Review: Table Top Racing (PS Vita)

Table Top Racing was a huge hit when it was first released on iOS devices in 2013. An Android release in March 2014 as both a free and paid app expanded its fanbase even more, and now we’ve got the first portable system incarnation of it on the Vita. It’s a third-person racer with a minor hint of car combat thrown in. If you combined the viewpoint of Twisted Metal with the gameplay of Rock ‘n Roll Racing or RC Pro-Am, you would basically wind up with this. You start off controlling an ice cream truck, but later get other vehicle types to use through a fairly wide variety of mode types.

There are basic races, combat-based variants on them with weapons allowed, time trials, hot laps, elimination races, and a Chase H.Q.-esque pursuit mode where you have to hit a rival within a certain time limit to win. Each mode thrives on fast action and that’s where Table Top Racing falters a bit when compared to other games in its genre on a controller-centric platform. The standards are completely different with each setup, because a mobile setup doesn’t really allow for super-fast action — you always need to be forgiving due to a touch/tilt control setup taking a bit longer to do things in than a basic controller-based one.

Table Top Racing PS Vita screenshot (3)

When you’ve got a system with a Wipeout game on it, you can experience an exciting racing game and see just how addictive one can be on the platform. Playing this reminds me of the old SNES vs. Genesis ads where you have one thing going at mach-speed in Sonic and then show Mario moving in relative slow-motion by comparison. Sure, what’s here is technically well-executed and it controls nicely, but it’s also fairly slow-moving compared to other racing experiences on the Vita. This would hold true on the PSP as well, which had a stellar library of racers in its own right with many also playable on the Vita. Table Top Racing needs more core content and more exciting gameplay to truly reach its potential. The idea of a revival of the Micro Machines “small racers in a big world”, but with a combat kart racer dressing is solid. The execution here is flawed though. There’s a fair amount of mode variety, but the core racing action is the same with only weapons and collisions altering things radically. Like a kart racer, you have some weapons, but the weapon count is incredibly low. It makes that aspect of the game feel half-baked even if it is a perfect port of the mobile product.

There’s a lot of needless carry-over between the formats as well. The entirely touch-based menus are a disappointment. Sure, the Vita has a touch screen, but this is an arcade-style racer and touch commands make menu navigation take longer than just a basic d-pad and button setup. This is a minor issue during pre and post-race menus, but in-game, it means that you’ll be spending valuable time pausing and unpausing without being able to immediately control your vehicle. This leaves you open to being passed quickly or being open for attacks, and is something the devs hopefully patch up later on. I also encountered a fairly odd issue where the camera would seemingly go behind the vehicle at random times, which means that you can’t see the track in front of you. There doesn’t appear to be a set camera button, and this problem can manifest itself in any of the game’s modes.

Catalyst Vita PDEL-1001

Visually, the Vita version of Table Top Racing is about the same as the Android version on the highest settings. This results in a game that looks fairly good on the small screen, with some iffy-looking textures on most things. Road textures always look odd, while reality-based items like beef patties and generally any food-based items look like plastic toy versions of the real deal. While that’s within the realm of plausibility for a racing game like this that uses miniature vehicles, it doesn’t look correct to the eye and it winds up looking a bit cheap. The vehicles themselves look fine though. They’re not mind-blowing, but considering the game’s mobile origins, they’re acceptable. Boost trails are quite impressive, as are many background objects — however, the overall appearance of the game isn’t quite as good as it could be. When you’re playing it, you can basically make a checklist in your head of things that could be improved, and it would be interesting to see this basic concept back, but optimized for more powerful hardware.

Musically, there’s nothing special or memorable about what’s offered up here. You’ve got generic rock slathered on top of more generic rock, with muffled sound effects that don’t really get across any kind of action or mayhem. I understand not wanting violent sound effects since it’s a kid-friendly game, but kids WANT that kind of stuff and it’s just not here. What makes things even more annoying is that the music actually loops, and it’s not even good when you first hear it, let alone the second time you hear it in a single race. Even the sound your RC car makes while driving is nothing special. There’s just no oomph to anything you hear and it really bogs down the presentation. You’ve got a great-looking game that plays reasonably well, and controls like a dream with a controller, but the audio just doesn’t match up to the standard set by every other element of the game.

Table Top Racing PS Vita screenshot (7)

Closing Comments:

Table Top Racing is an excellent mobile game that doesn’t translate well to Vita. While it controls fine with only a few buttons needed for play, the core game is bottlenecked by its mobile origins. Vita owners are used to a more fleshed-out racing experience, and this is too shallow to get much play time. It’s fun in short doses, but doesn’t have the depth to offer up a rewarding experience. This is the best-playing version available, but it’s simply too shallow for a gaming-centric device.
Platform Review: PS Vita