Reviewed: July 26, 2003
Reviewed by: Travis Young
Climax has become synonymous with racing whether it be ATV, MX, SX, or Moto GP. When these guys team up with publishers like Acclaim and THQ you can be reasonably assured of a great racing game that is fun, realistic, and often both. Looking back over past Climax games that GCM has reviewed scores are generally high with the two Moto GP games both getting Editorís Choice Awards.
Needless to say I was fairly confident when I popped in my copy of SX Superstar. I had just worked my way through Speed Kings, another Acclaim/Climax motorcycle title that was a total blast and since that game focused on street racing I was looking forward to a little fun in the dirt.
Official SX Superstar media hype:
With plenty of original and ambitious concepts in place, I was ready to being my simulated career as a SX Superstar. There are some non-career options like arcade and multiplayer, but as any experienced console racer will know, most of the game is locked until you complete the career mode and unlock everything.
But back to the career. You start off in some dismal rat-infested hellhole of an apartment with a crappy little 125cc dirt bike, a skanky girlfriend (or at least her picture), and a dream of becoming a ďsuperstarĒ. Your apartment serves as your hub or 3D menu interface to the various functions like garage, safe, trophies, calendar, and the exit door (my favorite).
As you advance through the career and the calendar you actually click on the days to enter race events. Some are official season events while others are optional exhibitions that allow you to earn money. Money is what makes the racing world go round. You have to make upgrades and repairs to your bike, pay entry fees, and cover all of your living expenses. In the beginning I was lucky to bring home a net profit of $20 per race.
Enter sponsorship and your first (maybe second) visit to the annoying answering machine. Generally, each time you return to your apartment you will have two or more messages waiting. One message will always be relevant, either praise for winning the race, etc. but one will almost always be some stupid wrong number for a pizza, taxi, or some other misdirected call. Itís funny once, even twice, but much like any gag that is repeated over an over it quickly changes from amusing to annoying. Then you get the calls from your mechanic, mom and dad, your girlfriends, and your manager. All of these are pure fluff. You canít respond to anything and nothing really affects the game.
I had to fight my natural instinct to simply avoid the answering machine entirely since you will also get valuable faxes from your manager. These usually have some sort of sponsorship offer that puts a logo on your uniform and gives you extra money for each race. Sometimes the sponsors pay a bonus if you actually win.
The better you race the more points you get and if you finish the season in first place you get a lifestyle upgrade. This includes a new apartment (new menu interface), and access to better bikes, events, and classier damesÖIím sorry, is that derogatory towards women Ė I meant ďbiker slutsĒ. Of course, these things are forced upon you (even the chicks) by some unknown force, perhaps that overbearing business manager that is always faxing and calling you. The extent of your decision-making is picking a new ride and having final veto on sponsorship offers.
Even those decisions are surprisingly limited, even for an arcade racing game, which is all SX Superstar can ever claim to be. You only have a total of 12 bikes to choose from split between three classes. I guess thatís enough for an arcade game but not really what I would have expected given Climaxís past track record.
So weíve established that the lifestyle portion of SX Superstar fizzles before it ever gets started, but this is just the hook for a typical racing game that should be able to stand on its own as long as the basics are in place. Oops.
I play just about every racing game that is released for every system there is. SX Superstar isnít the worst Iíve ever played but itís darn close. Letís start with the poor physics engine that has your bike moving all over the track with little regard to friction, gravity, or any other law of science that might apply. The handling is totally off so steering is problematic, wheelies are impossible and landing a jump is a coin-toss on whether youíll land on your wheels or your ass.
Perhaps a graphics issue, but I had no sensation of speed. Sure, things were moving but I felt I was on a moped or mountain bike more than a powerful racing machine. Only when I moved up to the 500cc did the illusion of speed finally kick in. I realize this is pure arcade racing but you have to have some semblance of real world physics or the entire thing becomes a big joke.
