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Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: GD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports


Graphics & Sound:

Progeny of Neversoft's Tony Hawk game engine, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX makes its debut on the Dreamcast. As you might expect, most of the stringy edges of the PlayStation graphics are gone, with slowdown reduced to almost nothing. Moving from 32- to 128-bit has done wonders for this game, so those Dreamcast owners who had a hard time waiting will be richly rewarded.

Most noticeable in this new release is a decrease in load times, compared to the PlayStation, which you'd expect, but some of the same quirks in the engine that were a drag before remain. Recovery time after falls suffers from labored animation, and even though I liked the realism initially, it wears thin after hours and hours of playing. Something like a choice for more simplified animation or quick recovery after minor falls would have been nice... Really, this may just be part of the engine that we can't work around. In the animation department, what you'll love is a load of sweet tricks and great, detailed riders. Each pro, including Mat, comes with custom tricks to balance out the stock moves, and has different attributes that affect riding style, getting air and landing. It all just looks better on Dreamcast, from static backgrounds to character models. The soundtrack kicks a lot of butt, as you would expect from looking at the list of bands with the likes of Pennywise, Bad Brains, B-52's, Jurassic 5, Fluke, OutKast and Ten Foot Pole.


Gameplay:

In most every way, this is a straight clone of the PS version from a gameplay angle. If you're like me, and associate eXtreme biking with bad falls in the parking lot, much of the fun in these games comes from extra options. Things like special modes, replay footage and the track editor. Starting with the editor, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX not only gives you a chance to build a park from scratch, it also lets you tear down and renovate the tracks included for play in the game. Little things like scenery can be added to build the perfect park on top of a preset environment, and then you can do major landscaping to adjust terrain and elevation. Once the park looks right, add in funboxes, rails, steps, pools...whatever. There's a built-in AI to the editor that helps adjust features so that your park is playable and makes sense from a 'trick perspective.' Once complete, your custom park is selectable along with the others for all but Career Mode.

Career Mode opens up most of the hidden options for Mat Hoffman and allows you to build up characters for competition by earning magazine covers that propel you toward fame and fortune. Once something is opened up here, it's available for play in the other single- or two-player modes, like H.O.R.S.E or Grafitti. As multiplayer goes, it would have been nice to see even 3- or 4-Player options available since Dreamcast supports them so easily from a hardware side. But, in keeping with what was available for PlayStation, only 1 or 2 players can go to town in the multiplayer modes. H.O.R.S.E (or whatever word you choose to play with) is just like the b-ball version we know and love. Playing with another person, pull off a trick and watch them fall all over themselves trying to copy it and avoid getting a letter. Grafitti is another 2-Player Mode, where you try to earn the most trick points by nailing phat combos on surfaces that get 'marked' with your color afterward. Thing is, the other rider can beat you by pulling a bigger trick on the same surface and reversing the color. This is a cool, fast-paced mode for sure. If you like things slow and simple, there's always trusty Free Ride, and if you just want to play against the clock, try Trick Attack.


Difficulty:

Any complaints on the basis of graphical glitches or slowdown have certainly been addressed by Mat Hoffman's move to DC. Although I'm biased personally toward the 'feel' of a PS controller, smoother control is evident in this release. More power and better graphics help make this more of what it was on PS, which was quality. Issues with slow response after falling doesn't seem worth knocking Mat down for, especially when you factor in the realism these games are going for. Let's face it, if you take off from a funbox and hit dirt after flying 30' in the air, it's going to hurt bigtime. I would probably need to catch my breath too... The final chink in Mat's armor, which was the handicap of slowdown in 2-Player Mode is gone now, so don't expect any break when you face off against your buddy in split-screen.

Game Mechanics:

If you know your way around a DC controller, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX should feel great. This game eschews the type of combo that requires strings of button pushing, but be ready to play those buttons like you're jamming on Tekken if you really want to earn the big points. Basic movement is analog stick or D-Pad, with fast spins tied to the right and left trigger. Tapping one of the four buttons produces a different effect, associated with certain types of tricks. A tap on (X) will launch Quick Tricks, best for short hops or manuals in between the real sweet spots in a level. (Y) is used for Grind or Stall tricks, of which there are many types. Again, these work best when connecting The Big Ones, launched with (B) or some 3-way combination while grabbing big air. (A) gets you speed or a launch from ramps, edges and rooftops, but you'll have to choreograph those 100,000 point routines on your own. Really, after seeing the eXteme game genre evolve, it's obvious that we've moved from a place where companies just wanted a 'gee whiz' effect by letting you control characters who looked a little like they were riding, skating or boarding to games that get down to the real essence of the sport. There is an artistry to how these BMX riders work and Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX doesn't miss the mark in all its many options, extras and whatnot. Really, the replays go a long way toward showing you where you might have missed a chance to string tricks together, and help troubleshoot everything about your riding style. Practice, practice, review and practice will make for a smooth ride and trick combos that earn huge points but feel like second nature. As with any analog control, if you choose analog, nailing the diagonals can be somewhat difficult. The analog stick on the DC doesn't feel quite as substantial as the PS controller's, so I often reverted to the D-Pad for simplicity and control. Depending on your preference, moving in analog is smoother with a higher learning curve and the D-Pad may be nice to learn on but makes stringing combos together a bear. Variety. The spice of life... Each rider can perform basic tricks like grinds and hops, but each has some stylistic difference that shows up when pulling off some combos, even when you're pushing the same buttons you used for the last guy. Special tricks are outlined in the manual, for easy learning. There's not a huge focus on character 'special' tricks, to the point that any one Pro stands out against the others, and earned attributes or leveling-up evens the playing field greatly. Still, depending on how you like to trick out, choosing a Pro with strong skills for a certain area may help get you started until you've had a chance to master the controls.

And, mastery will be a long time coming, as it should be for any great piece of gaming. Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX gives eXtreme fans all the bang their buck could buy and then some, since this is the way we wished things looked as we played this joint on PlayStation! Graphics' upgrades, more power and nothing fixed that wasn't broke. What else could you ask from a great 'port? Unless the thought of Sports games makes you sick to your stomach (and if that's the case, why in God's name did you read this much of the review!?) buy this game for your Dreamcast. You'll enjoy the music, the challenge and the depth of Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX whether you play solo or with a friend. And, if you didn't notice the not-so-fine print from Activision, Don't Try This At Home!


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Sega Dreamcast Kao The Kangaroo Sega Dreamcast Metropolis Street Racer

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated