Four pads, Four people, One TV, One console = FUN. It's a recipe that's worked exceptionally well for many great racing games in the past; Mario Kart, Micro Machines and Speed Freaks spring to mind, amongst others. They encapsulate what's great about social gaming. All the fun that goes with the shouting and cursing. It's shunting your mate from the track, as they are tantalizingly close to a match winning point. Jumping from 4th place right up to 1st with careful use of the boost and some tight cornering. Zapping people with lightening and then running them over. These are the kind of games that make you keep coming back for more, regardless of graphics or features. Mashed is one of these games.
The real challenge for a game like this is to provide an enjoyable single player experience, and Mashed's is fine, though frustratingly necessary in order to unlock all of the tracks. The challenges themselves become extremely difficult and it's a shame that people will lose the opportunity to play various aspects of the multiplayer game due to this. Unlockable content makes the baby Jesus cry, developers. Didn't you know that?
Anyway, the single player is fine, and largely irrelevant when you consider the real meat of the game. You could probably play it for maybe an hour by yourself if it wasn't necessary to unlock aspects of the game, just to get a hang of the controls. Thankfully, this is far from the complete package.
This generation has yet to receive anything to equal the sheer fun of the Micro Machines games. Even the Micro Machines release on the Xbox and PS2 disappointed. Mashed picks up the ball and runs with it. It is, without question, the spiritual successor to the MM series. The twist, of course, is that you're driving real cars on real tracks.
Getting the right balance of elements is key for an enjoyable multiplayer game and Supersonic have done an incredible job here. The track design is very well thought out and with the exception of one or two tracks they are all fiendishly compelling. In particular, the 'Polar Wharf' level is an extremely welcome nod to a Micro Machines classic. Its simple oval design and ice surface make it both a perfect learning experience and possibly the most aggressive track in the game. I guarantee you that the air will be blue once you've been round this track a couple of times with your friends.
Graphically, it does the job. Nothing special, but they've got the essentials just right. In other words, it looks really cool when you blow up other cars. They flip, spin and are thrown across the screen, making it extremely satisfying when a mortar round or a missile makes contact. The actual weapon set is fantastic and even fairly innocent looking devices like the oil slick can come in very useful when used correctly. The best weapon though, is also something of an evolution for the genre. In game, when people are knocked out of that race you'd expect to wait until their was a clear winner before you could do a anything again. Air strikes change this. When you die a square cursor appears, which you can use to 'lock on' to your opponents and fire a heat seeking missile at them from one of the circling helicopters. This adds a new tactical level to the game, but is mostly used for delicious revenge- 'Knock me off the track, will you? Take this!'.
The game types on offer help to extend the life span of the game somewhat, though there are only 3, and you usually find yourself going back to the basic battle mode fairly quickly. To be honest, this isn't really a criticism; multiplayer battle mode will have you addicted for months. The selection of cars has more impact however, as the subtleties in handling and speed can make races very different. Initially, this can be an issue, as the handling for all cars feels extremely delicate compared to many other racers. It runs the risk of putting people off from the start, but with even a little practice, you'll be screeching round corners with the best of them.
The biggest problem though, is the lack of tracks. Only a sparse 13 are available once everything is unlocked. For a game of this type it seems too few, and is noticeable once you've been playing for a couple of hours. The lack of Xbox LIVE and PS2 online support seems like a missed opportunity too. Taking the game as a whole, these are only minor quibbles and shouldn't detract from the sheer fun the game offers.
Good party games on this generation of consoles have been few and far between. Certainly Nintendo keeps the flame lit with games like Super Monkey Ball and Mario Party, but the PS2 and Xbox tend to be neglected in this area. So for the owners of either of these console's, Mashed is a breathe of fresh air. Exhilarating, fun and beautifully simple, it's an essential party game. Perfect after pub entertainment. Or before the pub. Or when you have your mates round. Or.... look, its good anytime, just go buy it.