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'Micro Machines' swaps quality for quantity


Racing games come in all shapes and sizes -- from authentic NASCAR and Formula 1 driving simulations to urban street racing challenges to over-the-top arcade handling on fantasy tracks.
Codemasters is kicking the tires with a concept that gamers haven't seen in a while: miniature racing. By licensing the "Micro Machines" brand from Hasbro, this latest console and PC racer puts you in control of teeny cars that whiz around the house in places such as the pool table, garden, bathtub rim and messy kitchen.
The premise is cute, and the game features hundreds of collectible cars, diverse tracks and a host of game modes. But game play is marred by a finicky camera and sub-par graphics.
"Micro Machines V4" is currently available for the Sony PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable (PSP) and the PC. The game lets you race inch-long cars against speedy opponents -- controlled by the game or a friend beside you --through a handful of wacky locations littered with obstacles, such as spilled grease that causes your car to slide uncontrollably.
While most of the car choices must be unlocked by winning solo and multiplayer races, you will have access to literally hundreds of tiny vehicles.
The cars are divided into categories, including muscle cars, stock cars, 4x4 off-roaders, concept cars, street racers and beach buggies, each with unique handling. Much of the fun in the game is collecting the cars, all viewed from the Garage. You even can trade cars with friends who also own the game or connect the PSP to the PlayStation 2 to access even more cars.
You can also unlock bonus locations that take you outside the house, such as on rooftops, through city sewers, inside a supermarket or around a chicken coop on a farm. A bundled editor also lets you create, save and share your own tracks -- but you must start with a prefab environment, which takes away some of the fun.
Along with traditional three-lap races, game types in "Micro Machines V4" include a battle race, in which you earn points by pulling ahead of the pack, and checkpoint races, in which you earn more time once you pass through a checkpoint.
Multiplayer options include team game (race on the same side against the artificial intelligence) and all-against-all, in which the first player to fill up his or her points bar wins.
While racing you can drive over power-ups to give you an edge, such as dice-shaped mine bombs you can drop behind your car on the track or a flamethrower to roast a driver just ahead of you. Other power-ups give your car full health, an ammo refill or a temporary boost of speed.
Sounds fun, and it may be one of the better "Micro Machines" titles in the franchise's 15-year history as a video game. But the novelty of racing tiny cars around everyday locations doesn't last too long.
What's more, the camera, which lets you see your car, constantly zooms in and out to keep all of the cars on the screen. This negatively affects your view and is especially annoying when you're in the lead and the camera pans back to show your tailgaters.
You can choose a fixed camera or a classic top-down view, but that makes it even harder to see the action.
And despite the colorful graphics and bizarre tracks, the game looks outdated with blocky cars that also tend to all look the same.
While not a complete waste of time, "Micro Machines V4" is probably an ideal pick for less-demanding, younger racing game fans and for gamers who'll enjoy the car-collecting component.
Overall, though, it's too bad the game makers focused more on quantity instead of quality.