You have to question the mental health of the child who plays with his toy cars in a shit-filled sewer. After another delightful day of navigating his miniaturised motors around giant turds, through rivers of urine and across other bodily discharges, we pity his poor mother who has to clean him up and wash his fetid clothes.
But then this is the crazy world of Micro Machines v4, where an obstacle course in a sewer is one of the more sensible tracks. Elsewhere, there are giant chickens that try to peck your car to death, a workman whose drill causes the equivalent of an earthquake, and a chest of drawers that magically transports you from the bottom drawer to the top.
There's certainly no shortage of surreal tracks, cars or variety then, and the singleplayer game uses a system of unlocking everything as you go. The first of four increasingly difficult race divisions is available at the start, and by winning the separate trophies in that division the next one is unlocked. Battle Cup is an everyman-for-himself race, Race Cup is a straightforward three-lap event, and Checkpoint Cup is a solo timed run around an obstacle-filled track. Once these three are completed, a final Battle League event is unlocked which repeats four tracks from the other events and tots up your overall placing. Come top in this and you can move on to the next division. Sorted
UP FOR THE CUP
This could get a bit samey were it not for the extra events that are added to later divisions. The Team Battle Cup pits your one car against a team of other racers; the TT Cup finds you trying to complete a lap within a time limit and features a ghost car of your previous best attempt; and the Chase Cup challenges you to intercept an opponent before the three laps are up.
Whereas developer Supersonic's extremely similar Mashed scattered a few weapons around each circuit, Micro Machines v4's tracks are littered with power-ups and interactive objects. Sometimes you can't move for the amount of static impediments, moveable obstacles and weapons, which make the game even faster and more chaotic than its spiritual predecessor. You can top up your health, drop explosives, fire all kinds of guns and missiles, and even electrocute a rival. Weapons are more responsible for victories than driving skill, and it's fair to say that you don't often get to complete a full lap before someone has won the point.
With 750 vehicles and 76 challenges to unlock, plus a track editor, the single player game will keep you going for a surprisingly long time - and you'll want to unlock as many tracks and cars as possible for when you get a few mates around. Fortunately, if you don't fancy slogging through the single-player game, cars and tracks can also be unlocked through the multiplayer mode, which is a great idea.
MASH IT UP
Like Mashed, Micro Machines v4 clearly isn't cut out as a game to be played on your lonesome. Computer-controlled opponents simply aren't as cunning or as unpredictable as human players, and even on the hardest difficulty setting in the hardest division you'll still be able to predict their driving styles or behaviour patterns. It's particularly noticeable in the Team Battle Cup event, where there's no sense of your opponents actually working together as a team; almost every time they win a point it's down to your bad driving rather than any strategy on their part. Sometimes they'll even blast each other with weapons.
Other flaws are highlighted in the single player game too. There's little handling or even speed difference between many of the cars, which makes the whole concept of collecting as many varieties as possible somewhat redundant. They're also very lightweight to the point of feeling floaty, with little of the argy-bargy tactics that could be used to such great and comical effect in Mashed. Occasionally the camera has trouble keeping up when you're leading, so add this problem to the slidey cars and sharp turns and it can feel like you're being punished for skilful driving. The only alternative is to learn the tracks inside out so you can anticipate every bend and obstacle. We'd also have liked the air strike option (targeting any car that's still racing even after you've been eliminated) that plays such a huge role in multiplayer battles to be implemented in the single player game - it would have added an extra layer of strategy to what's a pretty straightforward series of races.