Of all the bite-sized games that hit the App Store with each passing day, there are very, very few that make the jump to handheld gaming systems. Aside from mobile behemoths such as Angry Birds and Cut The Rope, many of these low-budget releases succumb to the white noise resounding around Apple’s crowded digital store and fail to make any lasting impression, unless they nab a place on that all-important chart. So, it’s a testimony to the pedigree behind Table Top Racing — Playrise Digital’s minute racing experience — that its success has been validated with a release on PlayStation Vita.
Without doubt, Table Top Racing has enjoyed critical and commercial success on iOS devices since it launched in January of last year — followed by an Android port twelve months later — and it’s hardly surprising. Formed from the ashes of now-defunct Sony Liverpool, Playrise Digital is an indie studio founded by Nick Burcombe, co-creator of the reputable WipeOut series. And while the company’s maiden title fails to emulate the chaotic fun of its futuristic forebearer, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this competent Vita port.
Part Hot Wheels, part Micro Machines, the overall theme of Table Top Racing is wonderfully realized. Taking control of a minute toy automobile with only one gear to speak of, players will weave their way around various everyday settings — including a picnic-themed table and even a sushi restaurant — all to compete for that coveted first place.
Essentially, the single-player content is skewed across four principal categories: Championships, Drift Events, Special Events and, if you’re squeezed for time, Quick Race. All of these reward players with coins based on their performance, which in turn is represented through a three star system in the vein of Cut The Rope. In addition, budding racers also accumulate experience points by completing events and performing special moves such as thwarting opponents with a rocket — which can change the order of a race in an instant.
Most of your time with Table Top Racing will no doubt be spent within the Championships section, which encompasses a series of unlockable events that each bring a nice diversity to the table (no pun intended). Indeed, Elimination, a mode that removes one racer with each passing lap, is perhaps the highlight of the game’s selection by injecting a palpable sense of urgency to the proceedings.
That said, there are certain modes in particular that simply aren’t as fun as their counterparts; such as Pursuit, which pits you against an AI vehicle that you simply have to catch up with and tap in order to complete. In fact, these lacklustre events appear as filler to flesh out the player’s journey towards the ultimate grand prix; compared to the fast-paced action of the aforementioned Elimination, they merely dot the I’s and cross the T’s.
The same complaint can also be levelled at the game’s scant roster of tracks. Granted, Table Top Racing was initially built for the mobile audience and is therefore relatively short of content, but when a significant portion of the playable tracks are basically the same course from a previous event in reverse, it’s hard not to be disappointed.
Of course, in the transition from iOS and Android to Vita, it’s worth noting that Playrise have added several new features to bolster the game’s staying power. For instance, tracks have been given a visual revamp, complimented with touch screen controls and even trophy support. Plus, with a total of seventeen eclectic automobiles available to unlock, including everything from a ‘Hot-Diggidty-Dog’ vehicle — essentially a hot dog on wheels — to a Bugatti Veyron-styled supercar, there are plenty of options available to those who wish to step behind the wheel.
Speaking of which, Table Top Racing‘s garage serves as the perfect hub in which you can customize your vehicle with different paint jobs, spec boosts and even some slick new weapon wheels. And yes, you read that right; for weapon wheels act as a crucial addition that can truly separate your vehicle from the pack.
From Centurion Wheels — which add spikes to your alloys in a style reminiscent of Mad Max — to the Boing Wheels that allow you to bunny hop over opponents and in-game obstacles, each option opens up an entirely new means of play. Furthermore, the Drift Wheels are an absolute necessity if you plan to take the Drift-centric events by storm.
Still, the game’s upgrade system doesn’t give players free roam over fine-tuning their vehicle’s stats and instead offers only one avenue to take in terms of progression which, in truth, is more confusing than anything else. Moreover, Playrise’s title does feature micro-transactions, and though the game isn’t necessarily unbalanced by these overhanging in-game purchases, some tracks do take several attempts to earn a three star rating on.
Because admittedly, Table Top Racing is hamstrung by a slow start. Starting with the barebones and stepping into an entry level vehicle is undoubtedly a staple of the genre, but when your first ride — in this case, a colourful ice cream truck — lumbers around the course at a snail’s pace, it leaves a bad first impression that isn’t necessarily indicative of the full game.
Yes, the races never reach the high-octane excitement of Mario Kart, and the in-game arsenal — which consists of missiles, bombs, boost, and the show-stopping EMP — may be wholly unremarkable, but Table Top Racing packs a solid punch in terms of content and, once you get over that initial grind and unlock your first supercar, proves to be an entertaining racer.
The events themselves are relatively short and suit the pick-up-and-play nature of the Vita to a tee. The studio has also utilized the handheld’s touchscreen to navigate the game’s menus, while the back touchpad can be used to glimpse in your rearview mirror during a race — mind you, this can take some time to grow accustomed to.
And though Table Top Racing runs overly well on the system, there were instances when the framerate jittered — particularly in the championships races, with six bite-sized cars all trading metal at once. Also, the game did freeze completely when switching between menus and forced me to do a hard reset; although, thankfully this only happened once.
Overall, Table Top Racing may not be as fast-paced or indeed engaging as the titles that inspired it — namely the aforementioned Micro Machines and Hot Wheels — but Playrise Digital’s maiden release still offers plenty of chaotic content for Vita owners and feels right at home on Sony’s handheld. After all, big things do come in small packages.
This review is based on the PlayStation Vita version of the game, which we were provided with.