Developer: Playrise Digital
Release Date: January 31st 2013 (iOS),January 23rd 2014 (Android), August 5th 2014 (PSVita)
iOS/Android – Free and Premium versions – £1.99/$2.99/€2.69 (with in-app purchases)
PSVita* – £4.99/ €5.99/ $7.99 (with in-app purchases)
*This review is based on the PSVita version
Table Top Racing is a racing game from developers Playrise, whose team members have worked on previous games such as the Wipeout series on PlayStation, Blur, Project Gotham Racing and Midnight GT to name a few. Suffice to say they have rich experience in building racing games. Originally on mobile platform iOS and later Android, the miniature racing game is making it’s dedicated-handheld debut on the Sony PlayStation Vita.
The gameplay is strikingly similar to the Micro Machines racing games that started in the early 90s and ran through into the mid-2000s. You play as your choice of toy vehicle although initially you have a very limited choice (ice cream truck or Volkswagen-style van) but as you progress you begin to earn money to buy more cars and upgrades. There are 17 vehicles overall to unlock and buy as you progress.
There are several modes to choose from such as Championships, Drift Events, Special Events and Quick Race. There’s also online competitive mode. The actual gameplay bears a resemblance to Mario Kart: simplistic, arcade-style racing around a variety of imaginative tracks. During a standard combat race you drive over wooden crates (not dissimilar to Crash Team Racing) scattered across the tracks which contain offensive and defensive pick-ups such as bombs, seeker-missiles, radial EMP blasts and speed boosts. These are all pretty standard weapons for this type of racing game although I’d like to have seen a bit more variety or perhaps creativity as the weapons are pretty bland.
Like any “Karting-style” game, you use these pick-ups to gain an advantage over your opponents by attacking them with your weapons to take the lead. I found the opponent AI to be quite aggressive so any help against them is welcome. Simple control scheme makes it easy to pick up and play. The game mainly uses face buttons: X to accelerate, square to brake, fire weapon is R1 and steering is handled by the left analogue. At first the controls may seem little stiff but as you progress and upgrade you’ll find it’s the low-level vehicles that’s the issue rather than the game’s design.
During what I’d consider the “main” mode, Championships, you play a series of events and win stars from each depending on what position you come in at the end of the race.
Up to 3 stars can be won from each event as well as XP points which increase your driving rank. You play through until you reach the cup which consists of three “Season Finale” races where the highest scoring car walks away with the championship trophy. Each race can just be picked up and played, they’re short and don’t require much skill, which is perfect for a handheld/mobile game.
The stars you win also award you coins, the in-game currency which you use to buy better vehicles, upgrades, tyres and even paint jobs. The game offers in-app purchases which you can use real money in your PSN wallet to buy in-game currency in order to purchase better cars quicker. These micro-transactions have become a standard in modern mobile games and seeing as Table Top Racing started off on iOS, the feature has made its way over to the PSVita.
This is by no means necessary in order to enjoy the game, it’ll just take longer to gather enough currency to unlock the higher-tier vehicles, which you will of course need to acquire in order to win the later races. When it boils down to it you’re just paying to save time and I find laying down real cash to unlock better cars takes away the sense of reward for beating the races.
Table Top Racing looks good on PSVita, the detail in the tracks is impressive and diverse across the variety of races. There are 8 different tracks to play which are also reversed, making it 16 variations in total. You can race across tracks such as a kitchen table, a workbench in a garage, a picnic table at the beach and even a Japanese restaurant. Each are littered with items you’d find in the relevant environment such as power tools or food like giant burgers with the course plotted around the ginormous objects. Some of the items stick out and you can be in danger of crashing into them, causing you to destroy your lead and ultimately lose the race. Sometimes it’s hard to judge how close you can get to certain objects before they cause you to crash, flip over or just get wedged into the off-track environment.
Using the triangle button you can change the camera perspective of the race. You can choose to play in a top-down, birds-eye-view which is typical of Micro Machines games or more recently MotorStorm RC on PSVita. Alternatively you can shift the camera into third-person perspective behind your vehicle and play it like a kart racer.
Personally I preferred the camera perspective behind my car as the top-down view can often be a little confusing in conjunction with the controls (I disliked MotorStorm RC for the same reason) however the closer camera can make corners harder to see and often I found myself steering around a corner completely blind and going too wide, either losing my lead or veering clean off the track. You can see reverse view by holding the PSVita’s rear touchpad but I rarely use this feature.
