Remember Christmas day when you would find the stocking over the mantle piece stuffed with little packages for you to rip open? They were always little gifts, but the Holy Grail every year was a shiny new Matchbox car. You'd take that tiny die-cast vehicle and run it over everything with a flat surface. You raced imaginary foes with rocket launchers and always launched off the ramp to safety. That little car helped you shrink down in your imagination so you could look up at the condiments on the picnic table as you raced around them. Those little cars were pure imagination and fun. Table Top Racers hopes to capture that memory and make it a reality on your iOS screen. Does it shrink you down for pint-sized racing action or will their race cars go flipping off the picnic table and into the grill to be melted down and forgotten?
Miniaturized kart racing is nothing new to the App Store. Many have come before, but Table Top Racers does everything quite well and with a lot of charm and personality.
TTR is a damn fine looking game and there's evidence that the developers took their time when crafting challenging tracks that have character and atmosphere. Each of the eight tracks offers something new and different. From the workbench of a garage to a sushi bar, the levels are as diverse and as entertaining as the cars themselves.
Instead of your boring old selection of scrap metal, you get to choose between some interesting cars. Battling it out for first place with an ice cream truck while driving a kitted out VW van with surfboards on the roof only makes the game more charming, even if the ice cream purveyor sticks you into the wall around a hairpin. I thought people with ice cream vans were either nice or just creepy, not overly competitive petrol-heads.
As with many games, you're able to purchase some in-app coinage to help boost your performance. But unlike others, this function is only an optional extra that isn't smeared in your face every time you finish a race. It sits there politely in the garage waiting for you to call on it whenever you need some fresh oil in your engine. And that's the way it should be.
The upgrade system is very simple and allows you to unlock new vehicles and soup up some of the stats on your current ones. You're awarded coins for winning races and challenges in any of the three modes. Championship has you competing in a number of events where you're forced to race against the clock or some aggressive computer drivers. You liberally use any and all power-ups that they might happen to get. For instance, one of the races might have you all using booster packs for the entire three laps while another might force you into using rockets. Each weapon hinders other racers enough to slow them down, but even if you take a direct hit from a rocket, you aren't out of the race yet. You still have a chance to snatch that glorious comeback for a photo finish.
You can also just tap in for a quick race or even hook up with some friends over Game Center or wifi to see who really is the best at racing mini-cars around a sushi bar. The controls are simple, but require some practice and skill to completely grasp. You only have to turn since the car does the acceleration itself, but you can scrub off a ton of speed by turning too quickly and screeching the tires. The controls are neither frisky nor numb. They're right in the middle and perfect for a game like this.
Does Table Top Racers capture the feeling of blasting a matchbox car around a miniature world full of ketchup bottles, hot dogs, tissue boxes, and hand tools? Yes, it does quite well. It is challenging and impressive, but most of all, fun. Which is what we want from our miniature cars -- real or digital.