Mad Riders is an arcadey-as-hell ATV racer, full of stunts to pull off, boost bars to fill, corners to slide around and opponents to beat. It’s a simple game, one that aims to provide immediate fun rather than long-term depth: the first race is a pleasant surprise, and by the fifth race you’ll be convinced that you’ve made a smart purchase.
But a few hours into Mad Rider, the sense of familiarity that permeates the game starts to suffocate. It’s probably most reminiscent of underrated Wii launch title ‘Excite Truck’, but quite a bit looser and without that game’s more inventive mechanics, but there are elements pulled from all over the place. At one point, a deep longing to go back and replay Hydro Thunder Hurricane set in. But perhaps this isn’t the fairest way to approach Mad Riders, because despite the overwhelming sense that we’ve torn our way around its corners, conquered its jumps and coated our ATVs in its mud before, it’s still a lot of fun.
The single-player portion of the game takes you through eight tournaments, which involve a whole lot of standard races with the occasional time trial, stunt event, or ‘professional’ ghost challenge worked in. The PR promise of ’45 tracks’ is misleading, as Mad Riders has taken the ‘design a handful of intricate tracks and then open up/close off certain different sections’ route. This means that the designs are unique, but you’ll find yourself driving through the same areas over and over again. Most of the designs are pretty solid though, with multiple routes, massive jumps, fun shortcuts and huge corners to slide around. Some sections could certainly have been better designed – there are way too many jumps that send you flying off in the wrong direction almost by default, and when you’re going really fast the way forward is sometimes a bit unclear – but quite often things will click in a satisfying manner.
Mad Riders offers a moderate challenge at first, but the further you get in, the easier it seems to get. By the fifth of the eight tournaments we were regularly winning events by huge margins without racing particularly well, simply because I’d levelled up enough to unlock a ridiculous ATV. Shortcuts can be opened by collecting tokens on the track and activating them at the right time, which your AI opponents never do (although sometimes they’ll sneak through the shortcuts you’ve opened if they’re around at the right time), and there seems to be a curious rubber-banding in effect on some races where your opponents mysteriously do a really poor job in the same area of a track every time you race on it (although I’m not sure that’s intentional). That doesn’t mean that the races aren’t still fun, or that they never come down to the wire – I had several instances of last-second overtakes that were quite heartening, and the time trial levels are generally a little more difficult than the rest. The single-player mode is very enjoyable for the most part, but it’s a bit slighter and breezier than it first appears.
So surely Mad Riders is meant to be a party game, I thought, one that anyone can jump into after a few drinks and pick up immediately. But bizarrely Mad Riders doesn’t have any sort of split-screen mode, offering online play and system link only, which is a pretty severe omission for a game like this. Naturally there has been no one online in the pre-release period, but if previous downloadable arcade racing releases are any indicator you may want to wait and see what sales figures are like before committing.
Mad Riders has the feel of something whipped up between bigger projects to keep the teams at Techland energised. That’s not meant to be an insult, mind, as it feels like the sort of game that would have been fun to work on and design, which carries over into the experience of playing it. If you want cheap ATV thrills and your local EB doesn’t have any $5 copies of Pure left, this is a solid alternative.