By all accounts, Motocross Madness shouldn’t exist. Microsoft ditched the Madness branding in the early aughts and motocross games evaporated with Rainbow Studios – the talent behind the original Motocross Madness games and the MX vs. ATV games for THQ. This left a pretty big hole in the extreme sports category – alongside snowboarding – where the global supply of ‘ramping up hills’ and ‘pulling off gnarly stunts over and over’ was cut off to gamers entirely. After all this, an interesting question arises: if I never loved this genre, why am I giving it a shot now? Because Motocross Madness is pretty damn fun.
Originally titled Avatar Motocross Madness, this game slips you into the shoes your very own Xbox 360 figure, rather than some anonymous human-shaped model. The game’s core consists of your standard races, a Rivals mode (hot laps against ghosts of the developers), and an open-world mode that lets you explore the Egyptian, Australian, and Icelandic settings of the game to gather coins and skull tokens. A variety of bikes are available for purchase, and you’ll spend the game’s currency upgrading their various components to get faster, grippier, and perform better overall.
The gameplay loop is far from just racing; you’ll need to devise a rhythm that allows you to balance boosting and tricking, which feed each other in big ways. While airborne, tricks are performed by holding one of the face buttons in conjunction with your left stick and/or the bumpers. These maneuvers are introduced layer by layer as you accumulate experience and level up, allowing you to judge which ones are best to perform based on how much hang time you steal. Performing better tricks allow you to build your boost meter, which not only helps your racing, but grants you more hang time to perform bigger tricks.
Racing in Motocross Madness feels spot on, complementing a game that feels really well done in total. Set to release last August after a squeaky quiet announcement at last year’s E3, Microsoft pushed the game beyond the holidays, allowing the team at Bongfish to get the polish just right. Well, almost. The game’s pretty in the looks department, but the amount of Rage-style pop-in detail is noticeable all around, particularly when you start a race and all of the game’s matter spontaneously materializes out of a pristine skybox. Track design is solid, but individual courses could’ve been more memorable. Unlike other combo-based vehicular racers, your avatar won’t herk and jerk in transitions, going so far as to include some awesome dynamic animations, particularly upon rough landings. The game features two-player offline multiplayer and Xbox Live capabilities, but since our review came pre-release, there wasn’t anyone to play with. The game also features Avatar Famestars, a cross-game rewards system with rotating weekly goals to build ‘fame’ for your Avatar.
If you’re looking for that old Motocross Madness feel, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll get a really solid racing game that can appeal to the most casual fans with plenty of fun for the hardcore along the way, set in a world that reminded me of Evolution Software’s excellent Motorstorm: Pacific Rift. This new Motocross Madness is the most fun gaming experience I’ve had this year; I just hope Microsoft supports it.
NOTE: In the FEZ PLAY below, I mention the lack of an ability to combine stunts, but completely forget that producing stunts starts a multiplier. My bad.