Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mad Skills Motocross Review

Mad Skills Motocross, developed and published by Turborilla.
The Good: Robust track editor, simple control scheme, challenging layouts and AI opponents, decent amount of content, varied objectives, plausible physics, multi-platform
The Not So Good: Not innovative, peculiarly limited special abilities, lacks online play, slightly expensive, unimpressive graphics and sound design
What say you? It’s like Excitebike, but newer: 5/8

Remember Exictebike? Of course you do, and if you don’t, I totally just linked to it. The 2-D motorcycle racing game was innovative for its simple mechanics and track editor, and the basic premise has been recaptured (ripped off) in Mad Skills Motocross. We’ve seen more puzzle-oriented titles like Trials 2 Second Edition before, but Mad Skills Motocross places more emphasis on speed and action. Does it recall the excitement of previous titles without being too much of a retread?

The graphics of Mad Skills Motocross are passable for a 2-D racing game. The backgrounds are only hardly diverse and the track surfaces don’t change much. The 2-D rider is well animated for the most part, although the most dramatic crashes produce some questionable-looking results. Still, nothing approaches the high graphical quality of Trials 2 Second Edition, so we are left wanting more. The sound design is minimal, with only a basic assortment of effects with generic background music. I was left unenthusiastic but not annoyed by the quality of the graphics and sound of Mad Skills Motocross.

Mad Skills Motocross, like Exictebike (this will not be the last time I make this comparison), is a motorcycle racing game that takes place on a 2-D track, and you must navigate a series of jumps, ramps, and bumps and reach the finish line in an expedient manner. The game has four divisions of eleven races each, plus a special turbocharged series once you successfully complete the career mode. You will mostly be up against a single AI opponent, but sometimes (two to three times per division) there will be alternate objectives like a backflip or wheelie requirement. This does a nice job changing up the game from just being who finishes first. The game is available on the three major PC platforms (Windows, Linux, and Mac, for those scoring at home), but the game lacks online play or multiplayer of any kind, so competitions against humans is an sad impossibility. The price is also high for the content: $25 is more than the typical budget pricing level, and I would feel a lot better if Mad Skills Motocross was more along the lines of $15 or even $10.

The strongest feature of Mad Skills Motocross is the editor that allows you to create the course of your dreams (or nightmares! *insert evil laughter*). By mouse-selecting a section of track, you can change it to a ramp, curve, or “wavy” portion. You can also adjust the height, angle, frequency, offset, tension, or angle (depending on which part we’re talking about) for more precise creations. It can be difficult to smooth out transitions between sections, especially when you start dealing with ramps of different heights. The amount of freedom Mad Skills Motocross grants you is nice, but it can be tricky to get an even layout. You can also add elements to the design, like jumps, nitro, gliding sections, and jetpacks, and even add the alternate objectives I described earlier (you were paying attention, weren’t you?). The editor is probably the draw for most gamers, and it’s powerful and easy enough to use.

Mad Skills Motocross features a decent physics engine that produces plausible results…most of the time. During high-speed wrecks (which occur most of the time), things can become more unpredictable, and there are some jumps that I felt I should have landed, but these are minor and occasional issues at best. The control scheme is very straightforward, utilizing only the arrow keys and the space bar for a special action. This is where Mad Skills Motocross’s unique feature, the special action, appears and it’s sadly limited. With a simple press of the space bar, you can jump, enable a rocket, or glide towards the ground, but it’s an either/or feature, as you can only have one active at a time and you have no choice as to which one it is. The game only grants usage of the last power unlocked, and you will use this one until the next one becomes available. This is a disappointing limitation: there could have been some strategy involved in selecting which ability is best for the next track. The AI you race against is quite skilled, though somewhat fallible at pre-scripted (it seems) portions of the track. Since you never come into contact with the AI drivers, it’s more of a clock than a real opponent. Because of this, the races aren’t terribly exciting since you simply have to finish first (barring the occasional objective levels). The levels have some pleasingly difficult layouts, but strategy is usually limited to simply straightening out enough when you land, thanks to the single special ability that can’t be changed. Mad Skills Motocross doesn’t require the nervous precision of Trials 2 Second Edition and it isn’t as action-packed as a real motorcycle racer. The unique feature is so controlled that it loses most of its appeal, so Mad Skills Motocross ends up being a shadow of a 25-year-old game.

Mad Skills Motocross plays very similarly to Exictebike (the reason why I keep mentioning it), which ultimately is its downfall. The game needs a key feature to differentiate it from the competition, and Mad Skills Motocross doesn’t. The best feature of the game, the track editor, is powerful yet the interface is somewhat cumbersome and some editing elements are confusing to use and produce some strange results (namely ramps). The tracks that are included with the game run the gamut from “really easy” to “pleasingly difficult” are require adept use of the controls, positioning yourself for perfect landings in order to keep up with the skilled AI opponents. Most of the races are quick, so you can rapidly finish the game’s content if you are accomplished at this sort of game. I like the use of objectives other than simply finishing first, making you pull off funky stunts over the course of a layout. Still, you can’t get past the fact that Mad Skills Motocross feels like a duplicate of a classic title. The game lacks online play and doesn’t offer any feature to show at least some innovation in the past 25 years: Mad Skills Motocross simply doesn’t stand out. The only real unique feature, the special abilities, is only available one at a time and you don’t get to choose which one to use: a silly limitation. I suspect only people who really need a more modernized version of Exictebike (and don’t have a Wii for the virtual console) will fork over the above-budget-level cash required to experience Mad Skills Motocross.