The racer isn’t all that’s tiny.
There’s a commonly seen phenomenon in video games journalism where reviews never give a score lower than six. This leaves review scores in a mathematically unusual position. Rather than showing a game’s percentage ‘goodness’, with 5 being a perfectly average game, the score makes any game look good at a glance, with the mapping realistically reflecting 10 being perfect, 6 being bad and anything less than 6 being atrocious to a level that merits exceptional treatment. Now would be a good time to refer to the score I’ve given Tiny Racer.
On first impressions, there’s nothing to complain about. Tiny Racer is an arcade racing game, inspired by the likes of Micro Machines, Re-Volt and Mario Kart. It has a heavy emphasis on physics-based action and a cute cartoony aesthetic, complete with comic book style 3D “Pow”, “Wham” and “Thump” pop-ups whenever there’s a collision. Unfortunately, though, the chasm between the Tiny Racer’s first impression and the gameplay itself is so yawning that it could accommodate every unwanted copy of The Da Vinci Code ever bought, or something less voluminous, like the sun.
I don’t entirely understand Tiny Racer. Arcade racers are fun because they’re not fair. They have items which allow you to cheat massively and rubber banding so strong that a slingshot in their universe would be regarded as a weapon of mass destruction. This leaves you in a position where anyone can play and expect to do reasonably well, having a lot of friendship-ruining fun along the way. It’s the reason why Mario Kart is one of the most popular party games ever made.
Tiny Racer’s arcade gimmick (and the only thing that separates it from a pure racer) is its extreme physics. There are no items, pick-ups, boosters or anything else you’d expect from a standard arcade racer. However, rather than that gimmick being balancing and fun, allowing players the choice between taking a risky manoeuvrer and potentially suffering the wrath of the physics or taking a longer route that’s less perilous, the physics are insane, unpredictable and, frankly, really irritating. You’ll go flying off cliffs, crashing into walls and other vehicles and sometimes just flip over with no rhyme or reason to why any of it is happening.
What’s worse is how unoptimised the physics have been for the AI. They don’t seem able to deal with it at all. They’ll crash constantly, taking you with them. I played a race where one car was driving in circles over the start line for the entire race, still there every time I finished a lap. When you respawn after falling off the track (again), you spawn above the track and are dropped back into the action. However, when another car falls in the same place at the same time (which happens all the time, again, the AI can’t deal with the physics engine) you’ll both spawn in the same place, which the physics is woefully unequipped to deal with so it just sends you both pinging off, at incredible speeds, to opposite ends of the map.
Other glitches I encountered include: choosing to play as the muscle car but spawning in as a van, broken multiplayer controls when using two joycons and more misplaced invisible walls than that time I worked as a glazier for Loki the Trickster God. The game also has very few tracks, only three modes and nothing else to encourage replayability. It didn’t take much more than an hour to ‘complete’ the game and experienced everything it had to offer, including all the glitches listed above.
One last nit-picking comment: Why is it called Tiny Racer? The game clearly wants to conjure images of Micro Machines and Toybox Turbos, but those games have Micro/Toybox in the name because they play with scale. You’re racing tiny cars around tracks built to a real-world scale, looping around all the junk stored away in the attic or a kitchen midway through making a Sunday roast. Tiny Racer is entirely to scale, the cars are on the same scale as the tracks and the backgrounds. There is nothing tiny about anything. Having ‘Tiny’ in the name makes about as much sense as the career and popularity of any given Kardashian.
Somewhere deep down in the development brief for Tiny Racer there is a glimmer of a good idea, but, unfortunately, a good idea on its own does not make a good game. A poor physics engine, uninspired gameplay and glitches up the wazoo make Tiny Racer difficult to redeem. If you want an arcade racer to play with friends, Tiny Racer is several continents away from being in a position to compete for Mario Kart’s throne.