Reviewed: March 4, 2008
Released: December 17, 2007
The MX vs. ATV series comes from a long lineage of motocross racing games dating all the way back to the late 1998’s Motocross Madness on the PC. From day one, developer Rainbow Studios has wowed gamers with its near perfect blend of high-flying action and dirt spattering realism resulting in a very fun experience. From the aforementioned Motocross Madness, to ATV Offroad Fury, to MX Unleashed and now the MX vs. ATV games – no other motocross series has garnered more respect in the gaming industry.
Now, we see the first handheld offering from the series – MX vs. ATV Untamed for the Nintendo DS. And while the game might not have all of the spunk of its bigger console brethren, it definitely is a welcome sight on a portable medium and currently stands as one of the best racing experiences available on the DS
Whether talking about Motocross Madness, ATV Offroad Fury, MX Unleashed, or MX vs. ATV games, the core racing mechanics devised by Rainbow Studios nearly a decade ago have remained relatively unchanged, and unchallenged – that being the concept of “preloading” the bike’s suspension to achieve optimum airtime.
Sometimes the idea was to go higher and longer, sometimes shorter and tighter, but airtime control was the main focus in properly managing racing lines and rhythm patterns, thereby helping maintain consistent speed throughout the course of the race. Prior to Rainbow’s releases, developers had tried a bevy of different “clutch”, and “goose” buttons to give gamers better control over jumping distances, but Rainbow was able to achieve a level of fluidity and smoothness that the others missed over the years.
It was not a surprise then that Rainbow’s preloading mechanic would be passed along in the DS version of the game. And although the results might not be as fluid as they are using console analog sticks, they get the job done just fine. Whether the vehicle is a four-wheeled ATV or a two-wheeled motocross bike, the system of preload and release becomes second nature after only a few laps.
MX vs. ATV Untamed forgoes the standard three-moto structure Rainbow has relied on in the past (in which gamers are required to race each venue three times before proceeding) and instead features a series of four-venue racing circuits that must be passed in order to proceed. While it was nice to not have each track drilled into your brain for three races at a pop, I did feel a certain lack of familiarity that I never had with the other titles.
Unlike the console titles, the tracks in MX vs. ATV all are indoor, in what Rainbow has traditionally called their “supercross” mode. And while the game does feature a freestyle trick mode, the mode simply racks up points for tricks performed during a race – rather that the implied unrestrained “freestyle” mode we enjoy so much on the consoles.
If I sound rather ho-hum about MX vs. ATV, its simply because I have played every iteration of the series before, and on the DS, Untamed just doesn’t pull out many of the tricks we have come to expect – things like outdoor races, free ride, and open environment waypoint races. True, this is more than likely due to the limitations of the DS unit itself – so it is forgivable – but a bit discouraging, nonetheless.
But what really counts is the racing, and MX vs. ATV Untamed really nails the racing groove – giving the DS its first good taste of racing since Mario Kart DS. Very few games can match the feeling of accomplishment you get when nailing a solid racing line, or clearing an entire set of whoops as a with a well-timed preload – and MX vs. ATV Untamed had me coming back for more many times over.
Graphically, MX vs. ATV looks impressive as hell on the DS – with full 3D visuals that hold up even with a handful of high-flying bikers sharing the screen at once.
The surface textures ride on the low-res end of the spectrum, but the fact that the background visuals include fully fleshed-out stadiums, complete with sideboard advertising and a semblance of a crowd, is enough to warrant it a few bonus points in Untamed’s favor.
The animations are a bit choppy as the character leans through curves or initiates mid-air tricks, but since the game maintains a fairly constant framerate, the choppiness rarely has much negative effect.
Untamed hits all the marks in the audio department, with kick ass sound effects and reactive crowd noise that put the gamer dead center in the heat of the action.
The game features a few licensed emo and metal tunes (MX vs. ATV is infamous for its iffy musical choices). While I would have rather seen some better thought going into the musical selections, the fact that a DS game features licensed music at all is a feat in itself.
MX vs. ATV Untamed might not feature all of the bells and whistles of its console brethren, but for a portable diversion it really fits the bill. I had more than my share of fun running through the near-dozen racetracks in the single player mode.
MX vs. ATV Untamed falls flat in terms of multiplayer, with the only option being local multi-card WiFi with absolutely no online or single-card download play, whatsoever. This is a real bummer for a gaming family like my own, with three DS units – not being able to link up without buying a second or third card is just plain wrong.
Obviously, MX vs. ATV is not a perfect game, but it does perfectly fill the holes left since Mario Kart’s release all those years ago. While we could nitpick over the lack of modes, tracks and options – I would rather focus on the good aspects, like the kick-ass racing experience that us packed in this one very small cartridge.