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    2014-09-11

    Table Top Racing PS Vita Review

     For me racing games come in two different types, too real for me to play(I don't even drive in real life), and just arcade/fun type enough for me to be pro at. Games like Gran Turismo, I can barely get past the first test stage, while games like Mario Kart, Burnout, and Split/Second I enjoy playing very much. Table Top Racing is exactly that type of game. I haven't had this much fun racing since Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed(also on the PS Vita). While not the deepest of racers, Table Top Racing definitely has enough options and gameplay to keep your interest for quite some time, even with a few flaws.


    Gameplay- 7/10-  Table Top Racing is a toy car racer with some combat added into the gameplay. The cars looks are very reminiscent of the old Micro Machines toy line. Gameplay consists of you challenging yourself to a number of different races and events, earning experience and money to unlock new vehicles and upgrade them as you progress. These events include Championship, Drift, Special, and a Quick race. 
        Entering championship mode let's you play through a variety of races before tackling a final tournament style series of races. Some of these different race types include; time trials, elimination races(finishing last place in each lap gets you knocked out of the race), pursuit(catch up to your opponent and drive into him) and, of course, races. Races can be skill based only, may the best man win style or anything goes, using crazy weapons to get ahead. 
        Let's talk about these weapons for a moment. The game doesn't offer many of them, but the few they do provide add a bit of chaos to races. You have a single mine, which is placed behind you when used and is perfect for those following right up on you or booby trapping an already tricky curve. There is also a lock-on rocket, having one of these in your inventory is great for when you are passed on that final lap. You of course have the turbo, which gives you a temporary speed boost, like in most every other game that offers one, and my favorite of all, the EMP. The EMP will slow down any car within it's range, and is one of the most useful weapons you can get. Better yet, it can be used for defense too. Have a rocket heading your way? No problem, just activate the EMP at the right time and it will take that rocket right out. This can also be done with the mines, but timing must be pretty precise. The offense/defense option with some of the weapons definitely is a nice feature. Though it's been done before, and better, it's still a nice touch and adds to the gameplay. I do wish there were a few more weapon options, but what's there works, and they do make races much more fun. One small complaint though, the weapons, at times, can cause quite a cluster, getting you nowhere fast, and almost feels like it was pointless to even use one. Unlike a lot of combat games like this, the cars don't spin out or anything, they just stall. Right where they are, usually blocking your way. So hitting a couple cars with the EMP or smacking one with a rocket that's a bit too close to you does nothing but stall the car or cars out, directly in your way, blocking you from passing them. Maybe I just need more practice and better planning, but I found this annoying and it happened a couple times.
       
