You might have to go back a few years to prove it, but there was a time when the equation "Dave Mirra + video games = sweet" was true. A couple of excellent-playing Game Boy Advance Dave Mirra titles were the best of the bunch, but the Xbox and PlayStation 2 have both seen decent games starring the famed BMX biker. Unfortunately, Dave Mirra BMX Challenge for the PlayStation Portable is another in a line of more recent Mirra-themed games that simply aren't worth your time or money.
BMX Challenge features a couple of single-player modes, including exhibition, quickplay, and a career mode that is laughably short. Career mode is split between two series: race events and trick events. The race events are incredibly simple, and even after finishing the novice mode and graduating to the pro difficulty level, only the most uncoordinated player will come in at anything less than second place. With some dedication, you can finish both difficulty levels in around two hours, and then it's time to move on to the trick series.
To be fair, there is more challenge to be found in the career mode's trick events, if only because the tricks themselves are varied and the point totals you'll need to pass the later levels are demanding. Using various combinations of the directional pad and the PSP's circle and/or square buttons, you can pull off tricks such as tailwhips, turndowns, and flips, among many others. If you are close to a rail, you can press the square button to jump and the triangle button to grind on the rail, while you pay attention to an ever-wobbling balance meter. In fact, grinding is the easiest way to rack up trick points; one of the easiest exploits in the game is to quickly press the jump and grind buttons in succession to build up your trick-point multipliers and then grind for as long as you can. Because your balance meter resets each time you restart the grind, you can pass several trick levels in the game simply by grinding on rails. Trick multipliers don't stack up when you pull successive tricks on each end of a half-pipe, which is an odd design choice, so your best bet is to seek out the longest rail and get to grinding.
None of these events are helped by BMX Challenge's atrocious physics. For example, in race events you can flip your opponents around 180 degrees simply by touching them. Collision detection is not consistent, as you can drive through certain objects (such as bushes and trees) untouched, but ramming into other objects (such as café tables) topples you off your bike and costs you precious seconds in the timed trick events. While the basic movements of the bikes and riders are decent, the fact that you can grind around 90-degree corners or sharp hairpin turns at full speed--or warp directly onto a rail even if you aren't really on top of it--looks and feels ridiculous.
Keeping pace with the slapdash physics and lack of challenge is BMX Challenge's subpar environments. Most of the handful of levels found in the game are uninspired, with a few exceptions. Two of the best include a massive cargo ship, complete with a single, uninterrupted rail along the outside edge of the ship that is ideal for grinding and, thus, the easiest trick level found in the game, and a Far East-themed level, which has you racing your bike among traditional Japanese buildings and even underground. Other levels include a science museum, a school yard, and a touristy pier, and the best you can say about them is they're relatively large in size. In race events, you'll run the first few laps on one path and then take a different route, usually to an entirely new section of the level, for the second half of the race. In the more wide-open trick events, you have access to the entire level, with time to explore a bit and find the longest rails to grind on. Beyond the sometimes-interesting architecture of the buildings, jumps, and rails themselves, there's nothing to look at in the levels--no spectators enjoying your death-defying show or any other signs of life to be found. It raises the question: If a BMX biker performs a no-foot double backflip followed by a one-hand double-tailwhip 360 and there's nobody there to film it and put it on YouTube, did it really happen?
You can keep tabs on your progress in the career mode by visiting the awards and stats page, where you can check out the medals you've won in both race and trick events, as well as your top score for each. You can also look at specialized statistics such as longest grind and best combo, as well as gap awards and unlocked items, which you'll find strewn throughout the level. To unlock these items, you must ride over their icon in the levels, and many of the bike and clothing unlockables are located in difficult-to-reach areas of each level. While the bikes have different attributes, and thus are probably worth collecting, clothing and accessories don't offer anything other than more sartorial options for your created rider. And while there are a good number of riders to choose from, as well as more to unlock as you go, the customization options are so limited that you probably won't want to spend more than a few minutes checking them out.
BMX Challenge's soundtrack is an uninspiring mix of punk pop tunes and mediocre sound effects. In fact, when on the bike, there aren't a lot of sound effects at all beyond the occasional sound of your bike landing after a jump or the metal-on-metal grind when on rails, which is probably why the music is featured so prominently in the mix. One amusing effect is the sound of a rider plunging off the top of a building in the rooftops level. The clipped scream is worth a chuckle or two the first time you hear it--but not the 10th, and certainly not the 50th.
Extreme sports fans can point to the game's wireless ad hoc play and reduced price as possible reasons to pick this game up, but in the end, even those reasons aren't reason enough to pick up this thoroughly lifeless, monotonous, and all-too-short game. The biggest challenge in Dave Mirra BMX Challenge, it seems, is actually enjoying it.