Motocross Mania 3 attempts to inject a dose of adrenaline into the traditional motocross racing genre by putting an emphasis on bike-to-bike combat and including a variety of partially open-ended courses. Unfortunately, these attempts are marred by a shoddy controls, buggy gameplay, and some of the worst character design we've seen this year, resulting in a game that can't even justify its $15 price tag.
The list of gameplay options in MM3 is fairly standard: championship, single race, time trial, as well as a handful of minigames, multiplayer gameplay for up two players, and an unlockable freestyle mode. You'll spend most of your time in MM3 locked in the championship mode, which comes in three difficulty levels (hardcore, which is the final level, can only be unlocked after completing the "medium" championship level). Typical of most championship modes, you will earn points in MM3 depending on your position in the race, with the ultimate goal of being the top point-earner in the series. An interesting twist lets you directly challenge other racers over the course of a season. If you best a racer in two out of three races, for example, you win his bike. Your home base in championship mode comes in the form of a little park where you can buy upgraded parts for your bike, new weapons, or better armor for your rider, or you can check out your game stats, switch bikes altogether, or head out to the next race. Being able to actually ride from spot to spot is a nice touch, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to upgrade your bike, provided you have the cash to do so.
So far, so good, right? Well, things don't start really getting ugly until tire meets dusty track. As a motocross game, MM3's unresponsive controls are further hampered by physics that would only make sense in Bizarro World. Take collisions, for example: In some sections of courses you'll feel as if you're scooting along in god mode, as you run directly through trees, rocket into impossibly high jumps, and carve through oncoming traffic as if the cars were made of marshmallows. You won't be allowed to get too comfortable with these little victories, however, because at any moment you're liable to crash for no apparent reason (even if you're riding in the middle of the road with no obstacles in sight). The same traffic you can blast through one moment will immediately become all too solid the next, meaning you'll never know just when it's safe to wind your way through cars or attempt to avoid them altogether. The atrociously annoying slow-motion rag-doll physics that accompany each crash look silly, drag on for too long, and become old virtually after the first time you see them.
The other half of the MM3 equation is rider combat. Not content with just creating a fast off-road racer, the developers tossed in the ability to whack your opponents with weapons ranging from baseball bats to cattle prods to (our personal favorite) severed bear claws attached to sticks, all of which do differing amounts of damage. Lashing out at your opponents is easy, as you can strike to the left or right by pressing the appropriate trigger. There are also special attacks on the ground and in the air that do a bit more damage to your opponents. Some of the air attacks--which are essentially stunts--have some cute animations, but we didn't find much use for them. The main problem with the combat system in MM3 is a complete lack of impact when using the weapons. The idea of taking a baseball bat to a fellow rider while traveling 90mph and watching him topple off his bike sounds like a great thing, and it probably could have been. In MM3, however, whipping a bat at a guy's head merely results in a slight decrease in his hit points and not much else. If you manage to take a guy completely out (by reducing his HP to zero), a nice little animation plays. Up until that point, though, you never feel the danger that's inherent in the combat.
Though the combat isn't implemented that well in MM3, you will be forced to use it in order to win races. In straight-ahead circuit races, you can win not only by crossing the finish line first, but also by taking out all the other riders on the track. Battle royal races, also featured in championship mode, aren't races at all, but are two-minute free-for-alls where the rider with the most KOs wins the match. These matches aren't particularly fun, however, and the overly large battle areas mean the field can spread out way too thin for effective combat. The battle royal feature is also present in MM3 as one of three minigames.
In terms of looks, MM3 is one of the uglier games we've seen in a while. Each track has an extremely hazy, unfocused look to it, which, when combined with the bland pastel color scheme, looks as if mall art maven Thomas Kinkade had a direct hand in the artistic direction of the game. To be fair, some of the tracks do feature some interesting design choices. One track in particular has you speeding through the mountains during a military drill, dodging jeeps and tanks, and all the while doing your best to pick up the power-ups that dot the track. Unfortunately, MM3's character designs don't exhibit much in the way of imagination and, to make things worse, they are poorly executed at that.
The soundtrack is rockingly straightforward. While the game claims support for custom soundtracks, it seems that you can only choose which of the game's soundtrack tunes to play and which to turn off. We couldn't find any way to incorporate the music on our Xbox into the game. As for in-game audio, the bikes sound fine, but the repetitive yelps of pain from your competitors during combat becomes annoying after just a few minutes.
MM3 is Xbox Live aware, and your top scores on a particular track will be automatically posted. Judging by the fact that we placed in the top 10 on every race we entered, there doesn't appear to be too much competition at this point, even though the game has been out for a few weeks now. That's where the online support ends, however, because there's no online racing to speak of.
For what it's worth, MM3 features one of the largest manuals we've ever seen for a budget title, especially a budget title of this type of nominal quality. If a bit more of the development budget had gone into the game's features instead of the manual that describes them, perhaps we could at least recommend this one. As it stands, Motocross Mania 3 is an extremely poor execution of a concept that might have been fun in different hands. Even at a $15 price tag, this game should be avoided.