If a friend were to ask me how Mad Riders is, I’d say, “It’s all right.” Because I consider you a friend, I won’t lie to you. Mad Riders is an extremely average ATV racing game for XBLA, PSN, and PC.
It feels like developer Techland borrowed ideas from all sorts of racers, from Pure to Excitebots, but forgot to bring anything new to the table. The game is a laundry list of every genre cliché haphazardly thrown together into something competent and mildly entertaining but utterly generic.
As you may have guessed, you race ATVs across a variety of environments, ranging from jungle to beach to more jungle, unlocking better vehicles and new levels and drivers along the way. Boosts and shortcuts are the name of the game here, and both are primarily achieved by picking up power-ups scattered across the track. You can also earn boost by performing stunts and driving well, but you will always be aiming for the red boost power-ups to stay in the race. Similarly, there are multiple paths on every track, but the true shortcuts are unlocked by picking up the blue shortcut power-ups. These two power-ups represent the core of the game. There is no defining hook beyond that, but that also means Mad Riders is free of gimmicks. It’s a pure, straightforward racing game that relies on the thrill of racing and a decent amount of content at a value price point.
And it probably goes without saying, but Mad Riders is an arcade racer. It is not Forza for ATVs. Besides stunts and power-ups, you’ll be getting a lot of air, which is always fun. You can control your vehicle’s movement while in the air, pulling back on the left stick to make your jump longer, or pushing forward to land more quickly. Many of the boost power-ups are located in the air, and there are also target landing zones (which also add boost), so controlling your jumps is a crucial element of the game. You can perform stunts in the air, but they also rely on the left stick (while you hold down the A button), which takes away from controlling your jumps, so I mostly ignored them unless I was in a stunt event. The game doesn’t even bother to mention them until you’re a good chunk of the way into it.
Levels are spread across eight different areas including five events each. Even if you ignore the Off Road Elite variations on those tracks and the platinum track Zambia DLC, there are more tracks than we’ve ever been given in any Mario Kart game, all of which are full-priced retail releases. That amount of content at a measly $10 is the game’s strongest selling point. If you like the gameplay, you’re getting a lot at a good value. The level design is generally solid, although it can be hard to see forks in the road until it’s too late, and it’s easy to fly off the track if you approach jumps at a weird angle. Unfortunately, while there are more than 40 tracks, many of them lack enough personality to differentiate themselves from each other. Often, parts of tracks feel like they were copied and pasted from other tracks in the game.
Event types include all of the staples: standard race, stunt race, arena (checkpoint race), race the clock, and ghost challenges against the developers. There is nothing new here, and sadly, standard races seem to get neglected as you get deeper in the game. Some areas only have one standard race track, which is a disappointment because they’re the most fun. Race the clock events are the worst offenders, because they require level mastery and a near-perfect run to pass. Worse, you’re often forced to play through these events to earn enough stars to unlock the next area. There is a quick play mode, but you have to unlock the levels first by playing through the main tournament mode.
Multiplayer is available via system link or online, and it is just as basic and bare bones as the rest of the game’s general design. All of the event types are included. You can hop in a quick match, or search and make specific events in custom matches. Experience in multiplayer is separated from the single player tournament mode. The inclusion of multiplayer extends replay value solely based on how much you enjoy the game and/or whether there is a community for it. It’s a welcomed and assumed addition, but it does nothing special.
The production values point to the larger problem with the game. Mad Riders looks and feels like a budget retail title, which would have been a big deal a couple years ago, but with the advancements in XBLA’s library, it’s starting to become a moot point. More and more retail scale titles are popping up on XBLA, and the best XBLA games feel like truly special titles with top-notch production values that are just slightly more bite-sized than their retail counterparts.
Mad Riders goes the opposite route, and opts for the quantity over quality approach, expecting us to be impressed with the fact that it’s almost like a budget retail racing game. The graphics are bright and pleasant, and they don’t hurt your eyes, but if you look closely at the textures in the environment, they approach last-gen quality. The music is standard, generic background racing music noise. It will never even make an impression on you, which is a disappointment considering the amazing licensed soundtrack in the latest SSX. Yes, SSX was a full retail release, but its soundtrack made the game better, and even upcoming arcade releases like Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD at least make an effort.
To be clear, there aren’t any licensed songs in Mad Riders, while many XBLA releases feature great original scores. Hell, the menu music in Texas Hold Em or Full House Poker is more memorable than anything in Mad Riders. None of the music in Mad Riders is even catchy.
Despite my negativity, it’s not a bad game. At the end of the day, Mad Riders is cheap and generally fun, but it does nothing to stand out or justify its existence, which makes it hard to recommend to friends. You wouldn’t hate yourself for spending $10 on it, but there are better ways to spend your virtual money. And if you want an arcade racing game, there are superior retail options that have been out for a couple years and sell for even cheaper now. Mad Riders sticks too closely to the beaten path and ends up losing the race.
- Fun, straightforward arcade racing
- Lots of content for $10
- Looks and feels cheap
- Lack of innovation, generic as possible
3 / 5
Review copy was the XBLA version. Also available on PSN and PC.