Micro Machines, a game based on one of the worlds most popular collectible cars, was one of the most popular video games of the generation in which the Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive existed. There was something special about controlling little cars or boats with exaggerated physics to the finish line first against a bunch of mates and it definitely helped put publisher Codemasters on the map. Well the guys behind Micro Machines 2 are back with a brand new game called Mashed. It may be around a decade later but if Mashed is anything to go by, the philosophy behind the game play of Micro Machines is timeless because Mashed brings Micro Machines into the twenty first century, ready to hook a bunch of new gamers.
Mashed almost single handedly takes the traditions of the racing genre and tosses them out the window, in fact the only close aspect of the game to what many would call a traditional racer is the fact that the cars go around a track trying to beat each other, other than that Mashed is a completely unique experience that almost anyone can pick up and play instantly. On the surface Mashed doesn't look to have much depth with only a few modes available but it is not until you open the career mode that your realize that this game has enough to keep you coming back for more even when the game is clocked.
The career mode basically consists of a number of tracks in a row which contain three challenges; bronze silver and gold. Only the bronze challenge must be completed to progress further and unlock a new track but in a clever move, the silver and gold challenges always seem to be the most unique and interesting to play making you want to beat the required time or number of opponents to unlock missions such as destroying an apache gunship. As you would expect, as the tracks are unlocked the game progressively gets tougher with obstacles such as slippery ice presenting a hazard or a number of AI characters teaming up on your car.
The gameplay of mashed is very reminiscent of Micro Machines and this is not a bad thing. You control one of a number of fictional vehicles and either have to win a race or perform some other task. The most prolific mission option in the game is something called battle. In battle the aim is to either knock your opponents off the track, or get so far ahead they are forced off the screen causing them to explode. On paper it doesn't sound that great but the game is incredibly balanced and the balance of power swings from round to round. You can be on the verge of defeat, have a few strong rounds and be in line to win the game. The physics employed offer up very twitchy controls which means short quick taps of the analogue stick is required for precise control, like Micro Machines the physics are exaggerated and can work both with you and against you during racing.
However the unique missions don't end there with one of the best being a boss battle against an apache helicopter. In this particular mission you race a round a track finding bullets to shoot down a highly powerful military chopper. Again on paper it doesn't sound that great, but in the game it works really well and you will find yourself frantically searching for ammunition while the helicopter rains down a barrage of bullets on your poor car. Another mission tasks you with capturing a fugitive in a high speed chase so as you can see there is a lot more to the game then just racing around a circuit in small cars.
Although the cars aren't licensed they do somewhat resemble makes of real world cars such as a jeep buggy or sedan. Each of the different type of vehicle has different physics associated to it and therefore each requires a different style of racing. They do take damage via a variety of means including weapons available to blow each other to smithereens but most of the time damage is caused by falling off the track. The AI don't "cheat" and always seem fair, even when ganging up on you in a pack of three. If you're good enough the AI won't use ridiculous moves just to win the races and this is what brings you back for more because almost always you will know why you crashed or didn't win the match rather than an AI car pulling off what you would call an impossible move.
The tracks themselves have a wide variety and offer quite a challenge, especially those further in the game. To have any chance of completing a task in most cases one game will be required to learn the track as it is much to easy to go into a tight corner at high speed and fly right off the circuit. Circuits are located in different climates such as the desert or a monsoonal storm and this can affect the cars handling. Wet tracks will make the tracks more slippery. In comparison to other racing games on the Xbox Mashed doesn't hold up well and is a game that definitely proves that gameplay should always come before graphics. With that said the game features moderately decent graphics that get the job done. Depending on the race two camera angles are available; behind the car or a helicopter fly over which gives a great view of the action in battle races.
Again like the graphics the sound has suffered for the gameplay with not much to write home about except the fact the different vehicles have different sounds for engines etc however thats not really something unique to the game. Multiplayer is same console only and we think it is a huge missed opportunity for the developers, that is, the fact that they have ignored Xbox Live. The fact is that this game is almost perfect for the service and we are sure that many who have played it agree with us.
Mashed is a game that has come out of left field and shown that game play should always been the first consideration over graphics. The developers have crafted together a unique racing game and in todays climate of cookie cutout racing games it is a refreshing look. Mashed shows that all that is really needed to create a great non-simulation racing game is unique modes, arcade style physics and a mission like structure to keep players coming back for more.