Small But Perfectly Formed: Remembering Micro Machines

Before the internet was literally everywhere, multiplayer games required everyone to be in the same room, at the same time.

There you were, you and all your friends, crowding around the console in your shoe-box bedroom. Blissfully unaware that these games would ultimately teach you how to deeply hate each other.

Because with every goal scored against you, and with every red turtle slammed into your back-side, you grew to despise your set of childhood friends. Hate – that’s what multiplayer games taught us. And none more so than the devil of multiplayer games – Micro Machines.

You might remember the Micro Machines toys. They were teeny, tiny vehicles – like Matchbox, but smaller – that you would collect and promptly lose. They’d disappear so easily, you see. “Where did your miniature Porsche end up, son?” “Oh, it’s probably down the back of the sofa. Or maybe it’s been lodged within the eyelash of a spider.” That was the unavoidable fate of the Micro Machines toys.

The makers of the Micro Machines toys, Galoob, would come crashing into the path of gaming in the early nineties. They wanted a Micro Machines game and in British developers Codemasters, they found just the team to make this game.

Codemasters were well-known at the time for their home computer releases, such as the wonderful Dizzy series. The developers desired to break into the console market though, and with the Micro Machines licence, they had their opportunity.

Released on the NES originally in 1991, and later on the Mega Drive in 1993, Micro Machines would become a hit with the gaming public. And it wasn’t just because of the well-known branding either.

Video game history is littered with the corpses of badly licenced games; terrible products, often rush released to tie-in with cinematic release dates. But Micro Machines was different. It was one of those perfect storms when the licence and the game gelled together in ultimate harmony, resulting in an incredible end product.

Micro Machines was a joy to play, a dinky racer which was huge on gameplay and tough as hell. Its cute little graphics lulled you into a false sense of security; this is a kids game, it can’t be that difficult surely? Except it was.

There were no easy paths in the game, as you frantically raced your vehicles around some ingenious race tracks; breakfast tables, pool tables, and bathtubs, to name a few. Codemasters had successfully engineered a pure racing classic. But with its multiplayer mode, they had created an actual monster.

Multiplayer Madness

Unlike other racers, your goal here was not to finish the race after a series of laps. Your aim was to get far enough ahead on screen, so the opposing cars disappeared at the bottom. Each time you did this, you were awarded a nice little point, and eight points would earn you the win. Simple? Yes. Painful to experience? Quite often. Traumatising? Most definitely.

Micro Machines’s multiplayer battles prompted high-octane, incredibly tense moments as you did battle with friends; every time you think you had glory at your fingertips, the end of a table would appear and your little car would plummet to defeat.

Loud swearing and yelps of frustration would duly follow, but this is exactly how multiplayer gaming should be. Not hiding behind a screen hundreds of miles away from your opponents and typing “lol” every time you take them out. It should be in your room, as your friend – your so-called friend – wins that final point and dances the dance of victory directly in your face.

Your friend didn’t know it then, but they were killing every opportunity of them ever coming to your future wedding with every humiliating gyration they performed. That is the true face of multiplayer gaming, and Micro Machines was the game that defined it.

Micro Machines would capture the imagination of the gamers in the nineties and become one of Codemasters’ biggest successes. It spawned several sequels, the best of which was Micro Machines: Turbo Tournament.

Sadly though, the franchise grew out of fashion when the next-gen consoles arrived and promptly disappeared. It has recently had something of a rebirth though on mobile phones, and even had a new console release earlier this year in the form of Micro Machines: World Series.

But none of these later titles could ever repair the broken friendships borne by the original Micro Machines; the innocent looking game about toy cars, which was actually fueled by pure hate. And, despite its evil intentions, it still remains one of the greatest multiplayer experiences in gaming history.