It would be easy to dismiss Motocross Madness as yet another throwaway arcade game for the Xbox 360. More and more, XBLA games with that feature the use of avatars look like shovelware designed to justify Microsoft's decision to hijack Miis from Nintendo. However, after breaking through the game’s crusty exterior, Motocross Madness surprisingly delivers an entertaining arcade experience worth your consideration.
From developer Bongfish Games (I am not making this name up), Motocross Madness is an arcade racer that borrows from every racing game you’ve ever played. For most of the game, the developers deliver an engaging but derivative experience that doesn’t forget to be fun. Fortunately, focusing on fun is a great strength to have in game development. Yet, if you are a hardcore gamer, this will feel like just another Mario Kart clone. It could be worse though, it could play like a Super Sprint clone.
Right off the bat, Motocross Madness drops players into a three dimensional world of dirt tracks, collectable coins, and aerial maneuvers. While this game owes a lot to Mario Kart, a closer comparison would be to a recent ATV game called Pure. As players race through levels there are various jumps to trick, shortcuts to explore, and speed boosts to pick up. Like Pure, Motocross is about mixing up your tricks to gain boost and to catch whoever is in first place. In the earlier stages, failure to execute your tricks is punishing but not so much of a hindrance that it keeps you from advancing.
In the terrain of each race track, the path is wide open and allows for a lot of variety in your course. Unlike an old school game like Excitebike, you don’t need to take the same path to the finish each time. Granted, you will need to drive in the right direction, but otherwise you are given a lot of leeway on how you reach the finish line. There is plenty of terrain to jump or drive around to support minor variances in how you complete a race.
While terrain in this game is good for an arcade title, the biggest frustration I ran into while playing are the frequent crashes. While the open terrain allows for a multitude of correct paths to the finish line, players will run into realistic barriers (rocks, track barricade, and buildings), that contradict the game’s arcade-style design. Too often I would perform a physically impossible trick off a jump and then slam into an impenetrable bike rack barricade. In a game like this, players should be allowed a bit more leeway when riding the rails or risking stunning tricks. If the emphasis is on tricking to win, I would prefer to land impossible moves than to deal with the realistic physics of true-to-life motocross.
Eventually, some of progress-stopping crashes become avoidable, but too often in the beginning of the game I was forced to restart a race due to clipping a building after landing a jump. I understand the need for difficulty and the value of realistic physics; however, this is a great example of a game that should be utilizing breakaway surroundings rather than impenetrable surroundings. Having a bike rack that provides no give feels like a design flaw left over from last generation.
Overall the graphics in the game are nice enough for an avatar game but a bit below par compared to most of the racing games available. I respect the developers cartoony approach but in a genre that consistently pushes the envelope of modern graphics, Motocross doesn’t hold a candle to the competition.
Despite the sub par (for the genre), graphics, I was impressed by the large size of the Exploration levels. Unlike the race levels, Exploration lets players drive with no time limits as they discover rad jumps, collect coins and skulls while practicing out the stages. This was a nice addition that I haven’t seen before in an arcade title and allows a nice down time in-between intense races.
Overall, despite sensitive surroundings and less than stellar graphics, I enjoyed my time with Motocross Madness. It’s a simple racing game that does enough right to justify the investment of $15. For those of you very serious about your racing games, perhaps sticking with Forza would be a better decision. You can leave silly motocross for the rest of us.