Speaking of jokes, did I mention the trick system? 24 tricks walk into a bar and order a beer. ďWhatís up?Ē asks the bartender. ďNot muchĒ, replies Nac Nac. ďWeíre just waiting for a game where somebody can actually use us.Ē Seriously, the trick system in this game isnít really necessary since all you gain is nitro boost that you donít even need to win, but that doesnít excuse the fact that there is a trick system included and it is flawed to the point of being totally worthless.
Each of the 24 tricks is performed by pressing the Y or B button (or both) combined with a direction on the D-pad. The problem is the massive delay between the time you input the trick sequence and the start of the actual trick. Even on your best jump where you achieve some mad air you will be lucky to squeeze in the simplest single stunt Ė donít even think about a combo.
To help you get that extra bit of air you have the now-traditional preload system where you hold down the left trigger to compress the rear springs then launch off the edge of the ramp for extra air. The problem here lies in the fact that the camera does this crazy zoom (out) totally screwing up your depth and height perception resulting in frequent crashes. While you can easily ignore stunts in normal races those optional stunt exhibitions require frequent and massive amounts of tricks and combos.
Things donít get any better when we start to dissect the racer AI. The computer-controlled riders are all on their pre-programmed routes to the exclusion of all else, including common sense. They stick to their racing lines like a slot racer and will crash at the most peculiar times, usually just in time to let you slip past and win. Thereís little challenge to this game other than fighting the quirky physics and troublesome stunt system, which means you will blaze through the three-season career in a few hours.
Course design is creative and very well suited towards either Baja or circuit racing. There are plenty of stunt opportunities, which unfortunately all go to waste. The circuit races have an annoying habit of not always being clearly defined, which means you can get lost and automatically returned to the track. Baja races are just as confusing even though there are no defined courses. Instead, you follow an arrow that points the way to the next checkpoint, but there may not always be a path in that direction. This can lead to some dead ends and hasty backtracking.
While I havenít actually seen the PS2 version I canít imagine that there were any improvements made in the port to the Xbox. SX Superstar has some incredibly average graphics. The bikes and riders seem unnaturally compressed and skinny, there is no texture to the tracks like ruts, bump mapping, shadows, etc.
Special effects are all but forgotten. You get the occasional poof of dust coming off your rear tire but there is no chunky dirt getting kicked up by my knobby tires, water spray is represented by some white lines that V off your tire. The nicest things in the game are the skies and the lens flare effect.
The sound package consists of the standard dirt bike effect that sounds like a chainsaw and when the pack is racing together it sounds like an angry swarm of hornets. The voices coming over your answering machine range from annoying to terribly annoying.
I must give props to the awesome music selection including:
Thereís not a lot of substance in SX Superstar. The hyped career mode is pretty disappointing and when you filter out the annoying between-race home-life tasks (reading faxes and listening to messages) you only have three seasons of racing and about that many hours of gameplay. Even after you unlock everything there is little incentive to play the arcade mode and unless you have friends with low standards you probably wonít be able to experience the two-player mode. Donít worry; you arenít missing anything. Itís two-player only with no computer racers. Boring.
SX Superstar debuted at a budget price of $29, but I can think of plenty of Platinum titles that cost the same and will give you lots more enjoyment including lots of racing titles, even titles from Acclaim. Get Speed Kings if you want to race bikes or Burnout 2: Directorís Cut if you like cars and car crashes.
The Xbox certainly isnít hurting for racing titles so when a new one comes along it had better offer something the others donít have. In the case of SX Superstar the hook was simulating the life of an SX racer, but if reading faxes, listening to wrong numbers and staring at a picture of my ugly girlfriend is life, please kill me now.
Strip away the gimmick and you are left with a generic arcade racer with a poor physics model and terribly flawed trick system. I canít think of any reason you would want to buy or even rent this title. Even if you love racing and have played everything that is already out, skip this and replay your favorite or expand your gaming into a new genre or turn off your Xbox (gasp) and read a book.