    Each of the race types offer a fairly good challenge, and I never felt too cheated out of a win, though, I did have a couple frustrating moments. The first being unnecessary speed boosts for the cpu. It's nice the game doesn't use rubber band A.I as far as I can tell, but you will more than often find yourself in the final lap, having been in first place almost the entire race, being passed by one or ALL the other cars suddenly! It's as if they all just found an invincibility star and gained an unfair advantage. It's just one of those things that makes you say, "OK, I've had enough for now", and put the game down. I don't think that's something a game should do. This wouldn't be the first time a cart(kart) racing game feels like it steals wins from you though, so let's move on. Another problem I had was some of the cars seemed a bit faster than they should be. When I have a fully tuned sports car, I find it ridiculous to not only be passed, but have a difficult time catching up with what looks like a Volkswagen van!  Now, I don't know how the cpu matches your stats, but even if we were both fully tuned, I still find that situation a bit odd. I'm up for a challenge, but at least try to make it not look like a cheap A.I. My only other real gripe with the game was shortcuts. Now, there are shortcuts, though I was only able to find 2-3, but this game has a problem with dead ends and getting stuck until you respawn. What I mean by this is, you'll have something like 2 books in a stage with a gap between them that looks to lead to the other side. "Oh, must be a shortcut" you say, nope, just a dead end half way through it. This happens a lot, and is very misleading. I like the idea of straying off path to find hidden areas, but after finding a couple of these, you tend to get turned off by the idea and stick with what you know. This is a game with toy cars, and that's not how it should feel, there should be tons of multiple options to find and take advantage of, you know, like you're playing with toy cars! Thankfully, none of these are game breaking and there are still a couple more modes offered.
        Drift events are exactly what they sound like. No opponents, just you driving around a track trying to get record breaking drift times. This mode is perfect for a quick play, and is actually quite fun. More laid back than the racing, I didn't quite enjoy it as much, but it still offered a good time and is a nice inclusion. This is a great mode for bus rides and toilet trips, offering a quick game that still rewards you with money and experience. This mode does come with it's own problems though, mostly being that the courses aren't really drift game worthy. Most of the curves and turns in this game can be simply navigated with good driving, and drifting around them is fun, but leaves you with a petty score in the end. Not every curve, but a lot of them. I found achieving the course's high scores to be difficult, especially in the later ones. It did keep me trying though, so I guess it works out...
        Then there are the Special events. These can be any of the previous mentioned races, but many of them requiring the use of a certain vehicle or a high enough level to compete in them. This really let's you focus on progression, as you need both money and experience to continue playing in this mode. I really enjoyed this, as I finished many of the main races pretty quickly. Having reached level 12, I quickly hit a wall playing through these special events, reaching a course that required me to be level 15. This made me go back, try some drifting, replay a few races for better scores, trying to reach that next level so I could continue playing. That's a good thing. Anything that will make you want to play more is a welcome in any game. Unfortunately, with going back to racing in some of these events, the same problems I had with championship mode come back. Since you are required to race with certain vehicles in a lot of these events, some may be more difficult than others. This can get annoying fast, but stick with it and you'll find yourself getting better with time. Well, and maybe just getting lucky. Even with the problems, this is a fun mode and let's you try cars you normally wouldn't use.
        Now, you may have noticed I mentioned tuning your car. It's a very important part of Table Top Racing, as you will find yourself losing pretty quick if you don't. You are able to do this in the garage. You will also find the cars you win and unlock here, as well as a number of them you can buy with your earned coin. There are quite a bit of vehicles to choose from too, including a bunny truck and a wienermobile, which I loved(being from WI), with each one having slightly different stats and performance levels. Each of these performance categories can be upgraded, stats such as speed, grip, and acceleration can be increased one by one. These upgrades are all in a predetermined order, meaning you can't choose which category you want to upgrade. These tuneups also cost coins. Coins can be won by racing or completing events, but they can also be bought from the store. I understand this is where games are going these days(and this was a cellphone game originally), but it bothered me a bit. What happened to good old fashioned playing a game to advance? Now you can just go buy all the coins you need, grab all the cars that you are able to purchase, and upgrade them fully right away. This takes some of the challenge out of the whole experience. I know many won't have a problem with this, but when I get a game, I want to enjoy it, not just breeze through it for trophies and such. 
        The garage also lets you choose new paint jobs(though, not many) and upgrade your tires, both costing coin also. To be able to drift like a pro, you will need the drift tires. Want to jump and be able to get to some of those shortcuts? Well, you will need those tires. Other tire options include bladed ones for defense(I guess offense too), ones that offer you a shield, and a few others. Besides the drifting tires you'll need to really participate in that event, you can choose whichever you like best for any of the events. It's small, but does offer a bit of variety to play around with, especially the ones that allow you to jump.
        Now, we've covered all there is to do in this game, but how does it control? Well, the good news is that it is extremely playable, with tight and responsive controls. Menus are navigated with the touch screen, while the actual racing uses buttons and the analog. Tapping the back touch pad puts you into a rear-view mirror perspective. If you like, you can also use the right analog stick for gas. It all works very well, as I would have given up pretty quickly if I were forced to drive using touch controls or the Vita's gyroscope feature. While not huge, the cars do have a different feel to them when driving. Sports cars are sleek and fast, and can easily go out of control and tumble off the table(course) with a misused turbo boost, while taking a sharp turn with the ice cream truck can easily topple it over. It's not the deepest, but it does offer some variation to which vehicle you choose to race with, or in some cases, are forced to race with.
        The game starts out kind of simple, perhaps to allow you to get accustomed to everything, but by the second tournament, you will have to have upgraded your vehicle and have driving controls down pretty well to compete. There is a nice selection of vehicles and many different events to keep you busy. Table Top Racing is fun to play and offers pretty tight controls, which is necessary in any racing game, and besides those few mentioned complaints, it's a great game to waste some time with.


    Multiplayer- 5/10- Table Top Racing offers both local and online multiplayer racing. From what online gameplay I got to experience, I had no problems. The races are fast and fun, with no stutters or connection issues. Online supports up to 3 other players(4 in all), and I'm guessing it's the same for adhoc, though I wasn't able to try that mode at all. I really did have a blast playing, it was the first time I have ever won an online race in any game.  I do have a few issues though. One, after the first couple days of the game's release, I have found it difficult to find anybody else playing. Most of the time, no matches can be found, and even creating a room and letting it sit for a while attracts no challengers. This is really disappointing, because I really did enjoy playing this with others. My second issue is that this is one of those games that just lets people buy their way to the top. Being able to just go onto the PSN and buy coins feels cheap, especially online. Granted you can't buy skill and levels, but still, it can make some of the multiplayer matches feel uneven, just because you'd rather work for your upgrades the old fashioned way. Finally, why only 4 racers online? I would have liked having all 6 cars, it would have been much more fun. It's not like this game is breaking speed barriers or pushing frame rates to the limit. This just feels like another lazy part that could have been adjusted when ported over the the Vita. Why not make use of the extra power?
    Like I said, there is nothing wrong with the actual game when it comes to racing online, it's just been difficult to find opponents. If you are lucky you will find one open room with one or two players, but mostly, I found nothing. The score reflects this, with more activity it would have definitely been higher.


