Ripstone brings the freemium Android game by Playrise Digital (or Playrise Edge for those familiar with the Apple version) to the PlayStation Vita so that you can experience one of the best mobile racing games with physical controls. Is it worth paying the price and having it on your pocket console, or should you just stick with the free version on your smartphone?
Table Top Racing is one of those games where the title tells you everything, it’s a game with miniature cars racing on tracks on the tops of tables, something I’ve been a fan of since Micro Machines way back on the Amiga. This isn’t a rip off though, this a full 3D racing game with more of a feel of a kart racer than a top down, shared-screen, multiplayer experience. And it should feel like that because the dev’s come with pedigree from Psygnosis/Studio Liverpool as it was known once it was bought by SCE (best known for WipEout), Bizarre Creations (of Blur and Project Gotham Racing fame), and Studio 33 who developed Destruction Derby: Arenas. There’s almost no point talking about the racing aspect because it’s bound to be good, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is.
Track layouts, vehicle handling and performance characteristics are all well implemented and respond immediately to the Vita control inputs, and that feeling of driving on a knife-edge that you only get in a karting game is present throughout. I have to admit to being surprised by that, I wasn’t expecting it to feel as good as it does. Courses are reasonably varied in how you have to tackle them, as are the types of obstacles you’ve got to navigate, and there are shortcuts thrown in for good measure if you’ve got the right bonuses equipped. AI is what you expect, a breeze on the earlier stages and more challenging later on, and I’ll come back to that later. As it’s from a WipEout stable, and influenced by Mario Kart, there are weapons as well which are the usual missile/bomb/stun/boost things you’re used to. On top of this are special “wheels” that you can add which buff your car in different ways, whether that’s neutralising weapons, enabling you to jump, or even giving you a shield once a lap.
What about variation in races? Table Top Racing has you covered there too, with straight arcade style racing available, with or without weapons; elimination events rear their head; tag (or tig if you prefer) is there in the form of chasing down an opponent in the time limit; and there are time trials and hot laps. All good stuff you’d expect to see in a higher budget, console focussed title. There’s multiplayer too, but the servers didn’t seem to be working whilst I was reviewing, even through the global leaderboards were up and running (always good to see yourself in the top 15 of anything, even if it is pre-release!). You’re spoilt for choice with rides, there’s everything from buses to sports cars, and it’s all done with fun in mind which is why it has the best name for an ice-cream van ever. Upgrades and paint job customisation are present, so there’s pretty much nothing that isn’t catered for in, and I stress again, what is basically a mobile game port. Kudos to the team that put this together.
It’s all rosy and wonderful then, review over and high score given? No. There’s a dark side to Table Top Racing that changes the tone of the game, and its name is “In App Purchases”. Other than the vehicles won from completing championships, everything has a price, whether it’s a car, paint, special wheels or upgrades – you need to pay for it. Coins are earned in the events for doing well and battering your opponents, and the higher you place the more you earn. This works well early on and tweaking the performance and painting your wagon is nice and easy. Pretty soon though the AI gets tougher (and feels unfairly good in parts, particularly when you’re in a faster vehicle), and the success tolerances get tighter, and you find yourself spending more on upgrades when you were planning on saving for that drift car that will give you a new challenge. Upgrades by the way are done in a pre-defined order, not at your choosing so forget making your car faster, you’ll have to improve its armor first – because that will help you win the no weapons races… Flashing right in view each time you go to the garage is the “buy coins” logo tempting you to part with real cash so that you can continue without having to grind through races that give you low rewards, and whilst you can repeat the higher payout events, you don’t get a payout from them once it’s already won.
I liked Table Top Racing up to the point where it became obvious that I was in for a long haul repetition of races to actually open anything new, or pay to do it. The microtransaction model is a viable way for games to go, and in this instance I could understand it if the game was free like it is on smartphones, but it isn’t. Vita players will have to part with £4.99 first, which feels like a slap in the face considering the “no ads & increased coin earning” mobile version is £1.99. Everything about this game is likeable, except the monetisation tactics, and it really detracts from what should be a great little time stealer. Graphically there’s nothing that distinguishes it from other racers out there, and we know exactly what the Vita is capable of doing – see our Borderlands 2 review for that. It’s worth playing, but only if you’re happy to drop the dosh on it and you’re prepared to spend additional money or extra time with it.
Update: Playrise Digital got in touch to confirm to us that the IAPs are purely optional and that everything can be unlocked without spending any more money, though you can to unlock things faster if you buy currency, or if you want to support the developer further. The mobile version of the game is indeed free, but full of adverts and the upgrades cost a lot of in game currency.
A review copy of Table Top Racing for PlayStation Vita was provided by the Ripstone PR team, and it’s available now on PSN, Apple App Store and Google Play Store.