As I said, the details in the environments are impressive. The tracks looks great from above; the food looks good enough to eat and the tablecloths look like material but the care taken designing tracks isn’t lost when you switch to the closer camera perspective. In fact the change in perspective grants you a better, close up view, showing clear, crisp textures, which was surprising.
The vehicles look as good at their surroundings, the plastic and metal-looking bodywork shimmers in the light and they give off the impression of blocky little toy cars, all rounded and clean with simple decals. There’s even a few parodies of real famous super cars.
What did annoy me slightly was the music, it’s a soundtrack of uninspired, almost stock “racing game” rock/metal music which started to become tiresome after a while.
Luckily you can turn it off in options. Navigating menus requires you to swipe your finger across the screen, which is fine, with it being built for mobile platforms and the PSVita indeed having a touchscreen but often swiping can take multiple attempts to land on the right option, which is unnecessary frustration. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer navigating game menus with physical buttons when possible. You control your vehicle with buttons and analogues, I would have liked to have been able to use the menus with them too.
There’s plenty to do in Table Top Racing, the multiple modes and collecting stars will keep you busy. You won’t initially be able to ”3-star” every event so you’re encouraged to keep playing, collecting money, upgrading your cars and buying better ones to go back to clear up any missed stars. Altogether there are four Championships to with, in total, 44 races to play, so there’s plenty to do in that mode. It’ll keep you busy for a while with time trials, best laps and elimination rounds.
Another mode is Drift Events which you earn points by drifting the furthest around corner without crashing; 24 tracks to drift around, 12 per difficulty level of either “Pro” or “Expert”. Annoyingly though the game doesn’t allow you to play these events from the off, you have to wait until you buy a specific vehicle, in fact you can only play said events with only one car which I found preposterous. To lock an entire mode until you can afford to buy this one car a mystery to me, seeing as more than one vehicle can drift.
There’s also Special Events which are races set within very specific guidelines. For example a certain type of race like Elimination (last car past the finish line per lap is eliminated from the race) where only one type of weapon pick-up is available, a sort of “mash-up” of other events. Also in this mode certain events are locked to you until you have the car required to enter combined with a high enough driver rank to compete.
It’s not as annoying as being locked out of Drift Events as you can actually play early levels this mode with any car, although I imagine some grinding will be required to unlock the later events that require the most expensive cars and ranks of 40-50. My advice here would be not to waste your hard-earned in-game currency on frivolous things such as paint jobs and novelty tyres as you’ll need all the cash you can get to unlock those high-end vehicles. Saying that though, one set of wheels, when equipped actually increases the amount of prize money you’re awarded so the choice is up to you.
Finally there’s an online component where you can race against other players either locally with Ad-HOC or globally through PlayStation Network. Here you aren’t limited, you can choose whatever track to play and the finest car in your collection to pit against other Table Top Racing players. Personally, other than the single PSN Trophy attached to the online mode I didn’t really find much need to play it however people who enjoy engaging human players online would probably enjoy it more than taking on predictable AI cars.
It has a small, simple list of PSN trophies which encourages trophy-hunters like myself to keep playing until he very end, collecting every star, which I applaud Playrise for including.
The offline components have enough content and variety to keep you busy whilst I feel the online is there for the novelty of it. After maybe a few hours the tracks can seem a little repetitive which is why I wouldn’t recommend long sessions of Table Top Racing but rather short bursts, which I feel was the way it was designed to play.
The difficulty of the races seem to get steep quickly making you buy upgrades and more vehicles that perform better in certain events. It has a very “micro-transactiony” vibe to it where you always seem to be just short of enough cash to buy that next upgrade that’ll ensure your victory for the next few races until alas the difficulty turns up a notch.
The subtle temptation to buy coin packs instead of race is there but like I said, it’s there if you want to but doesn’t really hinder the game, it’s more about how patient you are as a gamer.
In-app purchases aside, the core game is fun and simple, the hallmarks of a mobile game. Do not expect a highly intuitive, deep racing simulator with tuning and realistic steering, it’s a silly kart racer that pays homage to two great series whilst adding its own style to the mix. The “pick up and play” nature suits it well. I could sit down for five minutes and do a single race or even sink an hour into it doing an entire championship. This is a game to play between the big games, something to burn up some spare time on and the exact type of mobile game that feels right at home on PSVita.