Hate Nicolas Cage? Then this is the ghost rider for you.
In the end – surely the best three words you can start a review with – it was the ghosts that sold me on this game. Now, don’t get scared and think I’ve finally lost it – that happened at least three reviews ago – I’m talking about a specific in-game feature of Ubisoft’s MotoHeroz, created by Red Lynx Studios. An in-game feature that got under my skin, a feature that kept me coming back, and a feature I’ll tell you about later, naturally.
What we’ve got here is a trial racer from the people who brought us iOS owners our beloved Draw Race and way before that, Trials HD on the bigger consoles. With a resume’ like that, you’d expect this latest offering to be stellar, and with apologies to those of you get a twisted kind of pleasure from reading reviews where the game is awful (I know I do), that’s exactly what it is.
Race increasingly quirky off-road vehicles starting with a modestly uncommon dune buggy to the straight up wacky tank against the clock through 30 levels filled with ramps, corkscrews and crazy jumps as well as an assortment of power-ups that make you hover, jump higher and boost your speed. Go on, do it now. I’ll wait for you.
It’s all physics based, so where your first challenge is to overcome the imaginative level design in the fastest time possible, your second is to control your vehicle precisely. But as you may have guessed about a game with 1000 Heroz as a relative, said vehicle isn’t going to be equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes and Power Steering. Instead, in keeping with the theme, the handling can be described as ‘liberated’.
Translation: it’s sensitive, twitchy, and you’ll end up upside down more often than not. Sounds like my first driving lesson.
The game places a premium on accurate handling and negotiation of tracks, but you being a pale shadow of that Lewis Hamilton chap, are all about crossing the finish line as quickly as possible. This leads to the central tension of the game that makes it work so well – balancing skill with speed.
Forward and back buttons control your vehicle’s direction, and clockwise and anti-clockwise arrows enable you to flip in the air to realign yourself when you don’t like how you’re going to land. This is crucial in being able to clock up the best times. It also means you can’t just spam the accelerate button like I was trying to do. I certainly don’t normally partake in such acts of video game crudeness you understand. You know me, I’m a player of great skill. Regrettably one must try these things out to see how well the game is designed, otherwise you, the reader will be grossly uninformed. You can call me many a thing, but charge me not with being unsubtle. There’s an honest-to-goodness scientific method to what I’m doing here.
So yeah, smashing the forward button doesn’t work. I was forced to actually think and pay attention for once (I’m not paid enough to do it consistently). Levels are fairly short, so a misjudged landing, or your thumb being an eighth of a second tardy on the button, and you’re hard pressed to make up time before you have to start again.
Thankfully, starting again is something you can do almost instantly if you realise you’ve messed up, which is a feature I make great use of when writing reviews. A restart button allows you to begin the race again with zero delay. Cut to me spamming this button instead when it’s obvious I’m not going to beat the best time. What can I say? I’m a video game perfectionist.
Now we come to the excellent ghost feature, which is what I said to my wife right before we sat down to watch the film Paranormal Activity recently. It’s one thing racing against the clock, but it’s something different when you’re aware of the time to beat, and there’s a silhouette of the vehicle that earned that time racing alongside you, showing you just how pathetically far away from completing it you are. This is where my ego went into overdrive. Score for that terrible pun? I’d say 7/10.
See, when you flame out before the end of the track, or limp over the line five seconds later than the best time, you can always blame that massive jump that was placed sadistically in the middle of the level, or that Elephant armed with a machine gun that came out of nowhere (slight exaggeration). But when you have this ghost rider making it plain you could’ve finished with the best time if only you had enough skill, which basically amounts to him showing you up, then you’ve got no excuse.
But at least you can console yourself that you, along with everyone else playing the game are essentially battling against the CPU super-bike that doesn’t play fair right? Well, no actually, because the game also loads a second ghost rider from a bank of online opponents who have completed the course. These are real people, with real scores (although strangely the majority of people I ended up playing against were Japanese for some reason). Going up against these two show-offs gives the game a competitive element that makes it a whole lot more fun. No hiding now.
You gain up to three stars for completing each level and an increasing amount of coins that can be traded in at the shop to pimp your buggy with upgrades such as speed and power-up boost. Each subsequent level is locked till you earn enough stars and treasure chests filled with a massive payload of coins are hidden in each level. I love the way the upgrade shop asks you if you want to purchase more coins through an IAP when you tap on an upgrade you can’t afford, but the only option is ‘OK’. Read: I do not love this.
It’s a nice looking, well presented game, with sharp visuals that really pop out on the iPhone. The levels are especially nice to look at and are vibrant and full of colour.
Anyway, upon raising the volume, I was pleasantly surprised by the title screen music, which is at once both way too epic for a whimsical game such as this, and absolutely brilliant. It sounds like something from a sprawling sci-fi RPG rather than a wacky trials racer. Not that it matters too much, the rest of the music and sound effects are of a high quality, and give the game a Saturday morning cartoon feel.
As thorough as this review has been (yes it has actually) I do have to admit to totally bypassing one option in particular. While pausing the game it says ‘Have any friends? Why not create a friend league then? In options, you can create or join in a friend league!’ (I think it’s trying to tell me I can create a friend league. Just a hunch).
First of all, I take great offence in the game assuming I have friends. They’re so overrated. And secondly, who needs friends anyway? I’m having enough fun here with just me and the ghosts. I don’t know how you feel about that, but it’s enough for me.
MotoHeroz is out now as a universal app for $0.99. Get it on the