The history of on-foot racing games isn’t particularly eventful. Codemasters’ Micro Maniacs failed to repeat the success of its toy-endorsed counterpart, early Xbox release Mad Dash Racing sunk without a trace, while Rayman Rush arrived on PSone too late in the day to make an impact. Sonic the Hedgehog is the only mascot to find success in this field, but even then, Sonic R’s good name has been marred by angry (and misinformed) YouTubers over the years.

It’s fair to say the exceedingly colourful Must Dash Amigos is hardly leaping into a sub-genre full of classics. However, we would argue that Micro Maniacs was something of a hidden gem. If you agree, you’re in luck – this is where the bulk of Must Dash Amigo’s inspiration comes from, being a top-down racer featuring kart racer style weapons.

Races here also follow Micro Machines’ rulebook – if a player falls behind and vanishes off-screen, they’re a goner. The four characters – which include a portly Lucha wrestler, a mythical beast, a slinky guitar-playing senorita, and a jungle-dwelling islander – control identically, quickly gaining momentum and gliding around corners in a loose-footed manner.

Keeping in line with the simple controls, just two buttons are used – one to use items, and one to cast them aside. If that sounds simplistic, that’s because it is – this is intended to be party game anybody can jump in and enjoy. Local play is the order of the day, supporting four players.

As you’ve no doubt guessed by now, everything from the character design to the track locations bares a Mexican theme. The weapon list reads like a Mexican restaurant’s menu, featuring burritos (rockets), mega burritos (homing missiles), salsa (oil slicks), ghost peppers (invisibility), and screen-distorting tequila. It’s a decent, although not quite perfect, mixture of offensive and defensive items.

One of the more original pick-ups turns all opponents into avocados, putting them in danger of being smashed by the one lucky player carrying a mallet. The brilliant thing about this item is that it often brings races to a standstill while an impromptu game of ‘cat and mouse’ ensues.

Burritos require acute precision to aim, often whizzing past targets. Thankfully, they come in bundles of three. Mega burritos have better odds of landing a hit, which is presumably why they’re in short supply. Firecrackers seem a little pointless, merely acting as a distraction, while the pomegranate must be used well in advance to smother the track much further ahead. Salsa, meanwhile, is something of a neutral weapon – taking a tumble will propel you ahead, but you have no directional control until coming to a standstill. Salsa also remains on the track for the entirety of the race, and so it’s possible to use it as a makeshift boost pad on the next lap.

Indeed, there are few sneaky tricks to learn and exploit, giving the chance to become more masterful at avoiding hits and staying at the front of the pack. Becoming accustomed to track layouts also gives an advantage, discovering the best locations to use or place certain items.

Although the tracks are set in just three locations (desert, jungle and a dockside town) there’s still plenty of variety. The desert has tracks based around farms and ghost towns, while the jungle – with its snapping snakes and inconveniently placed vines – features both ancient ruins and volcanos. The town features the more devious courses, with narrow walkways placed over water.

Laps are generally short, taking around a minute each. Even so, raging bull stampedes are used to prevent races from dragging, approaching racers from behind, while wild pinata stampedes are used to catch the pack off guard. Both are optional, incidentally.  

Tournaments also feature battle stages set in small single-screen arenas. These aren’t as compelling as races, feeling like an afterthought to induce variety. The large turning circles and speedy nature of the racers themselves make it incredibly hard for weapons to find their target. We had a few battles that ended without a single hit and found that you’re best off grabbing and instantly ditching weapons until bagging a homing burrito. It’s the only item of any real use here.    

The single-player modes fare better. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of content to make up for the lack of AI-powered solo races. Time trials give you three chances to beat a target score, and a trio of challenge missions also await. These entail chasing magical pinatas, running away from rampaging stampedes, and races that involve controlling two characters at once, with one analogue assigned to each. That last challenge type often leads to frustration as there isn’t much leeway for error.

The targets for time trial mode are tricky to beat too, calling for constant corner-hugging.

While it’s pleasing to see that miniBeast Game Studios has catered for solo gamers, they would have been better off adding single-player tournaments against AI competitors. Outside of achievement hunters, it’s hard to imagine many will put in the time and effort to gain a full set of gold medals.

When viewed as a whole, Must Dash Amigos balances out to be a decent package – it’s colourful, and inviting, smartly presented, and multiplayer races are a riot. It’s very much a case of the more the merrier, and fans of Micro Machines will be in their element as similarities are numerous.

Our interest did start to wane faster than expected, however – this is a simple pick up and play party game that’s best played with friends; not something intended for lengthy sessions. It doesn’t take much time at all to see everything on offer, leaving just a handful of additional outfits to unlock.

If you’re the kind of gamer who always has a four-pack in the fridge and a few bags of Kettle chips stashed away should an unplanned party ever occur, Must Dash Amigos is still a worthwhile addition to your gaming library. These amigos are guaranteed to liven up even the dullest of social gatherings.

SCORE
7