Anyone that follows my writing over on etg. sister site The Lowdown Blog knows that I’m a racing fanatic. Two wheels, four wheels, even more wheels (European truck racing is surprisingly awesome), road courses, ovals, dirt, I can settle down and watch anything. So naturally, I had a lot of toy cars growing up and had a lot of toy car races.
This brings me to Toybox Turbos. While many people liken the game to a modernized callback to Codemasters’ Micro Machines, their first iconic racing game, I thought of Toybox Turbos to be just like the toy car races on the floor at home. But does a childhood call back, whether it’s to a video game or little plastic or die-cast cars, make a great game.
While Toybox Turbos quite clearly doesn’t have the old Micro Machines license to brand the game with, the general principles are still there. It’s still a racing game about toy cars with everything from race cars to street cars (knockoffs, including a muscle car with a horn that sounds decidedly close to Dixie) to construction equipment and more. There are 35 cars available to unlock using coins earned and collected while racing or winning boss races.
The performance of the cars are measured in speed, handling and weight. Near as I could tell, there weren’t any significant differences in the performance of the cars in each category but you could tell a little bit of difference between categories. As each race is conducted in the same category, skill and luck (mostly luck) is the decider rather than who has the best car. That being said, I did find that cars with a lower handling attribute suited my driving style more than high handling and higher weight cars weren’t harder to bash around but were more likely to not fly too far on a jump. Like I said, little differences but nothing that most people are going to notice.
I was a fan of the handling model, though. I came into it expecting a very arcade/karting game driving style where you put your foot to the floor and turn right and left without much need for the brakes. However, Toybox Turbos requires you to breathe the throttle and get on the brake to make turns and not spin the car out. So, yes, you have to actually drive the car to win. I’d say that driving in this game is more technical than Grid 2. For some people, this will be a turn off. It was with F1 Race Stars but the handling was my second favourite part of the game (behind the art style). In this instance, I absolutely adore the handling.
Those 35 cars are going run around 18 tracks around the house or classroom. Tracks are usually counters and tables with barriers made up of objects that match the theme. For example, the kitchen levels feature a sink with floating plates for jumps, a dish rack, a toaster as a jump to another part of the track and lit stove elements. The school levels see you running on desks with pencils and books as barriers and rulers for bridges. And there’s one pool table levels where the balls are rolling and will crush you.
Much like F1 Race Stars, when Codemasters gets away from a more realistic direction with the graphics, they do a really good job. The graphics match the handling. It’s a little cartoony but still with a real and sharp enough edge that it looks like you remember what playing with toy cars looks like. All the objects look instantly recognizable and are helped by being very bright and vibrantly coloured. I really do believe that the graphics teams for the likes of F1 Race Stars and Toybox Turbos do a better job than when given your F1s and Grids and Dirts. If Codies only did arcade-style games, they’d probably go broke in a week but they’d also be considered among the best studios in the world for art design.
To go along with all the tracks and cars are 6 types of races.
There are three standard Codies race types. Classics are your standard first-past-the-post races and make up most of the events. Time trials are time trials. Overtake events are right out of Grid 2 in which you try to overtake as many other slow processional vehicles on track as possible in the time limit.
In terms of unique events, the most common is Eliminator. A holdover from Micro Machines, you attempt to get far enough ahead of your opponent to force them out of the view of the screen which eliminates them. First to a set number of points wins. There’s Escape which sees a light blue light chase you until it catches you. And there’s Countdown which is effectively a checkpoint game mode except you have to collect clock pickups to earn more time which forces you to balance speed and driving accuracy.
The better you do in each of the events, the more stars and coins you earn. Coins are there to buy new cars. Stars are really only for achievements. Passing all five events in a Cup set unlocks the boss race which is an Eliminator round. Winning that unlocks the bosses vehicle… which is then only usable for races in that Cup so it almost defeats the purpose since I would just move on to the next Cup when I finished one.
The game isn’t perfect. While there aren’t any crashes when I played, the shadows were a bit jagged. I would have liked to have changed some options to help with that but Toybox Turbos doesn’t have much in the way of available graphics options. I suppose that complaint is mitigated by the fact that it’s a $15 budget title but even $5 and $10 games have better options.
As far as the actual gameplay, because it’s an arcade/karting style game, the weapon and boost pickups will affect your chances at winning. I don’t like the inherent randomness of pickups because bad draws on your end or good draws for your opponents will destroy any chance that you have of winning a race. Conversely, the right pickup at the right time will move you up a few spots. It’s the nature of the beast but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done a bit better to balance out a race.
My other big issue is the camera. When I first played the game, I thought I was going to be sick but I got over it fairly quickly. The panning and turning made me really dizzy and disoriented and that never happens to me when gaming. In the Escape mode, as the blue blob of doom catches you, the camera zooms in which throws off your perspective and makes driving harder. It almost makes getting caught a self-fulfilling prophecy from Codies’ perspective. It’s the same for the Eliminator races. The camera will zoom out and in to keep both cars in frame (to an extent) which skews your perspective and makes it hard to see where you’re going. It’s actually a disadvantage to be in the lead in those races because you can’t see what’s coming. It makes those races nearly impossible to win unless bad luck befalls the AI.
The other issue I have is a bit more subjective. It’s a $15 game but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get infinite enjoyment out of it. I have all but three of the game’s 105-ish stars after three-and-a-half hours of play. A completionist with any racing game skill will get it done in less than five hours. At $3 per hour, it’s not Dragon Age: Inquisition value for money but it’s far from the worst offender on the market. I don’t think the value proposition is bad enough to stop me from buying it but I can see how it would be a concern for some people. If it was a story driven game, it would factor more into my decision.
You would think that online multiplayer would be an important part of any racing game, even one that’s a callback to a 1991 NES game, but then you would be forgetting that this is a Codemasters game. Sadly, since Grid Autosport, Codies haven’t gotten any better at online multiplayer. In this instance, though, it might not be their fault. There’s just no one playing it. Trying looking for an online race and the game will tell you that there are no open races, probably because no one is playing online.
If that’s not your speed, there’s always old-school four-player local multiplayer. Since I’m reviewing the PC version, this feature isn’t going to get a lot of play. On the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, it’ll be a bit more popular.
So I’d like to review the multiplayer part of the game since I love online racing but I can’t. Until Codemasters goes back to the drawing board with how they do multiplayer, they’ll be deserted wastelands on the week of release. Maybe they need look into matchmaking systems more consistent with shooters to try to boost the popularity of online multiplayer in their games.
Not having Micro Machines as a basis of comparison is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t look at Toybox Turbos and compare it to Micro Machines with some 20 years of nostalgia to make me think that it was one of the great racing games of all time but I don’t also have that nostalgia making me think that this type of Codemasters game is infallible.
And while Codemasters isn’t infallible, they certainly have come a ways from their 2013 run of form. No, Toybox Turbos won’t go down among the all-time great Codemasters games but I love the way that they do their fun/casual/arcade racing games and Toybox Turbos doesn’t deviate from that formula. If you’re a Codies fan, this is a must-have for your collection.
Toybox Turbos was reviewed on PC (Windows) but is also available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The review code for this game was provided by Codemasters. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and how nostalgic you are about Micro Machines.