Hands on with Micro Machines v4 on PSP

Who says size matters? The cars may be tiny but the racing could be huge

Hands on with Micro Machines v4 on PSP

Here's a tip: if you haven't got three PSP-owning friends, find some. It's a rule that applies generally, sure, but here we're specifically referring to anyone who's planning on playing Micro Machines v4.

If you read our previous coverage, you'll already know the game is all about combat racing in miniature vehicles around everyday locations such as the bedroom, loft, garden, supermarket and museum glass cabinets, to name but a handful of the 50 makeshift tracks that await you. (You can also create new tracks to challenge your friends with.)

Events are split into Battle, Race and Checkpoint cups, with each category usually followed by a League (championship) round. Completing these unlocks a set of cars; there are 750 to collect, and they can be traded or even won (or lost) in 'pink slip' racing rounds.

The vehicles are divided into 25 types – off-road, muscle, race car, and so on – and while we haven't had a chance to try them all out, those we did felt significantly different from each other in terms of grip levels, speed and acceleration response.

In fact, the overall handling is very pleasing, feeling suitably 'weighty' and responding smoothly – yet promptly – to control inputs. We found the D-pad felt the most natural for steering duties, though no doubt many will find the analogue stick just as able – it's mostly a question of preference, after all.

Don't mistake the easy going nature of the controls as anything other than a way of enabling you to properly focus on the on-track action, which is relentless, remorseless and rousing.

Weapons and power-ups such as plasma cannons, missiles (both standard and homing), lasers, sonic booms, flamethrowers, barrel bombs, health (which directly affects your speed), double damage and giant hammers litter the courses as pick-ups, and while your only interest may be to drive around clipping the apex of the hosepipe or powerchord marking the corners with Schumacher-esque precision, the reality is that unless you adopt a more Red Baron-like attitude and start giving as good as you get, you'll inevitably always cross the line last.

Not that driving skills aren't important – the nature of the tracks mean they're inherently filled with danger. When was the last time you tried to speed around a breakfast table, with cutlery forcing you perilously close to the edge, or a carpenter's worktop, complete with a buzzsaw? And besides, should you find yourself momentarily weapon-less, you can always rely on talent to gain an advantage over the competition – there's nothing quite as satisfying as powersliding around a corner and bumping a rival over the perimeter of whichever surface you happen to be racing on.

The speed and the manic action will take a little getting used to, while knowing the tracks becomes essential, particularly if you're in the lead, as the dynamic camera doesn't always pan out far enough to show you what's ahead (veteran fans of the Micro Machines series may welcome the inclusion of an optional 'classic' static view).

But once you do get your eye in, titanic battles are assured. And this is where the multiplayer aspect comes in (ad hoc and game share options are available) because as with all past Micro Machines, this is a party game. Playing against the PSP is fun for a while, but expect the full potential of v4 to only be unleashed when four players fight it out on the track; however advanced, a machine is never going to match that kind of social interaction.

What ultimately matters is whether the developer is able to deliver the classic Micro Machines experience in portable form and from what we've experienced so far, everything seems very much on course. The difficulty levels (which affect the behaviour of the computer-controlled players) are still being balanced, so while we experienced uncharacteristic spikes during play, these should be hopefully sorted out before release on June 30th.

If we have other reservations, they're mostly minor: the overall presentation feels a little lifeless; we weren't too keen on the relentless music; and the loading times are still being tweaked, so we expect them to be reduced.

We'll tell you if that's the case when we get our hands on the review version in a few weeks' time.