Mad Riders – Impressions

Platform | Release Date
PSN, XBLA | May 29, 2012
Developed by Techland
Published by Ubisoft

The Pitch:

Perform aerial stunts, use your boost wisely, and open shortcuts to dominate your friends on 45 tracks in stunning tropical locations across the globe.

The game’s breathtaking speed and accessible gameplay allows players of all skills to instantly pick up on the fun, while the competitive multiplayer and customization options will keep them coming back.

Mad Riders delivers the ultimate off-road racing experience for thrill seekers and fans of wheel-to-wheel action!

I’m a sucker for arcade driving.

By this point, I’m sure I’ve spent entire months of my life drifting corners, mind disconnected, shaving seconds off my time. As my peripheral vision melts away, action becomes reaction. The other racers are meaningless; it’s just me against the course, one more time.

I preface this entire article with this because I feel it’s necessary to set expectations. I love arcade racing. I’m wantonly forgiving of arcade racers, so long as they’re able to scratch that itch. For these reasons, I enjoy Mad Riders. I can’t expect you’d do the same.

Though certainly not marketed as such, Mad Riders is in practice a spiritual successor to Techland’s previous ATV off-road racer Nail’d. Controls and mechanics work much the same, and both share the same styling crafted out of concrete, graffiti and mud. Bright bold primary colors sear your eyes, but the titular riders have undergone a shift to an almost cel-shaded look. It‘s visually impressive, providing further evidence that XBLA titles can look every bit as good as full retail releases.

But the flashy facade isn’t enough to obscure some truly significant issues. Track design seems almost schizophrenic at times, with tight corners leading to massive jumps that require high speeds to use effectively. There’s seemingly little delineation between what is and isn’t part of the course, and if a rider’s tire so much as grazes a single blade of grass of an area deemed “out-of-bounds”, he’s reset on the track. It’s sickening to be barreling along in an off-road vehicle and lose crucial time because you touched something the developer didn’t want you to touch. When you’re forced into this reset, you get a 3 second splash screen of the game’s logo. Not a great way to link the words Mad Riders and “good” in my brain. Techland should read up on Pavlov.

Mad Riders is at its best with a full boost gauge and a healthy dose of reckless abandon. If the track design keeps the latter in short supply, some stumbles in fundamental game design prevent the former. To gain boost you need to do stunts, drift corners, and literally jump through hoops. On wider corners, drifting slows you down considerably; so much so that you’re practically stopped before you’re able to earn any boost. On tighter corners the gauge fills faster, but precious few of these tight corners last long enough to fill the gauge either. There seems to be no balance between cornering and charging boost, as if two different team members were in charge of these mechanics, and they didn’t care to socialize with one another.

I’m largely able to put most of these issues aside while I’m playing because that rush is there. Somewhere beneath the blind curves, impromptu out-of-bounds areas, and gaudy floating hoops there’s a weighty sense of speed. Deep inside Mad Riders thrums the heart of a Chevy Big Block, even if it’s too cracked and dusty to ever be reliable. It’s hard to recommend, especially when Nail’d provides a comparable experience in the bargain bin, but those in search of some high-flying ATV action will find some mania among the missteps.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
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