    Replay-4/10- Racing games, in general, usually have a pretty high replay value, and this one is no different. Unfortunately, this replay value only lasts until you beat the game's modes, or come close enough that you had your fill. From the lack of players online, it seems that may be too quick. I'm not a huge racing game fan, and even I played through most of the game rather quickly. I still found it fun, and I even went back to complete some of the events with a better rating. Each event and race offers up to 3 stars to achieve, and while I found myself getting most of them easily, there were a few that I knew I would have to come back to and try when I was a bit better skilled. There are a couple trophies that will require some play time, but nothing that will take more than a week or two. Still, I had fun just picking it up and playing a few games, but once I delete it from my system, I can't see downloading it again without some new features being added. It would be nice to maybe have some downloadable tracks in the future, maybe holiday themed, and definitely some new cars to keep people coming back. Maybe even a few gameplay issues being adjusted, just to show that this isn't another lazy port. I also believe being able to buy coins to speed up your upgrading takes away from the replay value, allowing you to finish quicker than you would if you had to grind a bit. All in all, while a solid racer with plenty to do, once finished with those things, it doesn't quite have that "come back to" feel. Still, it definitely is worth a play through.



    Graphics/Sound 6/10- Graphically, the game is quite charming, though nothing special. There is a good sense of speed and everything runs at a good frame rate. This isn't Wipeout, and the cars don't move as fast, but the speed seems appropriate for what they are. The cars aren't quite Micro Machines, but not quite Hot Wheels' size either. It is cool that your car flips and tumbles around when you crash, again giving you the feel of it being a toy. Courses are pretty detailed with objects to really give you a feel for the size. Unfortunately, a lot of the objects in the courses also look like toys, with many of the them having a fake plastic look. That's fine when you're in a room full of Santas, but outside at a barbecue or in a workshop, it just doesn't look right. With only 8 stages, I do wish there were a bit more(and no, reverse mode doesn't count), I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities with the racers being so small. What is offered looks good and makes good use of the colorful and bright Vita screen, it's just with no movement or interaction, stages are a bit bland. I'm not looking for Capcom animated style backgrounds, but a bouncing ball or a leaking hose would have added quite a bit of missing detail.
        While I didn't mind the music, there wasn't anything I can say was note worthy. I actually found most of the race tunes to be pretty generic and forgettable. There also isn't very many choices in tracks, with many of them just being replayed over and over again. I bring it up only because I have to. It is annoying, but truth be told, you won't notice it that much, you'll be too involved with trying to win these races or beat the time trials. That's what is important, the actual game. I love a good soundtrack or score, but this is just one of those games that it just didn't matter, again, it's not Wipeout. You can turn the music off(and keep sound effects on), and race to your own tunes anyways using the Vita's music player. I find racing to my own soundtrack always helps a bit, especially when it's just generic rock being offered. 
        The sound effects were fine, from the softer buzz of the toy motors, to the fireworks explosion sounds of the rockets going off. One thing I really appreciated was no annoying announcer screaming at you. There isn't much here though, so don't expect anything amazing.
       Everything looks and sounds fine on the PS Vita. It doesn't take advantage of the hardware at all, but the game has a simple look and feel to it. That's not a bad thing, but it does come off as a lazy port of a cellphone game. Sound is one category that is a bit lacking, and graphics are just good. Still the races move at a quick(enough) speed and everything runs smoothly, off and online. That's all you can ask for with a game like this, being under $10, it's pretty solid.






        I enjoyed Table Top Racing, it's a lot better then I expected. It's one of those games that is perfect for what it costs. I have to give them credit on the pricing, this game isn't trying to pretend to be anything it's not. Anything higher and I would not have been able to recommend it. I do have a few minor issues with it, but nothing that kept me from playing it and more importantly, kept me from coming back to it. Besides some annoying race mechanics, what bothers me most is being able to just buy your way through the game. I just feel there is enough here to keep you playing, earning the cash you need as you get better through time. Being able to just purchase what you need severely decreases the replay value, and that's something a developer should try to avoid. Then again, you already spent the money on the game, so.... This is just my personal feelings on such, and I know most players won't mind a bit, grinding isn't exactly popular.
       
    It's truly a shame that finding competition online is so difficult, it was one of my favorite parts of the game. This could easily change though, and hopefully will. When you are able to find someone else playing, it's a blast, even if it limits you to just playing with 3 others. I found the light heartedness a good contrast to the grind your teeth feel of Need for Speed and Wipeout. Plus, like I said, I actually won a race with this game.  


        This game is fun, and sometimes that is enough. Graphics in no way will make you say "Wow!", but they get the job done. The toy car theme has been done before, and while this doesn't offer anything too refreshing, it's still fun to see the tiny cars race through backyard barbecues and toy rooms. I just wish it was a bit more than just a port. The Vita is better than this, and a few more stages, cars, and features would have went a long way.

        If you are looking for a quick, fun, and easy game to get into, Table Top Racing is a great choice. Don't get me wrong, when I say easy, I mean to learn, not beat, there is plenty of challenge to be found, even if some of it comes with cheap A.I. Not the best racer for the PS Vita, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a try, especially for the price. A nice addition to any PS Vita collection.


    Gameplay- 7/10
    Multiplayer- 5/10
    Replay- 4/10
    Graphics/Sound- 6/10
    Overall- 6/10
                   
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    Item Reviewed: Table Top Racing PS Vita Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Gabriel Watkins
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