The cycle continues.
It used to be that motorcycles were only ridden by big fat guys and the Hell's Angels. The minimum requirements included a beer belly and at least one naked lady tattooed to your arm. But these days, things are different.
With the increasing popularity of street bikes, motorcycles have become an icon for all the cool, spiky-haired guys on the block. The flashy suits, the bright colors and the extreme speed all seem to draw out the best attributes in even the geekiest guy.
And for all the geeks that get motion sickness at 25 mph, there's MotoGP 3. Namco's third installment of the popular motorcycle racing series is back on the PS2, offering up another season of two-wheeled flight. The past games have done well, but can Namco race away with another winner?
The five modes we've seen in the past - Arcade, Season, Challenge, Time Trial and Multiplayer - make another return with a new Legends mode thrown in for good measure. Arcade, Season, and Time Trial remain the same, but Multiplayer raises the stakes with the ability to go four-player split screen (multitap required, of course). Challenge mode is back in full force with 100 obstacles, tracks and opponents for you to overcome and plenty of goodies like pics, videos and other cool stuff to unlock along the way.
The new Legends mode offers players a chance to race against four of the crotch rocket gods. It's surprisingly easier than the other modes, but will provide enough of a challenge to test your skill.
I imagine some of you are wondering what the big deal is with the MotoGP games. Sure, you played Hang On back in the day, so how different could it be?
Well, just check out the huge amount of control that MotoGP 3 serves up. Besides being able to shift weight forward and backward for best performance on the corners, riders can also control brakes independently for those pesky situations where you actually have to slow down. Just using the rear brake helps greatly when drifting and just using the front will smooth out your slow down.
While these advanced controls bring a lot more realism to the track, they can end up being extremely frustrating for those of you accustomed to four wheels rather than two. Racing a bike is definitely not the same as racing a car, and you can't carelessly careen around corners and bounce off walls. The "Easy" difficulty setting in MotoGP 3 helps out a little by providing some brake and balance assistance and by making it virtually impossible to crash, but even then, players unused to the mechanics of bike racing will have a tough time learning how to keep up with the rest of the pack. If you're up for the challenge, though, learning how to ride is half the fun.
Experienced riders will appreciate the ability to tune bikes to their liking. Gear ratios, handling, braking and acceleration specs can be tweaked for maximum performance. There's even an option to adjust tire size between 16.5" and 17". It's not quite the same as being able to pick out an Akropovic Skorpion Stainless Header / Titanium Exhaust or Race Tech front suspension kit, but I guess it will do for now.
Another nice touch is the ability to do a few tricks. They're nothing like the things you see in those underground trick videos with guys doing reverse handstands at 80 mph, but it's nice to be able to show off a little. Unfortunately, they don't have any effect on the game whatsoever, unlike arcadey games like SSX.
As always, MotoGP 3 does a solid job in its visuals. You get a couple camera options, racers and bikes are finely detailed and the animations are smooth like butter. The replay and weather effects add realistic touches. Though there's some slowdown in the split-screen mode, this is almost expected from a high-speed racer. Overall, it's a very pretty game.
The sound is pretty inconspicuous, with a generic racing game soundtrack that never gets too loud or annoying. The motor sounds pretty burly, which is always good.
Part of the problem with MotoGP 3, though, is that many of the features remain unchanged from earlier versions. Since the vast majority of the game's tracks are found in real world locations, fans of the series will find most of the scenery all too familiar. And by familiar, I mean that some of the tracks have been in MotoGP since day one. Without the revamped control, some of you might even forget which version of GP you're playing. MotoGP 3 is all about refinement, which is swell, but how about something a little spicier next time?
If you're itching for some high-speed two-wheeled mania, MotoGP 3 will be happy to oblige. It's got a steep learning curve, but mastering the game's full control is definitely a rewarding experience. Just remember, happiness isn't around the corner- happiness is the corner.