I try to remain positive during these retrospective pieces. But every now and then a game comes along that is so bad it can ruin childhood memories and destroy entire franchises. I confidently say that there isn’t a single person who played this game and enjoyed it. If you did find fun in this game then you are two things: a: a liar and b: also a liar.
And being honest for a moment, I usually like to rejog my memories with these pieces and will go back and play the title in question for a bit. But this time around, I have no intention of ever going back to this game. I don’t think I even own it anymore. At least, I hope I don’t.
Alright, let’s get to it then: here is Micro Machines World Series.
Many gamers of my age – in and around their 30s – will likely have played a Micro Machines title. The first game, released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, birthed a series that quickly became known for its wacky courses. Being based on the children’s line of miniature vehicles, Micro Machines didn’t need to rely on traditional racing courses. Instead, the Codemasters developers could conjure up tracks on snooker tables, breakfast tables, garden shrubbery, toilet seats and many other locations.
Three years later, in 1994, Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament arrived on the Sega Mega Drive and introduced the J-Cart. This was a standard Mega Drive cartridge that included two extra controller ports built into the cartridge itself, allowing for eight players to race simultaneously. Eight because players only needed half a controller each to control their cars. It was utter carnage when you had eight people cramped around a CRT monitor and four controllers, but this was quintessential Micro Machines for those old enough to remember it.
More sequels followed, but none could match the J-Cart madness of Turbo Tournament.
History lesson complete, but it is important to know just how well received the series was in the ‘90s. Few games could match the party atmosphere its multiplayer achieved. Even now I can hear the victory fanfare in my head. Not that I heard it myself much, but still, it’s a soundbite locked up in the memory vaults.
Micro Machines V4 launched in 2006 on PC, PSP and PS2 but after that, the series lay dormant until early 2017 when a press release was announced declaring that Micro Machines would be returning. I was excited, but also apprehensive. Gaming had changed fundamentally, even since 2006. The emphasis wasn’t on local multiplayer so much anymore, friends would instead meet in online lobbies. So, it was anticipated that this new Micro Machines would have online multiplayer, but as long as that wasn’t at the cost of local multiplayer, then it should be okay, right? Right?
Local multiplayer was still present, and played a big part in Micro Machines World Series. Although, it was now only for four players maximum. The classic mode of driving far enough ahead to get your opponents off the screen is here, now given that classic racing game mode title of Elimination. But with only ten tracks to choose from, multiplayer only had so much longevity. Sure, these track locations were as wacky as the previous titles – one in particular had you on a Hungry Hippos board at one point – but the tracks themselves had a tendency to be oval shaped.
But without a doubt, Micro Machines World Series was focussed on the online portion. And it borrowed another idea heavily from a multiplayer title that was skyrocketing in popularity.
Just over 12 months earlier a small title known as Overwatch launched, changing esports and online multiplayer overnight. Many tried to emulate its character based ‘hero shooter’ gameplay, and many failed.
Micro Machines World Series tried to combine a racing game with a hero shooter roster of characters. On paper, it’s a very interesting concept and there is certainly potential. The payoff though was very different.
Hero shooters work thanks to their objective-based gameplay and having teams work out which classes work best together to overcome the opposing team. It works less so in a racing game, as found out with Micro Machines World Series. There was a high emphasis on vehicular combat, and that came at a cost of the fun and simplicity that made the series so great.
Each character even had their own Ultimate ability. Now would be a good time to tell you about some of these characters, but the truth is, they weren’t very memorable at all. There was a guy that drove around in a tank. I think. They are the only one I remember.
Of course, characters had been a feature of Micro Machines since the beginning. They had individual stats but weren’t restricted to the cars they could use. In World Series, they were.
Another element ‘borrowed’ from Overwatch were the loot boxes. There were no microtransactions, these loot boxes were awarded after online races and from levelling up. They provided the characters with some extra cosmetics and attempted to inject some longevity to this bare bones game. More tracks, cars and modes would have been much more preferable.
What Codemasters and developer Just Add Water probably anticipated to be a game that received a lot of support and content updates post-release fizzled out with the lukewarm reception to Micro Machines World Series. I may have gone in too hot headed when starting this article; it wasn’t a terrible game, it was just bang average and a massive disappointment to the legacy of the franchise. To be fair to it, it was released as a budget title, so expectations should have been tempered.
But, on the other hand, I can’t forgive it for killing off the Micro Machines legacy. It has now been removed from the Xbox Store, meaning the only way to pick it up is physically. It is however still available on Steam if you want to see how disappointing it is. On Xbox though, there is still a buggy achievement that has never been fixed, the online portion died off pretty quickly rendering most of the main game unplayable and somehow it lost all identity.
If one day thousands of unsold copies of Micro Machines World Series were found in a ditch alongside the remaining copies of ET: The Videogame, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.