Late last night, when I realized how much time I’d spent playing Motocross Madness, the first of the two “Games with Gold” offerings in August on Xbox LIVE, I couldn’t have been more surprised. While a friend and I had been remarking steadily for a few hours how much fun the simple interface, decent upgrade system, and increasingly difficult racetracks were, neither he nor I could have anticipated the time we’d spend in attempting to meet the game’s steadily-increasing challenge structure.
An arcade-style motorcycle racer that utilizes the player’s Xbox LIVE Avatar for the rider, Motocross Madness doesn’t offer much in the way of paradigm-altering gameplay for racers, but the game poses a good challenge and an immediate sense of accomplishment. A total of nine tracks (three each in three regions) become available to the player through the process of winning races and gaining experience via tricks, feats of skill, and a Mario Kart-like coin-collection minigame. By placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in a race, the player earns money to upgrade one of six bikes, and gains experience to level up, thereby unlocking new abilities and gear–mostly bike and avatar customization–on which he or she can spend excess money.
The races become increasingly difficult, making it necessary to replay the lower-level ones to amass cash and upgrades to make later-game races more manageable. If a straightforward race seems too bland, or has become too difficult for the time being, a player can participate in a Rival race, in which he or she races against three bots for the best time on one of the nine tracks.
There’s also an Explore mode that involves free-roam item collection and the chance to do huge tricks without the concern of winning a race, similar to older-style Tony Hawk skateboard games. Some of the advanced tricks, which require leveling your rider to unlock, are far more impressive-looking than difficult to perform, but they do offer the player some stylish payoff during the somewhat tedious XP and cash grinding that becomes necessary about midway through the game’s content, should the player wish to finish and win all nine races, in each of the game modes.
I haven’t spent a great deal of time with racing games of late, but the casual nature of Motocross Madness, its easy controls, straightforward upgrade system, and manageable balance of difficulty and skill set make it an accessible, if not remarkable, offering from Xbox LIVE at no cost. The fact that I could play as my Avatar–whose $5 Batman costume has never looked more excellent than soaring through the sky performing a trick called “Birds of Prey”–really added to game’s engagement, and while I can’t see myself playing Motocross Madness for a hundred hours, it certainly was a welcome surprise during a summer of limited releases. Motocross Madness is free for Xbox LIVE Gold Members between now and August 15th.
PRIORITY RATING: 7/10