Overall Score 67%
Mad Skills Motocross
This is yet another side scrolling motocross game in an increasingly large pool of similar titles that we have become familiar with in the last couple of years. The Nintendo Entertainment System console started it all with it's featured “Excitebike” back in 1984, but this game can be compared with it's contemporary indie peers “Motorama” and “Trials SE” to name but just a couple. Mad Skills Motocross is a solid and playable title, but at $26 (and that's a fairly pricey indie), does it really offer anything that you've never seen before in a similar game? Sadly, no.
The player controls a motocross rider, competing on various tracks to set the best time possible. The weight of the rider can be shifted forward and rear of the centre of gravity of the bike to perform stunts like flips and wheelies. Controlling the balance of the bike in this fashion is the key to maintaining speed and control over the many bumps, burns, ramps and jumps that need to be negotiated. You can use the keys, a gamepad or the mouse to control your rider and the acceleration and braking of the bike, although I found the mouse control to be the most difficult to come to terms with. All control inputs are able to be remapped, which is a nice touch.
The physics model is reasonable, but I find that the bike itself can buckle and contort in silly ways that make it look and feel as if it's made of rubber. If the rider falls from (or is thrown off) his bike, then he turns into a ragdoll and comically flies through the air, arms and legs flailing until he hits something hard. This event is usually accompanied by a cracking of bones and a wail of pain, but there is no blood, gore or dismemberment (for better or worse).
There is no character customisation, nor choice of bike. The tracks are all made up of ground terrain forged into dirt mounds, ramps, platforms and the like. There are no other environmental features like flaming barrels and wooden planks, tyre walls and oil slicks. Only one real game mode is offered - career mode. There is a time attack mode as well that allows you to re-race any unlocked tracks against a recorded ghost opponent, but essentially, it's exactly the same as a career mode race. Career mode sees the player ride on a series of tracks against a ghost opponent recorded by the development team. If the player beats the ghost, or fails miserably attempting, the next track seems to be unlocked regardless, and the cycle repeats. Once all of the races have been beaten in Division 4 (you will need to beat all of them) then Division 3 opens up. There are 11 races in each of the first 2 divisions, and 5 divisions available. I can't say for sure haw many races are in the top 3 divisions since I have only progressed through 33% of the career mode... which brings me to the next point.
The game is relentlessly unforgiving. To quote directly from the game's website; “Unlike most other sidescrolling motocross games, Mad Skills Motocross is not about puzzles and obstacles. It is about racing against the computer or against friends.” What a load of rubbish! Believe me, if you miss that jump by a few centimetres or misjudge a landing by a few degrees of rotation, it's game over and you'll need to restart the race. Some tracks have areas that the player can also become stuck in and unable to progress. This game is all about playing tracks over and over until you learn their idiosyncrasies and work out how to ride through them without crashing. It's just as much of a puzzle as any other of the similar titles out there. You will wear out your keyboard's escape button, resetting the same track over and over until you can get it right.
There's a good track editor provided with the game. It's quite easy to use and automates a lot of customisable mathematical functions to allow the player to place nicely curved ramps and slopes with ease. You can pump out a rideable track in around 10 minutes or so, but of course, to build a good flowing track that allows high speed but still challenges the player is a bit of a balancing act, and will take a lot longer. Strangely, although I could play my own tracks in the editor, I couldn't work out how to import them into the game, or where to find them if they were indeed already somehow present. The game came bundled with exactly zero documentation and the website seems to have no message forum or community features at all. In fairness, I should point out that I was playing a reviewer's evaluation build of the game, and the final release may or may not contain a different set of features.
The game is nicely presented and runs fluidly on a variety of PC configurations. The interface is easily navigated with the mouse, and the player will find various options to configure video, and sound settings as desired. The game supports windowed and full screen play in a great range of screen resolutions. The graphics are pleasant and colourful, and the animations are smooth and fairly realistic to watch. Sound effects, which consist mostly of engine noise and pained shrieking, are reasonable but the music sounds like a kickback to the old 16-bit console days and is a bit hard to take for too long.
I guess it's a game that does pretty much what I expected and nothing that I didn't. It's fun to play but it does fall short of the extremely high standard that “Trials SE” set in terms of visceral graphics and immersing gameplay. If it were more of a race game than an action puzzler, then it might offer something that would appeal to me more strongly. A networkable multiplayer mode, or a pack of AI riders rather than the somewhat sterile and predictable ghost recordings for opponents might give it a bit more life. To be honest, at the asking price, I don't see an awful lot of copies shifting.
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