If you think back to Microsoft Games in the 1990′s, you will probably think of flight simulators and small desktop games. Then, suddenly, there was Motocross Madness. The game was released with little fanfare in 1998, and probably flew under the radar of most gamers, but the exciting blend of realistic biking physics and bone-crunching accidents made the game a hit with those who played it. A sequel followed two years later, but strangely for a successful series it has never made another appearance – that is, until now.
Motocross Madness (MXM) on Xbox LIVE Arcade will no doubt be immediately frowned upon by many, due to the inclusion of Xbox Avatars in the title. But it should be said that Avatars – although marketed as an important part of the experience – can be largely ignored if the player so wishes. By performing certain in-game actions, you can earn Avatar fame and bonus rewards, but none of this will effect your progress in the game itself – it is an entirely separate system. You can also outfit your rider however you wish, or you can choose not to. Of course, other players will enjoy all of this, and love seeing their carefully-crafter Avatar triumphing in a tightly-fought race.
Aside from multiplayer modes, the entire game is based around your career. In career mode you earn XP and money by competing in races and ideally finishing in the top three positions. By levelling up, you will gain access to new race tracks at locations around the world, and new modes to compete in. There are three different countries on offer, with three tracks within each country. These are Egypt, with familiar Pyramids and the Sphinx to race around; Australia, which is much more lush, with beach and brush areas; and snowy Iceland, where icy tracks and mountains are the order of the day. These nine tracks are all pretty huge, and each course has many multiple paths and shortcuts to discover. These can all be raced through in eight-player, first-to-the-finish affairs. In every mode, you can build up your boost meter through drifting round corners and landing successful tricks, be they airborne flips or wheelies. Boosting is important for getting extra air time over jumps and catching up with opponents.
Then there are the other modes that unlock as you complete races on each track. There is Rivals – where you race against three ghosts of MXM developers, trying to beat their best time trial scores in order to earn XP and money. The track layout is the same as Race mode, but you are simply going for a best time over one lap rather than the three laps in the races. So therefore, you can build up your boost for a couple of laps, then go all out for your best time once you have lots of boost to use! Then you have Exploration and Trick mode. Trick mode is simply each track played as a completely open environment, where the player has a set amount of time to score as many points as possible by pulling off mid-air and ground-based stunts. Exploration then takes trick mode, and removes the time limit. What you are left with is a huge, expansive area to explore at your leisure, picking up coins and trying to reach every skull token on the map. Most of these will require some precision riding and jumping to reach – but you have as much time as you like to do so.
These different modes create an interesting balance between the loose, arcade-style racing action and the more leisurely exploring. Across all modes though, the tracks are so well-designed that there are so many little distractions that could be easily missed. There are literally dozens of routes through each stage, and players will need to mix up their tactics and routes in order to grab as many coins as they can – which will help them upgrade their bike or purchase new rides in between races. As you play through the stages more, you will learn which routes are faster than others, but the game is well-balanced in the sense that as long as you keep upgrading your bike too stay competitive, even picking the wrong routes through a level won’t result in you throwing away the whole race – but on the other hand, a big mistake on the final lap could see you drop from first place to fifth in a matter of seconds. It has that certain arcade charm, where the result of a race is never entirely sure until the finish line.
Then there are the multiplayer options, where gamers can go up against seven other riders in any of the modes listed – aside from exploration – over Xbox LIVE. Online performance is slick and remains a fast-paced, nervous affair without the looming fear of lag. For players who prefer a more intimate experience, there is also a two-player split-screen option, allowing two players on the same system to go up against six AI riders, in one-off races. It is a shame that the split-screen play couldn’t have been extended to the career mode, as levelling up your riders and bikes together could have been a lot of fun. But it is good to see that the game loses none of its dynamism when the screen is cut in half.
If playing directly against your foes isn’t your cup of tea, there are extensive Leaderboard options and the MXM bike club, where you can link up with friends or strangers to form a team whose experience is then shared between its members. You also all work towards shared team goals, which earn the players additional XP and Fame for the optional Avatar Famestar mode. With all of these different competitive options, the upgrading and customisation of bikes and riders’ gear, and the different game modes that stretch across the courses, there is a lot of content included in the MXM package for gamers to enjoy. It is perhaps a shame that with so many modes, we are limited to only three countries, but this will lead to players mastering the tracks and perhaps is meant to encourage the kind of competitive high scores and Leaderboards that games such as Trials HD are famous for.
VERDICT: There is a hefty package included in Motocross Madness for a mere 800 Microsoft Points. This isn’t just a game that most players would pick up for an hour or so every now and again – you will want to level up your rider and his skills, unlocking new tricks to perform, and earning money for new equipment. There are so many things to discover within each track and no single race will likely feel the same as the next – even on the same course. Unfortunately, the multiplayer aspect may not be maximised as there are no tournaments or extended play – just one-off races – but this doesn’t detract from the package too greatly. The balance between the fun of the arcade racing to the precision required to make certain jumps and reach difficult locations is likely to win the game many fans. Let us just hope that the “love it or hate it” inclusion of Xbox Avatars doesn’t put off too many prospective racers.
EXCELLENT. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.