One of the most commonly cited reasons for enjoying video games is allowing oneself to realise fantasies of various descriptions.
Frequently, these fantasies are heroic in nature, casting us into a world that is not our own and throwing us into conflict against a powerful foe that is nonetheless possible to overcome with enough determination. Sometimes they’re emotional, allowing us to engage with characters who are very different from people we encounter in reality. They might even be sexual, giving us the opportunity to explore a side of ourselves we find difficult to bring up even with people we know and love.
Or sometimes they might just be wondering what it would be like if your childhood toy cars could actually power themselves and race around an improvised circuit constructed of whatever happened to be on hand at the time. Enter the extravagantly titled Table Top Racing World Tour Nitro Edition, a game that can most certainly help with that last one, even if it won’t assist with your throbbing libido in the slightest. Unless you’re really into tiny cars.
TTRWTNE (as we shall refer to it hereafter) has its origins as a mobile game. Originally released for iOS devices in 2013, then ported to Android and Vita in 2014, the original Table Top Racing was a well-regarded if not especially well-known portable racer that combined elements of Micro Machines and Mario Kart to provide a simple but addictive experience.
Part of the reason why Table Top Racing and its sequel are noteworthy is the pedigree of development talent behind it. Of particular note is Nick Burcombe, who was one of the co-creators of the original Wipeout series back in the Psygnosis days, and certainly a man who should, in theory, know his stuff about combat racers.
TTRWTNE was initially released (as Table Top Racing World Tour) via the PlayStation Plus “Instant Game Collection” programme and was subsequently ported to Xbox One and Steam. Most recently, the game has seen a Switch port, and it’s that version we’re primarily concerned with today.
If you’re already familiar with Table Top Racing World Tour, you may be wondering what that Nitro Edition suffix means. Simple: this version includes both of the premium downloadable content packs for the original Table Top Racing World Tour game, all the free updates and a new split-screen mode where you can compete against a friend offline on a single console, or bring them online with you. An all-in-one, definitive edition of Table Top Racing World Tour, if you will.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game, meanwhile, what we have here is essentially a kart racer with some interesting environments, some “adventure racing” elements, plenty of long-term progression and appeal, and a cool variety of different event types.
The main single-player game consists of a series of cups, each of which is subdivided into a number of individual events followed by a final championship; running parallel to that is a series of one-off special events with stringent entry requirements. The cups are split into three distinct tiers, and these tiers correspond to three types of car you can acquire over the course of the game. These tiers of car, in turn, correspond roughly to both overall performance level and difficulty — though in practice you’ll find yourself hopping back and forth between tiers quite a bit as you play through.
The arrangement of events is where the game’s mobile heritage is most apparent — but for once I don’t mean this as a pejorative. Rather, it makes the game inherently friendly to occasional, casual play over the long term; you can pick up the game and have a race done in a few minutes while still feeling like you’ve made some meaningful progress, or you can sit down and enjoy it for a bit longer to make some more rapid progression. Either way, there’s a lot to do here; most events have up to three stars to earn depending on your performance, and there are nearly 550 stars in total, making for somewhere in the region of 180 events for you to complete and, more than likely, repeat a few times.
The most frequently seen type of event is Combat Racing. Here, you face off against a pack of opponents and compete to see who is the first over the finish line after a set number of laps. Bubbles on the course yield power-ups when collected (accompanied by a delightfully satisfying sound I swear I last heard in dearly departed MMO City of Heroes), and collecting a second bubble while you’re already holding something upgrades the item to a more powerful version.
The items function as you’d expect from your average kart racer these days: there’s an unguided missile, a homing missle, a boost and a short-range “blast” centred around your car. There’s also an acid bath you can spew out behind your car as well as an icy projectile that pierces enemies in a straight line ahead of you, encasing them in ice cubes for a short period and causing them to completely lose control (and hopefully slide off the tabletop).
Other race types include survival races, where the racer at the back of the pack is eliminated after each lap; Hot Lap, where you have a set period of time to attain a specific lap time; Time Trial, where you’re graded based on your total time to complete a set number of laps; pure races with no weapons; drift score challenges; and Pursuit events where you and an opponent start halfway around the course from each other and you’re tasked with catching up and crashing into your nemesis.
The highlight here is, as you’d hope from a game set on a selection of tabletops, the environments in which you’re racing. There are eight in total, ranging from an attic filled with artfully arranged 1980s tat through an archaeological dig in the desert to popular conveyor belt Japanese restaurant Yo! Sushi. Each of these environments has four track layouts, making for a total of 32 different circuits to race on.
The level of detail in these tracks is really fun, and seeing them from a toy’s eye perspective is delightful. (It’s a shame there’s no first-person mode, but this isn’t unusual for kart-style racers.) While the ’80s-themed track does not feature any officially licensed toys, for example, most of the stuff on display is clearly recognisable. The garage-based track makes creative use of tools and containers. And the very nature of how a Yo! Sushi restaurant is designed makes for a surprisingly perilous place to race!
