The 1974 arcade hit Gran Trak 10 has a lot to answer for. The top-down racer spawned an entire genre of racing games that lead to classics like the Super Sprint series, and the home classics such as Micro Machines. Essentially Ripstone’s Table Top Racing takes the same basic formula and expands upon it.
The core gameplay is the same – miniaturised vehicles racing across a series of exaggerated real-life environments. Throw in a hint of Mario Kart with random weapon pick-ups. Mix in the ability to customise and upgrade your vehicles and you’ve got the makings of a great racer. But Table Top Racing is far more than just a series of tracks, weapons, and upgrades as you quickly find out when you start to play it…
The depth of Table Top Racing isn’t apparent when it first loads up. The title screen displays just four options – Garage (where you can view your unlocked cars); Let’s Race! (to play the main race modes); Network (for local and online multiplayer games and Options.
The garage allows you to not only view all the cars at your disposal but also to upgrade their different abilities using coins that you earn during play. Each car has five different stats that can be upgraded, different custom wheels that can be purchased giving you additional abilities and custom paint jobs. You start the game with just two vehicles – a camper van and an ice cream truck but more can be purchased or unlocked as you complete events.
The race menu is where the real meat of the game lies. It’s split into four sections, offering plenty of content for the player to engage with. The first up is the Championships. There are several available of increasing difficulty, and each of them are split into a series of races, each with individual playing styles and goals. Races within each championship are diverse and include straight lap-based, races without weapons, Elimination (the racer in last position is removed from the race as each lap is completed), Pursuit (a one-on-one race where the objective is to catch up with a CPU driver within the time limit) and many more.
Performance Driven Gameplay
Depending on your performance in the race you’ll be awarded XP (earn enough and you’ll increase in levels which will allow access to tracks in the Special Event mode), a score out of three stars, and coins to spend on upgrades and vehicles. You don’t have to get all of the stars for each track to be able to complete each championship, but you can return and replay races individually if you want to aim for that perfect score at a later date giving it ample replayability.
Next are Drift Events, with more challenges are available, themed obviously around drift style racing, but these require specific cars to be used that you need to purchase or unlock during play. After this is the Special Event section. Offering four difficulty levels, this provides a wide selection of tracks and race styles, again each offering star ratings for you to test your skill and earn those all-important coins. However, in this mode, each race is locked off and requires you to meet certain conditions before you can race them – either reaching a certain skill level through earning XP, or owning the appropriate vehicle to take part.
Finally, is the Quick Race mode. Just pick a track, the race type, the AI skill level, your car, and whether you want to race the track in reverse or not and away you go. Once you’ve completed a lot of the tracks in the Championships, or find that you’re struggling with your current car’s performance, you’ll find yourself drawn to this part of the game. Not only for the race variety it offers, but the fact that every race will earn you XP and those much-needed coins.
Play With Friends
But where Table Top Racing really comes into its own is in its multiplayer mode. As well as offering online support, it also makes use of the Vita’s ad-hoc functionality allowing you to play locally against 3 other players, with the rest of the field being comprised of AI opponents. With so many of the Vita’s online games being shut down over the last few years, it’s great to have some that still have multiplayer support included using the ad-hoc mode to keep the game’s longevity going long after you’ve mastered all the tracks in single player mode. The online support still seems to be active as well although whether you’ll find anyone else playing is another matter altogether. I tried to find games and host them but found no-one to compete against but the ad-hoc mode more than makes up for this…
Playing in multiplayer really is a delight. One of the reasons I bought a Nintendo DS was to play Mario Kart with my wife and daughter – I lost count of the number of times we had family gaming sessions with the three of us competing. That progressed onto Mario Kart on the Wii and we’ve all got Switch Lites as well… multiplayer games like this combined with the Vita’s wonderful ad-hoc functionality should have been real system sellers. In the case of Table Top Racing, it really is to that standard and is just as much fun as Mario Kart. I’ve spent countless train journeys battling my wife on this, and both of us have loved every minute.
Table Top Racing’s Longevity
Table Top Racing isn’t a game you’ll get bored of in a hurry. With 18 cars available, each with their own individual handling and style as well as 8 tracks (16 if you count the option to play them in reverse) there’s a lot to see. Add to that the plentiful supply of game modes and diverse races themselves and you won’t grow tired of the game in a hurry.
As with most kart racers, the AI can be frustrating at times – you can be leading a race almost up to the finish line, then suddenly find yourself under a salvo of attacks and find yourself crawling over the line in last place. While it’s an irritation, it’s not unique to Table Top Racing and I’ve found myself frustrated when the same happens regularly in most of the Mario Kart games. It just seems to be a trope of the entire kart racer genre.
The game looks great as you can see from the photos, but what you can’t tell from the stills is how well it moves. It runs at a silky smooth 60fps throughout, with no loss of detail at any time. The graphics are well defined at every level, from the backgrounds to even the smallest details on the vehicles themselves… although that’s no surprise considering the fact that some of the original WipEout design team were responsible for this.
Sound is just as good with some great music and sound effects scattered thoughout. Plenty of engine sounds, explosions and other sound effects fill the game and bring it to life and it’s an incredibly polished game throughout.
Crash And Burn?
It’s not all good though with Table Top Racing… On the PlayStation Store it states that the game is compatible with the PlayStation TV, but that comes with a caveat. As soon as you attempt to download it you’re presented with an on-screen warning saying that it’s not compatible. The game does, infact, load and run. But Ripstone decided to have the menus only accessible using the PS Vita’s touchscreen so even though the game loads, you can’t actually play it until you’ve activated the touchpad emulation on the microconsole. In essence this means using a combination of L3 and the analogue stick to select options from the menu, then pressing L3 again to return to the game just as you’re about to play. It’s frustratingly fiddly and just means that you’re alternating controls constantly.
To be honest, games that need the use of the touchscreen to navigate menus are a pet hate of mine, especially when the d-pad or analogue stick can be used just as well if not better. It breaks the flow of gameplay and is simply an irritant that need not be there for the player.
There was one other thing I wasn’t too happy with either. I mentioned the use of coins to unlock cars and upgrade ones you already own. If you don’t have enough, you can go to the PlayStation Store and buy more. Yes, Table Top Racing has In-App purchases. While not expensive (the most costly is under £3), it’s still not something I would have expected from a PS Vita game.
A Happy Ending
Fortunately, despite the touchscreen gripe when playing on a PSTV, Table Top Racing is an absolute gem of a game and one of the best games in this genre that I’ve played for a long time. It’s great fun as a single player game, with plenty of challenges and variety to keep you hooked. But where this really shines is its exceptional multiplayer mode. If you’ve got more than one Vita lying around, grab a couple of copies of this and enjoy one of the best multiplayer games the PS Vita has to offer.
At A Glance
- Title: Table Top Racing
- Publisher: Ripstone
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: Yes
- Local Multiplayer: Yes (Ad hoc)
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 531Mb