Handheld stunt bike fans may notice that Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX bears a striking resemblance to Activision's previous release, Road Champs BXS Stunt Biking. Rather than conjure up an entirely new game engine, developer HotGen Studios has taken Road Champs and retooled it for real-world professional BMX riding. The result is a game that's not only less generic, but also more challenging and rewarding.
Whereas Road Champs offers a single rider and a number of no-name courses and events, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX strives for realism in all areas. In all, there are eight actual professional riders, including Cory Nastazio, Dennis McCoy, Mike Escamilla, Joe Kowalski, Rick Thorne, Kevin Robinson, Simon Tabron, and--of course--Mat Hoffman himself. In addition to a stock set of nine tricks, each rider also has his own individual set of signature moves. Similar to in Road Champs, the eight locations and 40 events featured in Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX are fictional. However, all 16 of the combination vertical, dirt, and street courses contained within are based on real-life designs. On the technical side of things, a password backup keeps track of the medals, magazine covers, and bonuses you've earned.
If such were possible, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX is even easier to play than Road Champs is. Road Champs forces you earn trick abilities over time, while the majority of skills in Mat Hoffman are available from the get-go. There are more than 50 tricks to learn, combine, and master, as well as a few rider-specific secrets. To perform these acts of bravery, you need only hold the pad in the direction you wish to pedal and execute a pad/button combo during a jump or when you're near an object. HotGen has tightened the control response in Mat Hoffman to the extent that double- and triple-trick combinations are now possible. Additionally, rider interaction with the terrain and course obstacles is much more practical than it is in Road Champs, giving friction and timing their due as gameplay factors and leading to an overall greater feeling of realism and struggle. Finally, the game features 25 training exercises and 80 events, which ought to be enough to keep any BMX freak satisfied for a while.
Perhaps the nicest thing about Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX is that it doesn't actually look like Road Champs. Although the design is similar--3D environments composed of a number of 2D sections--the courses in Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX feature a much greater amount of visual detail and interaction than those found in Road Champs. Trees, dirt, sponsor logos, wooden planks, and all manner of such objects are more crisp and realistic this time out. Admittedly, there isn't much in the way of background animation, but this oversight is more than made up for by the sheer number of animation frames present in the game's biker sprites. Each action, be it pedaling, breaking, turning, or performing a trick has its own unique and fluid animation sequence.
Surrounding the action, catchy background music and a number of synthesized and digitized sound effects give Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX an energetic and competitive feel. With its singular course anthem, Road Champs sounds decent, but lacks auditory oomph. Thanks to a greater variety of background music, Mat Hoffman is a much more sublime experience.
All in all, Activision has taken a big risk by basing Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX on the game engine of a recent and similar title. However, unless you've played Road Champs BXS Stunt Biking to death, the sheer number of gameplay and style improvements present in Mat Hoffman ultimately make it the more satisfying of the two games. Furthermore, the inclusion of real-world riders and sponsorship logos doesn't hurt.