These tracks are dynamic, too; most of them are littered with physics objects, while specially marked objects that glow with a pink aura can be hit with a weapon to trigger some sort of effect. Sometimes this will open up a significant shortcut, while at others it will introduce new obstacles or provide access to hard-to-reach areas. And that latter aspect is important if you want to fully complete the game — or just progress quickly — since each track conceals a number of awkwardly positioned (and very valuable) coins to collect, most of which require some creative use of the environment to reach.
Thankfully, your collection of these coins still counts even if you lose the event in which you pursue them, meaning they’re a good way to quickly amass the money you need to upgrade your cars and purchase new ones.
You can upgrade the top speed, acceleration, handling and armour of each of your cars — the exact amount you can upgrade varies from car to car — and you can also purchase new paint jobs and “wheel weapons”. This latter aspect is one area where TTRWTNE distinguishes itself from most other kart racers: while equipped, they provide you with a permanent special ability that is either passive (such as making you more likely to drift) or cooldown-based (such as the ability to attack enemies by crashing into them). In some events you’ll need to be extra careful, as your opponents can also make use of these!
The handling of TTRWTNE is distinctly accessible in nature rather than realistic, though it’s not attempting to ape either regular kart racers or drift-heavy arcade racers. Instead, the handling can best be described as a smooth, almost gliding motion; there’s a strong sense of momentum and inertia, allowing you to take wide swings at corners, and you even have a certain amount of air control, meaning that you can pull off dramatic moves such as turning 90 degrees in the air then firing off a turbo boost when you land for a quick direction change. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but consider we’re driving toy cars here; it makes sense that they don’t handle like dump trucks.
To go with this handling, TTRWTNE has a slightly unusual but effective control scheme, making use of both analogue sticks on a dual-stick controller rather than the usual stick-and-triggers/buttons approach. This method of control makes it feel like you’re guiding a remote control car — entirely appropriate, given the setting — and leaves your index fingers free for pulling the triggers that fire pick-up or wheel weapons. While the analogue stick doesn’t have quite the same satisfyingly clunky “heft” to it as slamming down a button to powerslide around a corner, this control scheme does fit very well with the smooth-feeling handling.
TTRWTNE is very well-presented, too. It runs at a slick, stable 60fps even in handheld mode on Switch, and the action is accompanied by an excellent soundtrack by DJ and producer Wes Smith of Juice Recordings. There’s a strong ’90s vibe to a lot of Smith’s tracks, with a number of songs bringing artists such as The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx to mind; it very much fits the nostalgic, urban feel that the game as a whole seems to be going for.
The only area where I’d maybe pick a bit of fault with TTRWTNE’s presentation is with its interface; it’s bland and uninteresting, and during races it doesn’t make a big enough deal of important events such as running low on time, reaching the final lap or being at risk of elimination. Having a bit more extravagance with this aspect of the presentation to go with the in-your-face soundtrack would have helped this game feel even more arcadey; as it stands, it’s certainly not a game-breaking issue by any means, but it’s a bit of a shame when the rest of the experience is so polished.
I actually wasn’t sure I was going to like Table Top Racing World Tour Nitro Edition when I first started playing it. The fact there were only eight environments, the floaty handling, the drab interface, the distinctly “mobile” feel to the game structure with its three-star ratings and earning coins and experience points for everything you do… all of those things conspired to give me what felt like a less than positive immediate reaction.
But then I realised several hours had passed; despite my misgivings, I’d been having good, honest fun with this game and, rather than feeling limited and constrained by the few environments on offer, I started to feel attached to these different locales and the dinky little cars screeching around them. Repeatedly seeing these locations felt like I was going somewhere familiar and comforting armed with a box of toys to play with, and the variations on the different tracks presented interesting challenges by combining the familiar with the surprising.
And despite the game being structured around earning money to unlock new cars and upgrade your existing vehicles, at no point does it feel especially grindy — or indeed tuned with microtransactions in mind. This is a refreshing change to so many games that are around at the moment!
What we have here is a game that is honest about what it is and quite charmingly humble with it; it knows its limitations, and at the same time it makes the very best of what it’s got, providing a ton of content to dip into whenever you feel like it without demanding long-term commitment.
The whole experience has a pleasingly ’90s feel to it; this would have been a great PS1 game (yes, yes, I know, Re-Volt) and, in a world where Activision thinks it’s appropriate to add microtransactions to Crash Team Racing, a game originally released in 1999, Table Top Racing World Tour Nitro Edition is a welcome reminder of simpler, happier times.
Thanks to Greenlight Games and Decibel-PR for the review copy.
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