Anyone who recognizes the name Motocross Madness may have some memories of playing countless hours on their PC racing virtual motorcycles across off road terrain. The series had a following, even though only a couple of games were released. Well, much to my surprise Microsoft has seen fit to release a successor to those games, but on the Xbox 360, and it is a downloadable avatar racer. So, given the history of avatar based games on XBLA, does this one stack up? Surprisingly it does.
Simply put, this is a two-wheeled off-road arcade racer. Even in career mode there is no story as you are simply challenged to go through the various races and modes in an effort to level up your character. Developer Bongfish did not try to sugarcoat character progression with any hokey narrative. Add to this the fact that your Xbox LIVE avatar is the main star here. There is just something neat about watching your own avatar race on a motorcycle on the screen.
Once you download the 1.48 GB title, and start the game, you can head over to the title screen where you can choose to play your career, race offline or online, check out your bike club, and do a few other odds and ends. Career is where you’ll spend most of your time. Here you can race, explore, or participate in a trick session. A nice little choice of things to do. Each is self-explanatory and with the simplistic nature of the gameplay it works.
The main crux of your career mode is to finish the various events, earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal, and open up new events as you level up. In order for you to level up your avatar based motocross rider you’ll pull off tricks, collect special skulls in the exploration modes, and rack up points depending on how well you do in each event. This allows you to open up new gear, new events, and new bikes. The feeling of progression is pretty neat as you are rewarded for what you do and how well you do it. Rewards are good and this game makes you feel rewarded.
Some people may complain that there are only has three different areas where all the events take place. You’ll find events in Egypt, Iceland and Australia. Although the thought of just three different locales can seem disappointing, you’ll be surprised with just how different they are. Sure, there are only a total of nine different tracks available in total, but the addictiveness and magic of pulling of many different tricks will keep you coming back. The different game types also add to the gameplay aspect, as you are not just left with doing laps of the same tracks. Once you start playing the exploration mode you’ll see how big things are, and just how much each locale has to do. You’ll be spending more time in each area then you’d expect too. When I first played in Egypt, and I was in the exploration mode, I spent at least an hour or so zipping through ancient ruins, launching off jumps, and climbing up ramps that along the side of pyramids. It’s fun.
Controlling your bike is relatively easy with fairly good control and simple button input. Again, it matches the overall straightforwardness of the game. As you level up you will open up the ability to pull of different types tricks as you fly through the air when launching off of bumps and jumps. By using the face buttons combined with left analog stick, you can pull of simple to complex tricks while in mid-air. Some tricks are suited for small jumps while others require massive air, as they are quite long in execution. You will also be able to use the left and right bumpers for some added flair. By successfully pulling of your mid-air stunts you earn precious turbo boost as well as XP; the latter which helps you level up. It is a neat little trick system and after putting it through its paces I think most will enjoy the nice balance of timing and button presses mixed in with its ease of use.
Each event that you compete in also has coins that you can collect. Coins are also rewarded based on your finishing with a bronze, silver or gold medal. These coins are used to buy new motorcycles, new in-game avatar outfits, and upgrades for your rides. As mentioned earlier, you open these up as you level your character up. All of these items are the customization aspect of the game. Each motorbike has upgradable parts (e.g. engine, gears, shocks, tires, etc.) that help improve your bikes overall rating and there is a lot of gear for you to dress up your avatar with (e.g. helmets, gloves, pants, boots, etc.). In order to open up all that is available you’ll put in quite a bit of time leveling up, earning XP, and collecting in-game coins to purchase what you want once it is opened.
Should you tire of the single player experience you can play with others, both locally or online. Locally is 2-player split screen. I had a brief chance to play this with my 6 ½ year old son, and he had a blast. I enjoyed it too, but it was really neat to see him having so much fun. Online allows for up to 8 players to battle it out for top spot, and what few games I played ran quite smoothly. Given the arcade nature of the game, it was easy to play and you didn’t have one person dominate too often. The multiplayer is quite fun and a nice addition to the gameplay as a whole.
Motocross Madness also supports those who have a community of friends who may want to play this game together. You and anyone you know can form a Bike Club. This is a nice little feature as you can compare your times and try to outdo each other for the right to brag to others. The leaderboards are a nice way to see whos the gamer to beat with easy to read data and you’ll be racing your friends ghost data over and over again to show them you’re the best. Who would have expected any level of community support at all in an XBLA game like this? I know I didn’t.
Visually I have to say that Motocross Madness is not that bad. In many ways I was quite surprised. As mentioned, there are only three locales to participate in events in, but each of these is very different looking and has lots of neat things to look at as well as many branching paths. From the Sphinx and pyramids to scenic mountains, waterfalls and forested areas, you’ll enjoy the scenery that is provided for sure. Your avatar looks good on the various motorcycles that are in the game and pulling of tricks looks pretty slick as your avatar spins, flips and twirls about the bike. Heck, your avatar even gets dusty/dirty as you race on the various tracks. If there is any issue with the visuals it is that there can be some nasty texture pop-in now and then, and it is very noticeable. You’ll also come across the odd bit of clipping. These two issues didn’t take too much away from this arcade racer but they are worth noting.
In regards to the sound, the music is such that as I sit here trying to explain it, I can’t even remember how the tracks sounded. They were just there. If anything I was more focused on the sound of the various motorcycles and all the rest of the in-game effects, such as the “woosh” as you get big air to the sound of a waterfall as you race under it. Of course crashes are big and as you bail off your bike and tumble across the ground coming to a sudden “thud” as you stop, you can’t help but smile a bit. Overall the sound package is very serviceable.
At the end of the day Motocross Madness is a good game, especially when you consider the price of 800 MS Points ($10.00). The simple gameplay has a charm to it and the levels you race in are pretty good to look at. Sure, there are a couple of technical issues with the visuals, but they happen in such a manner that they don’t necessarily take much away from your experience. Overall there is enough fun here to justify a purchase, and besides, its kind of fun to watch your avatar take to the air on a motorcycle pulling off some crazy stunts.