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Retrospective: Micro Machines

Stay away from the edge of the table...

The new issue of Nintendo Gamer is on sale now.

Kids don't really play with toy cars any more, and it's all Codemasters' fault. Back in ye olden days, if you wanted to play a racing game you just moved little toy cars around on the carpet and made 'broom broom' noises (it was far more fun than that makes it sound, youth of today).

So it's no surprise that when Codemasters released Micro Machines, a NES racing game based on the line of tiny toys, we put away childish things and started playing videogames instead.

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The fact that the cars were toys was actually the game's greatest strength. Modern racers might be able to spice things up with their high-resolution landscapes, pin-sharp paint jobs and endlessly intricate tuning capabilities, but back in 1991 a racetrack was a big grey circle on a green background.

Micro Machines didn't have to do that. Miniature speedboats could sail around froth-laden bathtubs, sports cars zoomed across messy desktops, rulers became bridges, pencils became fences. Micro Machines levels weren't stodgy grey circles; they were colourful, creative and fun - the perfect fit for the NES.

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MULTI MACHINES

Multiplayer was at the heart of the game's appeal. Playing with someone else would turn a fun racing romp into a competitive argy-bargy peppered with the kinds of words our parents didn't realise we knew yet. Sheer drops awaited you on every side, and the tracks would often become so narrow that only one tiny racer could pass through at a time. Most of us spent more time ramming each other off the edge of a table than actually trying to win.

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For young kids making the jump from toys to games, Micro Machines was the perfect gateway drug. It realised the fantasy we all had playing with our toys and introduced us to the fun-but-spiteful arcade racing that Mario Kart would capitalise on ayear later. Soon, we'd never have to use our imaginations again.

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