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Moto GP

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.

Visual Impact Productions
Gameboy Advance

Rating: * * * *
Moto GP - video game reviews
Moto GP screen shots - click for closeup

April 21, 2003

Moto GP is a perfect throwback to one of the all-time great arcade racers, Sega's Hang-On. Hang-On and Outrun were really the games that set the standard for driving games, at least until the polygons showed up. I still think Yu Suzuki's games are a perfect example how to do things right. Moto GP has definitely learned from those lessons; the result is the fastest, most accessible racer I've seen in a long time.

There are a lot of driving games on the Advance, and I like many of them, but it seems as if every title has one fatal flaw that keeps it from greatness. Either the graphics are ugly, or it's hard to see the racetracks, or the framerate is choppy, or the collision detection is spotty, or the computer drivers are cheaters, or there just isn't anyone to race against. Most of the time, the steering is at fault; sometimes, it's downright awful. Software designers have to learn that all vehicles are not supposed to slide all over the place like they're driving on ice. Even the Advance version of F-Zero (a game I admire) has this problem.

Visual Impact Productions is one of the few studios to get this right. Racing motorcycles around the racetracks in Moto GP is never a chore. One never has to overcompensate for the fact that they are using a joypad and not a steering wheel. Some may call this "simple." I call it "getting the job done right." Realism is fine, but "realism" shouldn't mean driving vehicles that can't handle a simple turn without slipping and sliding and spinning out of control. These are videogames, after all; if you want realism, read Hemmingway. Put on Coltrane. Get married.

I don't mean to turn this into yet another rant from an aging gamer about the Way Things Used To Be, but this issue has come up in many of the professional reviews of Moto GP for many magazines and websites. They have their own point of view, and that's fine. I remember when the "prozines" had no point of view at all (conceding all to the advertisers). I simply remind my fellow critics that there's more to life than Gran Tourismo.

Back to Moto GP. This is a pure-blood arcade racer from the days when arcade games were kings. Included in the mix are 16 racetracks, including such standards as Suzuka and Sepang; the Suzuka course has been lurking about ever since Pole Position 2. Thank goodness the course is as accurate and challenging as any version to come before. Tracks curve and spin, dip and climb; again, a perfect progression from Hang-On (the game even captures the stripes off the side of the road). This game makes great strides to portray that sense of speed, and there are no unfair tricks anywhere. If (or should I say, when), you crash, it's for nobody fault but your own.

Of course, many of the racetracks are downright fiendish. The early ones are fairly easy, and I suspect this is where other reviews began to lose heart. If you stick with it, you'll be greeted with hairpin turns and vicious swerves that will punish you for driving full-throttle. As more bikes are unlocked, you will be able to drive faster, and you'll have to learn to use the brakes. There's a good balance there; what good is having different bikes when you're just going to take the fastest one?

Racing against a dozen or more bikes (all based on real drivers) can be a real thrill, especially if you make early mistakes and find yourself having to catch up. This is the one throwback to the arcades that I have mixed feelings about. Computer drivers all race at set speeds, much slower than yours. I'm fine with this when it works: your bike's top speed is up to 40 mph faster than all the drivers, but the computer's vehicles always drive at the same speed (even turns), and you start at the back of the pack. The easy difficulty is a virtual cakewalk because of this, and it would appear that this is yet another game to hold you by the hand. I was worried as I started a Gran Prix season on normal difficulty, but after the fourth race, I started getting beaten. Sometimes, badly. I've never been so happy to crash into a billboard in my life.

Still, next time, let's see some smarter drivers on the road, okay?

We all know, of course, this is all but practice, anyway. The whole point to handheld games is to play against your friends; ask anyone who owned an Atari Lynx, and watch their eyes gloss over as they chant names like "Warbirds" and "Checkered Flag." Moto GP offers four people to race together, which should be the perfect competition for anyone who wants something grittier than Mario Kart. And, of course, this game allows for the one thing that makes any racing game great: you can knock the other bikes around. Hitting another bike from the side won't crash him, but it will cause him to swerve for a moment, which sometimes leads to a head-on collision with that BMW billboard. Why more studios don't understand the fun in this is a mystery to me.

Visual Impact is a Paris-based developer responsible for a number of console and computer games, mostly for the European market. Moto GP is among their best. This title certainly shows their craft and dedication. How easy is it to put together a simplified version of a console game and call it a day? Actually creating something with depth deserves respect. I'm amazed at how bright and colorful everything in this game is; the variety in the landscapes, track details, the wonderful animation of your bike and the smooth sense of speed. Even the guitar-rock soundtrack, set in the Sammy Hagar tradition, fits like a glove. What would you expect from a game that plays homage to the great Sega racers? Goodness knows how catchy these songs are; I've even been tempted to learn to play them on my guitar. If you hear these riffs on a CD two years from now, you'll know where I found the inspiration.

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