Ever fancied dirt bike riding? Hurtling over dirt tracks on a motorbike, jumping over great big mounds and performing idiotic stunts such as back or front flips whilst in mid-air? Nope, me neither. On the other hand, if someone were to make a game that allowed you to do it without fear of injuring yourself, then I'd play it... Well, what do you know? Here's Mad Skills MX
The aim of the game is simple, race against a number of computer opponents and beat them to the finish line on a series of tracks. This is obviously not meant to be a real motocross simulator and the game focuses on action, with relatively short courses that can be completed in two minutes or so. This makes it a great little game to just pick up and play when you have a spare few minutes. Be warned though, it's also very addictive - complete a level and you'll be tempted to try your hand at the next one; fail and you'll want to get straight back on your bike to do it all again.
As you hone your skills, you can perform some wild tricks that give you a warm glow (and more points) when you execute them properly and prompts the crowd to respond with an awed "oooh". This also adds an element of strategy to the game. Do you just do a straight race (boring, but effective) or risk doing tricks which bring their own rewards, but increase the chance of coming off your bike and so falling behind your opponent.
Slightly unusually for a racing game, the action is viewed from a side on perspective rather using the more traditional behind-the-biker viewpoint. Once you get used to it, this works well since it means that the layout of the track ahead is always clear and you can see where you are in relation to your opponent. To help with the impression of movement, there's some nice parallax scrolling, which harks back to the good old days of 8 and 16-bit gaming. Effectively, there are three layers of background - the track, some land just beyond it and then the sea. This gives the game an illusion of depth and, since these layers all scroll at different rates, they help contribute to the illusion of speed, making it seem as though your bike is moving faster than it actually is.
There's some good graphics and animation on display, too. Whilst everything is relatively basic (there's nothing here that couldn't have been done on the machines of 15-20 years ago) it works well and is suitable for the game. All the graphics are crisp, clear and well animated. Your bike bobbles up and down on its suspension as it moves over bumps and your rider leans into his bike or away from it as you press keys to try and keep the bike properly balanced. Crashes meanwhile look suitably painful. As your rider comes off, he will often fly into the air and land with a bone-crunching sound, rolling over and over with various limbs folding under him as he does. Ouch! It's little touches like this that can add so much to a game's atmosphere and it's one of the things that makes Mad Skills MX so likeable.
Sound is also good. The theme tune that accompanies the menu screen is a little insidious and strikes me as curiously unsuitable for this particular game. Thankfully, in-game tunes are much better suited to the on-screen action and help get the adrenalin pumping. My one complaint is that using the default settings, the music rather drowns out the sound effects (particularly the roar of you bike's engine). In fairness, though, you can alter the balance between music and sound effects via the Options screen.
Controls are basic, but easy to master relatively quickly. The default mode uses buttons and this works very well. Two buttons in the bottom left of the screen control acceleration and braking; two in the right bottom control your bike. These are not traditional steering buttons as such (your bike can't change lanes or move in and out of the screen), but are essential for controlling your bike's angle of descent (making sure your bike lands level after a jump so that you don't crash on landing). Although the buttons are relatively small, they are well positioned on screen so that they don't obscure your view of the track and there is enough distance between them so that you can comfortably move from one to the other without accidentally hitting the wrong one. If you don't like this method of control, then you have the option to use the accelerometers to control steering, although personally, I found this less responsive.
Funnily enough, this review nearly wasn't anything like as positive as it has ended up being. On my first few goes, I breezed through the opening levels and arrogantly thought the game was going to be far too easy. It's well known that pride goes before a fall and I soon experienced a sudden spike in difficulty, leading to a couple of levels which it took me an eternity to beat. This uneven difficulty level is a serious issue as levels veer wildly from easy to bloomin' impossible and this may put some people off. Indeed, when I hit that tricky patch the game frustrated me beyond all measure and I was all ready to write a pretty negative review. However, patience and perseverance eventually brings rewards, revealing this to be a fun little game. Even so, the sudden spikes in the difficulty level occur quite regularly, so are something you will have to get used to.
After a few games, my expectations of this game slumped when I hit that first difficulty spike. Yet, despite my frustration, there was something addictive about it that kept me coming back. Now, it's one of my regular "go to" games when I have a few minutes and want to have a quick action-style game. At only 69p this is definitely worth considering if you want a racing game with a slight twist. I might not fancy doing the real thing, but this arcade game lets me experience the thrills and spills of riding a bike at stupid speeds without invalidating my life insurance!
(C) Copyright SWSt 2011