you’ll quickly realise that the toy-room aesthetic affects not only the level design and visual flair of Super Toy Cars, but the driving itself as well. Eclipse has successfully made gameplay feel like the efforts of a child tossing toys around, but whether or not this adds up to a satisfying experience is highly variable. It’s telling that there’s a dedicated ‘reset’ button — allowing for quick placement back on the road after a bad crash — and with rivals shooting rockets or giant magic 8-balls you’ll definitely need it.
The events are a mixed bag, and a rather dull time trial mode proves that not only do the driving and drifting mechanics fall short when brought to the forefront, but the tracks themselves do as well. Once the novelty wears off, many of the courses blur together into a clump of cereal boxes, tin cans and fire hydrants. Their architecture is simple, meaning that what look like shortcuts can actually be invisible walls from time to time, so thankfully things do come alive with other cars on the track, with some props even dislodging when struck. A unique ‘evade’ mode also has racers attempt to win whilst navigating a dangerous minefield, and elimination makes last place a very dangerous position indeed.
Another unique feature is a very welcome track editor; fully controlled with the GamePad (which doesn’t get much use anywhere else) and expansive enough that anyone can create some pretty impressive layouts complete with a bank of resizable props. Unfortunately icons aren’t labelled, so we were forced to resort to some trial and error before we got to grips with the interface; a tutorial here would be very welcome, particularly as there’s one in place for general driving. Nonetheless, creative gamers will definitely enjoy seeing what can be done here, and the inclusion of an editor invites them to improve on the selection of tracks by designing their own.
At the time of writing, multiplayer is a strictly offline experience, with all events confined to the same console. Up to four players can compete using any car, picking and choosing both their preferred track and game mode. Though you can play just fine using either the GamePad or Pro Controller, the Wii Remote will likely be a port of call for most gatherings — but not as you know it. Eclipse has made the bizarre decision to map controls to the Remote in the upright position, stepping away from both motion controls and the standard horizontal position. Using this scheme, cars accelerate automatically to free up the d-pad and ‘b’ buttons, and we’re sure you can imagine it takes some getting used to.
Without company you’ll be playing solo, anyway, and this is a big disappointment — especially when it means that user-made tracks can’t be made available for download and shared online. The good news is that an upcoming patch is set to add in a few missing features, such as online leaderboards, so time will tell if this is something that can be included with future updates. Wishful thinking perhaps, but further online interaction would really elevate the overall experience.
These toys could do with a little extra polish, but as a budget title it performs fairly well. Visuals are clear and playful, and the often insane physics tend to create some havoc, which helps keep things interesting. Seeing AI opponents (Liam Boost, Craig McSpeed or the mighty Count Lightning, for example…) tossing and turning around the course adds frequent amusement, though the cheesy indie rock soundtrack that permeates the entire game is severely out of place and repeats often enough that you’ll forcibly learn the lyrics by the end.
With Super Toy Cars, you either embrace the weird physics and accept that this is a cheap, silly experience, or you don’t. Adopting the former mentality will net you a fun ride at a decent price, and though there are definitely far better racers on Wii U, the nostalgic may want to open the toy-box one more time. Boosted by an in-game track editor, it’s a solid chunk of content that will amuse if nothing else.