Table Top Racing
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Ripstone (Playrise Digital)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone” for Mild Fantasy Violence
Table Top Racing is a fairly well known title in the iOS and Android world. <It is a Micro Machines style racing game that first debuted on iOS a couple years ago, and has been given a bit of a makeover for it’s Vita debut, most notably in the form of proper analog controls.
Micro-Racing on the go
Table Top Racing pulls its inspiration from games like Micro Machines and R.C. Pro Am. Players speed around in miniature race cars that resemble real-life cars. In some race modes, power-ups like missiles and EMP blasts exist to hinder your opponents. There are a variety of other race modes, including Time Attack and Drifting, and you can even play against others in online and ad-hoc multiplayer matches.
The racing itself is merely “OK”, which is kind of a problem. There is a lot of Mario Kart style rubber-banding, which should serve to make the game fun and competitive, but in this case just gets annoying. The races are generally pretty short, and the inability to maintain any kind of a lead means that you tend to lose a lot of races right at the finish line. The AI is merciless when using the weapons, which all bringing the player to a stop. It feels like 8 out of 10 times, the AI in second place will use it on the last corner. The player then winds up back in fourth, after being in the lead the rest of the race. There are shields to help mitigate this, but it all too often feels like players don’t have a fair shot. I can’t attest to the online experience, because I could never get it to work. Or, perhaps it was working and no one else was ever playing.
The car handling is pretty good in Table Top Racing, especially as players begin upgrading vehicles. You have noticeably more grip than most gracing games, which is a welcome change from titles like Motorstorm RC, where I felt like I was on ice the whole time. Even the drifting feels pretty great. Getting into and maintaining a drift is extremely easy, so you don’t need to actually know anything about vehicle dynamics to make it happen. It’s perfect for a casual racer like this. All the cars in Table Top Racing feel pretty good, so you can focus on the racing, not what you’re driving.
A microcosm of obscurity
The problem is that, as I said above, Table Top Racing‘s racing just isn’t as fun as it could be. It’s annoying at worst and repetitive at best. It isn’t bad, but never feels genuinely fun. It isn’t helped by that fact that Table Top Racing requires a lot of grinding to make any real progress.
Playrise stuck to the mobile game business model of gating off content with coins. You get coins by winning races in Table Top Racing, but new cars, which are sometimes required to even enter certain races, are expensive. Even when you buy one, upgrades need to be purchased to have a chance at winning. I sat there, losing a lot, just to save up coins.
Or, players can buy coins. I hate this. Table Top Racing costs $7.99, but Playrise still uses the F2P business model of using microtransactions to proceed. Players don’t even have control over the upgrades, as the game chooses what your 3,000 coins buys. Meaning if you want better handling, you may need to burn through 6 races worth of coins before it offers you that upgrade. This feels disingenuous at best. You never “need” to buy coins to get anywhere, but grinding your way into enough funds to upgrade and win races immediately gets monotonous. I much rather would have seen Playrise re-balance the in-game economy and strip out the microtransactions, or make Table Top Racing free. This gaming model feels out of place on the Vita, especially for a game you already paid for to play.
As mediocre as most of Table Top Racing is, there is one really bright spot. I want to meet the person who was in charge of naming the cars. Someone at Playrise has a wonderfully obscure sense of automotive humor. Scrolling through the car selection was easily the best part of the game for me. I literally laughed out loud at some of them. The Land Rover clone being named “Treemaster Co2″ is hilarious, or the Bugatti Veyron being called “Baguetti Carb Injection.” There are a few fantastic references that only die-hard gearheads will likely ever pick up on (ahem, MK1 Cosworth Escort). The graphics are pretty good as well. The track environments are pretty clever, and look, frankly, great. Table Top Racing certainly has that Micro Machine feel down pat.
Can’t escape it’s roots
I could never shake the feeling that Table Top Racing could have been so much more. The game remains too firmly planted in its mobile roots, and I can’t help but think the bare minimum work was done to port it over. For instance, the menus are all touch screen only, but the racing uses the physical buttons. Coupled with the microtransaction progression structure, it’s as if Playrise decided that once the cars worked with physical buttons, they just stopped working and shipped it out. You never, ever forget that you are playing what amounts to a free mobile game, and it is rather off-putting. There is a lot of potential trapped inside Table Top Racing, but it never quite gets there. It’s a good little time-waster of a game, truly it is, but on the Vita there are much better options.