Table Top Racing iOS
Recently I have spent quite a bit of time playing racing games on various formats and I have been enjoying the difference in experience each has provided. So when I was given the opportunity to review Table Top Racing, a new racing game from newcomers Playrise Digital and the co-creator of the excellent WipEout series (not that awful TV show), you can forgive my being rather excited at the prospect.
Exclusive to the iOS platform, Table Top Racing has been created in the vein of something along the lines of a locale-based, tabletop Micro Machines, fused with Mario Kart-style power-ups and weaponry – essentially like your archetypal kart racing game, then. There are a wide choice of miniature automobiles to get to grips with and race around the tracks with reckless abandon. Kitchen tables, garage work benches, Japanese restaurants and more make up the total of eight tracks featured throughout the game, each with their own characteristic design and a variety of shortcuts, ramps and obstacles.
A variety of game modes are featured to keep the player occupied: Championship, Single Event, and Special Events comprise the solo modes. Championship presents a series of single race events which each have a differing style of play, from the cutthroat elimination modes (that delete the last racer after each completed lap), to the likes of power-up-focused speed laps, and also car tag challenges (which require you to crash into the car in front of you within a time limit). Special Events is essentially a focus on the modes that are featured in the Championship across four different difficulty levels. Everything here is geared towards jump-in and drop-out gameplay.
Having focused directly on the iOS platform, it has afforded Playrise Digital an opportunity to finely hone, gauge and ensure a smooth performance across many of Apple’s devices. 60 frames per second of well-crafted and well-designed tracks and cars that all move at a slick pace with barely any slowdown on the older Apple models (and a little when notifications pop-up on the iPad Mini), to crisp native Retina graphics on the newer devices. If you have any iPad model, you’re supported; fourth- and fifth-generation iPods and anything above an iPhone 4 ensures you will be able to play this game. Lighting, shadows and the colour palette combine to create a rather beautiful and cute micro racer. It’s refreshing to see a developer eke out every last bit of power from a tablet/smartphone, and in its visual presentation and performance, Playrise Digital should be commended.
It’s not all about the visual aesthetic, however, and Table Top Racing should be judged on how it plays and controls. Taking cues from other iOS racers of late (namely Need for Speed: Most Wanted), Table Top Racing gives you two control options in the game menu. The default is two arrows on either side of the screen indicating Left or Right – pretty simple. The other control option allows you to turn your tablet/phone/iPod in a way that emulates the steering wheel. Both modes feature auto-acceleration and no braking. I like the choice between the two, but for simplicity sake, I stuck with the default. I am pleased to say the way they have chosen to focus the controls works well with the user interface and also does not overburden the player by requesting finger gymnastics to play the game in any way. Simplicity here is key, and it’s in its simplicity that the game is a refreshing and enjoyable experience. Two arrows to turn and two other inputs for power-ups and so on, it all combines to make the gaming experience a smooth, breezy and non-complicated sort of affair.
It’s perfect to jump in and back out again, which many of you will do, no doubt, in order to obtain all the stars for each event, and also to bump up your coin balance to spend on upgrades and paint options for each of your vehicles. I don’t like the way the game chooses in which order you can upgrade your ride, taking power away from the player to customise their ride. In-app purchases are featured in this game, just in case the gamer chooses to opt out of the otherwise necessary grinding to progress further in the game. Never are the IAPs an intrusive element – they are just there if you choose to acknowledge them – but if you put any amount of time into the game, they are never a necessity to achieve more. A blessing in disguise.
There are some negative points to list. It is too easy to clip trackside objects and flip your car, whereas when you try and impact an opponent’s car you seem to lack weight. Also, the AI often seems to be able to ease you off the road easier than you can return the favour in many cases. I understand that the vehicles are small lightweight objects, but it can be quite irksome that the most minor clip can send you flying or even flipping over. As you are eased into the game, you progress at a steady rate without too many issues, and the difficulty balance is pretty well done. Only on a few occasions did I feel the need to have to redo events in order to progress. However, the game is such a fun and enjoyable jaunt, I found myself redoing events to obtain three stars in the championship events. Grinding to achieve more options in terms of vehicles and upgrades doesn’t feel like so much of a grind, but more so a honing of your driving ability – which it should be.
Online multiplayer is also quite fun, allowing up to four of you to race over Gamecentre. (Six of you can race locally over Bluetooth or WiFi, although I didn’t get to try this out). I did find that of the races I did have, the opponents were already ridiculously overpowered (one was at Level 67, whereas I was only a Level 7) – some people had too much time at work to put into this game. But then that’s the same for any online game these days. Performance over Gamecentre via WiFi is pretty smooth, with only minor juddering and no visible impact on the track details. Another reason to keep on playing the game after you have finished the single-player elements of the game.
Wonderful visuals and pretty good sound are also present, with a thumping little rock-lite soundtrack that’s more of a mood setter than an audio irritant (like in my previous review). The vehicles rev and growl like a miniature Grand Prix as they zoom around the track, all combined with the likeable and rather cute cacophony of power-up and weaponry audio to provide an additional audio presence. Table Top Racing is a finely-crafted game, but it’s not perfect, with track AI that often doesn’t deviate from its racing line and sometimes annoying rubberbanding. But those are gripes I would attribute to most games of its genre. Table Top Racing is a game that holds the player’s hand, sometimes a little too much, taking away much of the control. I would still like the option to brake and accelerate of my own accord, even if it is not their preferred option.
Featuring exceptionally wonderful lighting and an addictive and enjoyable racing experience, Table Top Racing is a little bundle of fun, playable regardless of your skill. It’s nice to see a developer focus on one platform and, in doing so, extract the strengths of each device’s capabilities, whilst also making concessions to the technical drawbacks with impressive scaling across the line-up. Hopefully many people will see the charms present and play this game for longer than many other mobile game variants, which are often short-lived, throwaway experiences. In spite of it not being quite original, it’s an enjoyable effort all the same.