While not exactly an all-time classic, the original “Motocross Madness” games for the PC had a solid fanbase and are generally well remembered for their incredible crashes and speedy action. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to hear Microsoft would be reviving the series, only this time as an avatar-driven Xbox Live arcade title.
Arcade is the keyword here, because from the over the top announcer, to the over the top races, this “Motocross Madness” feels like it belongs in an old arcade cabinet, complete with motorbike controller. However, once you get past the tutorial level, which does a nice job of showcasing the high speeds, “SSX” style tricks, and the glorious return of those highlight reel crashes, you’ll likely be surprised to find that “Motocross Madness” differs greatly from those old arcade racers in how open it is.
In a race, for instance, you’ll find a plethora of shortcuts littered throughout each course, creating contests that limit the amount of course barriers and invisible walls, and instead encourage exploration in order to find the best way to tackle a lap. It’s nothing new, but except for a couple of instances where you get lost easily, it’s well done. Where the open course mentality really shines, though, is in the free ride mode, where you are granted a sizable map to collect coins and skulls, which can be used to unlock new items, and more importantly, plenty of room to pull off amazing jumps and tricks.
These open levels consist of three sections and are absolutely huge. Every area is littered with multiple insane jumps, as well as unique areas you’ll run across like amusement parks or castles which provide even more opportunities for creative havoc. My biggest problem with the mode, however, is that unless you are really, really obsessed with finding big jumps and exploring the areas or unlocking everything, there just isn’t much incentive to invest serious time in it, and the novelty can wear off quickly. I would have even settled for scaled down environments if they could have been loaded with more objectives, kind of like the old “Tony Hawk” games.
Of course, it might not have mattered, as this game is fundamentally broken in too many key areas. The biggest offender is the controls, which sadly vary from way too loose (when trying to drive straight) to chokingly tight (trying to land exactly where you want off a big jump). Their incompetence is only exasperated by some of the worst collision detection I’ve ever seen. For instance, it’s possible to hit the broad side of a mountain dead on and ride along it to safety, yet on the same run, you’ll barely graze an obstacle and completely lose it. There is no consistency whatsoever, and it kills so much of the game’s potential excitement.
Lesser aspects of the title also manage to fall behind, as the graphics and course design (with rare exceptions) are too boring for this type of game, and the sound and music are right there with it. Also, the unlock system is kind of a joke, in that you don’t unlock most items as you level, but you unlock the chance to purchase them. This makes sense for things like new bikes, but it also applies to smaller items like clothes. The problem is that things like bike upgrades and, say, a new pair of gloves, aren’t separated by much money, meaning it’s not really wise to customize your character’s look until later in the game, ruining another potentially entertaining aspect, especially given the game’s emphasis on your avatar.
“Motocross Madness” ultimately ends up spending too much time being especially bland, or too broken to really find its niche. It’s a shame, really, as I want to praise the game’s decent selection of modes (including an intriguing fame building online mode that was sadly down at the time of this review); it’s wise decision to include split-screen play; or those moments in a race where you discover a brilliant new shortcut or incredible new jump or area in the free ride mode that temporary alleviates its wasted potential.
Instead, wasted potential pretty much sums up “Motocross Madness.” At 800 points, it’s not the absolute worst investment I’ve ever seen if you are for some reason compelled to have it, but with so many other online racer options available, I struggle to think of who I’d recommend this game too otherwise.