Codemasters have broken new ground. A full title released for a piece of hardware not yet publicly available, and polished in it’s support despite the limited audience. Technical demos are commonplace for virtual reality (VR) at present, as are Steam Greenlight campaigns and Kickstarters; but a full release from a big studio ready to download and play on an Oculus Rift right now? That’s far less familiar.
So, why? That’s a good question. As a team, Codemasters have obviously been fascinated with VR for some time. Keenly engaging with those who have taken it upon themselves to mod earlier releases for use with the Oculus Rift development kits and even going so far as to patch in beta support for the devices for their latest racing simulation title, GRID Autosport, it’s clear that a full release was inevitable. The fact that it would take the shape of Toybox Turbos, a miniaturised racing videogame in the vein of Micro Machines, was less obvious.
Toybox Turbos sees the player racing a selection of toy-like vehicles around a cartoonish visualisation of real-world environments, arming themselves with machine guns, mine launchers and roof-mounted hammers as they go.. Tractors on a school desk, black cabs and school buses across the kitchen table, sports cars burning rubber on the red felt of a pool table. This isn’t a serious racing experience by any means; within minutes of beginning to play you’ll be swinging the rear end of your vehicles out as you head into corners and re-aligning yourself mid-air as you leave a ramp. It all handles at a startling pace, too. You’ll have no trouble besting the competition early on, but Toybox Turbos becomes as fun as it is maddening once the difficulty ramps up.
Featuring 42 races divided into 7 cups, with three stars to earn in each race, Toybox Turbos offers a number of different event types. The top-down racing is complimented by the usual time trials and elimination events, but also more obscure challenges such as Escape, in which you must keep your foot down to avoid being washed away by the encroaching water, and boss battles in which the goal is to lose your opponent as you push the screen forward without them doing the same to you. Of course, there’s also multiplayer for up to four players – on- or offline – perfect for that Steam Big Screen mode on the couch with friends.
Toybox Turbos, then, is a fun racing videogame in it’s own right that offers enough challenge to satisfy your relatively small investment (£11.99 GBP at the time of writing). But where does VR come into the picture? Primarily it’s used to simply enhance the feeling of racing toy cars. The top-down view is accentuated by the stereoscopic 3D, sitting high above the tablet surface with coffee cups and towers of cards seemingly within reach. This view also gives you the ability to look ahead; allowing for freedom to move the camera which is otherwise not afforded. However, this can be double-edged sword: while looking at what the leader of the pack is doing you won’t be focussing on your own vehicle, and the edge of the table is only ever one mistimed turn away.
A second VR mode makes Toybox Turbos a more familiar racing experience, with the camera locked to the rear of your vehicle. This mode is unfortunately not quite as well tuned as while it still gives you freedom to look around the videogame features many sharp turns and adjusting your view while entering one such corner can leave you feeling rather disorientated.
Toybox Turbos is the first of it’s kind in VR, and not just because it’s from a big name studio with the clout to deliver high production values. Although it’s part of a genre that we’ve seen plenty of on the Oculus Rift, it’s a take on adrenaline-rush racing that isn’t particularly common in the modern industry. That in itself should be reason enough to pique your interest, but coupled with the fact that the VR experience is of a commendable quality despite it’s experimental nature makes Toybox Turbos a must-have for VR aficionados.