You may remember the Motocross Madness series from the late '90s when it first appeared on the PC. Now, many years later Microsoft is releasing a reboot of sorts in the form of an Xbox Live Arcade avatar-based racing game that is bursting with charm and personality. If you have a soft spot for your cutesy Xbox Live persona and an affinity toward two-wheel racing games, Motocross Madness for XBLA is most certainly worth checking out.
Right off the bat, the game's inviting and light-hearted aesthetic had me intrigued. I typically shy away from racing games, but seeing my avatar perched on that bike, smiling gleefully at me as soon as I booted up the game, gave me a warm tingling sensation that I could not ignore. Mind you, I'm not obsessed with my Xbox Live avatar or anything (though my GR icon begs to differ), so I was shocked at how much this simple gimmick roped me in.
So I fired up the single player "Career" menu and was greeted with four different modes to choose from: Race, Rivals, Exploration, and Trick Session. By the way, there are also local split-screen and eight-player online options as well, which always are welcomed additions in my book. Naturally, I figured I'd get my feet wet with a standard race, which proved to be a blast.
The controls are tight and responsive, just what you'd expect from an arcade-y racer. There are coins littered throughout the track, which you can use later to purchase items—but I'll get to that in just a bit. You can also pull off various stunts by pushing one of the face buttons in tandem with a flick of the left joystick. Doing so felt surprisingly natural and helped to boost my "racing noob" ego.
Tricks will help fill up your boost meter and also rack up additional experience which aid in overall character progression to the next level. Leveling up allows you to access more of the game as well as upgrades for your bike. For example, both the Rivals and Trick Session modes are locked until you achieve a higher level. So not only does the leveling system give you a tangible sense of progress, but it's also attached to a reward system that is sure to keep you coming back for more.
If you're just looking to mess around in the environment, the aforemetioned Exploration mode will be right up your alley. In it, you're free to roam around on your bike, collect coins, find hidden goodies, and practice your tricks. It's a great way to just kick back and relax without the pressure of time constraints and other racers breathing down your neck.
Sadly, Motocross Madness only features three different locales for you to explore, and while each of them is drastically different (Egypt, Iceland, and Australia), I would have enjoyed a bit more variety. Each location has a total of three races each, bringing the grand total to only nine different tracks. Fortunately, the vast array of different game types, inclusion of multiplayer, and upgrade options keep things from getting stale.
Once you've amassed a decent amount of in-game cash and want to purchase a few things, you can head over to the "Garage," where new bikes, upgrades, and avatar outfits are just waiting to be picked up. The bike itself has several different components that can be improved, including the engine, gears, tires, shocks, and more. Your avatar's looks are customizable as well, with various helmets, gloves, and boots available. Needless to say, there's plenty to unlock and tweak to your liking.
If all that isn't enough, Motocross Madness also allows you to connect with your friends by forming a "Bike Club," where you can compare race times and try to outdo your friends' best efforts. The leaderboard system is wonderfully robust and will have you racing against your online pals' ghosts in an effort to beat their lowest times.
I won't beat around the bush: This avatar-centric racing game is no Mario Kart in terms of sheer value, but when considering its 800 MSP price point, the game's limited locales and tracks are easily forgivable. If you're looking for a fun, light-hearted racer that will give you countless hours of fun, I highly suggest you give Microsoft's arcade-y racer a look. At the very least, download the demo; you may very well find yourself hooked.