Kawasaki Fantasy Motocross is one of those rare games that goes beyond simply being bad or disappointing. In light of this, the fact that veteran motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki even chose to be involved with such an inferior project comes as a surprise. However, the fact that the developer, Canopy Games, was also behind 1999's forgettable Harley Davidson: Race Across America is no surprise at all. Offering virtually no redeeming qualities, Kawasaki Fantasy Motocross is one of the most frustrating arcade bike racing games to date.
Fantasy Motocross puts you in the role of a daredevil motocross rider whose sole motivation, it would seem, is to win races and thereby unlock the half dozen tracks that are unavailable at the start. The game offers no championship round, multi-event season, or alternate form of ongoing enticement. Nor does it let you win money and build a bank account for mechanical upgrades or bigger and better bikes. In truth, Fantasy Motocross is merely a loose assemblage of unrelated races and, as such, offers very little long-term incentive.
You'll begin by choosing a virtual rider. Unfortunately, the only difference between one rider and another is the color and pattern of his clothing, so choosing the dude named Elvis over the dude named Dude has very little significance. Next, you'll select from a 125cc, 250cc, or 500cc motorcycle and then head to the primitive garage facility to modify your tires, sprockets, pipes, and springs. Yet, once you're racing, a 125cc bike with a short track setup feels ridiculously similar to a 500cc bike with a long track setup. In other words, unless color schemes are really important to you, it really doesn't matter what options you choose before a race.
What does matter is your choice of race parameters. The game offers two distinct event types: race and freestyle. The former is a standard timed competition of one to seven laps, which involve as many as seven computer opponents. The latter puts you alone on a jump-filled segment of each circuit and asks that you perform as many aerial stunts as possible within an allotted time frame. The only prerequisite is that you've already unlocked the track and its corresponding trick section in race mode.
While the tricks and stunts of freestyle are mildly entertaining for a short period of time, race mode is clearly the heart of the game. Unfortunately, once you've run through even the first track a couple of times, you'll encounter a host of different problems. For starters, the various tracks are narrow and claustrophobic. You'll most often find yourself ricocheting back and forth between walls like an Olympic bobsledder.
Part of the problem is that collisions with scenery produce erratic results. Most often, you'll be propelled back onto the racing surface, but other times you'll be thrown viciously from your ride or simply be stopped in your tracks. In some instances, you may be allowed to pass right through the foreign object. There's really no telling what a specific obstacle will do until you come up against it.
On those occasions when the environment isn't completely clogged with barriers, the game's horrific physics model rears its head. In Fantasy Motocross, you never, ever feel like you're really aboard a motorcycle. You seem to hover on the road rather than grip it. You cannot powerslide--no matter how hard you try. Hitting the brakes merely spins you out. Being able to land a jump perpendicular to the racing surface doesn't seem to matter. It also doesn't help that the default controller configuration cannot be modified, thus forcing you to go with Canopy's predefined button and axes setup.
The computer drivers make no effort to avoid collisions and will barge right into you and sometimes right through you. As in many other arcade racing games, these drivers are designed to slow down if you get too far behind and speed up if you get too far ahead--that way, the races are close. Unfortunately, your opponents don't merely reduce their speed when you fall behind; they actually come to a complete stop. If you drive poorly enough, you'll inevitably happen upon an entire group of riders waiting patiently for you to arrive. Therefore, it really doesn't matter what you do in the early stages of the race, as long as you can burn past your immobile rivals and ride error-free over the last few hundred meters.
That's not the only unintentional cheat you have at your disposal. Canopy has built into Fantasy Motocross an instant-reset key that lets you plunk your bike back onto the track if you've become hung up on a particularly nasty bit of scenery. The penalty for using this reset key is that you're placed several meters behind the spot you departed. However, by repeatedly pressing the key instead of racing your bike, you can back your way around the entire course in record time. Do it long enough, and the game gives you credit for a victory and thus unlocks the next track.
The substandard 3D graphics engine used for the game struggles whenever faced with moderately complex scenes and thus continually slows the frame rate to an unplayable crawl even on a good system. Player perspectives are limited to just two--one is a first-person view, and the other is a completely impractical sideline "dynamic" camera view. There's no visible damage on any of the bikes, and visual effects, like translucent smoke or lens flares, are nowhere to be found.
Fantasy Motocross sounds no better than it looks. Whether you ride fast or slow, you hear the same series of generic sound loops--over and over again. Engine noises are muffled and hidden so deep in the mix that they're virtually unrecognizable. Somewhere in the distance, an announcer barks his predefined phraseology, but the words are indistinct.
The game does support multiplayer racing over a LAN or the Internet, although there's no built-in matchmaking utility--therefore, you're forced to type in the IP addresses of your playing partners. Ultimately, Kawasaki Fantasy Motocross is a thoroughly flawed game from beginning to end and proves once again that big-name licenses mean nothing by themselves.