Racing games on the DS basically come in two varieties these days: Mario Kart DS and everything else. Nintendo's dual-screened handheld system hasn't really established itself as a successful racing platform; instead it's seen a number of mediocre high-speed games that don't really do anything all that interesting. Unfortunately, ATV Quad Frenzy, an off-road racing game from Majesco, doesn't even meet the middling standards of the DS's racing also-rans, and the end result is a game that should be completely avoided.
At its heart, ATV Quad Frenzy is an off-road racing game that has you piloting your ATV in races against three other computer-controlled opponents over a variety of terrain types, including country backroads, swampy bogs, and slick, snowy tracks. You can choose to run single races, hook up with friends in multiplayer races, or enter a season of sorts, where you can earn cash to buy better parts for your ATV. Sounds good in theory, right? Unfortunately, this game's problems are found in its execution.
For one thing, the sense of speed is practically nonexistent. It's understandable that an off-road racing game would feel slower than your typical street or sci-fi racer, but racing in ATV Quad Frenzy has such little speed and excitement that it borders on unplayable. Worse yet, the physics are all out of whack--your ATV seems to float in suspended slow motion during each jump you take. Bizarrely, crashes are commonplace, but they often either happen when you least expect it, or don't happen when you might expect them to. Getting bumped by an opponent is one of the easiest ways to topple off your ATV, for example, but hitting the ground midway through a big-air trick will not result in a big crash, as you might expect. After a bit of time with the game you'll come to understand its unrealistic quirks, and there is even a sense of satisfaction you'll have when nailing a powersliding turn. But, for the most part, ATV provides more frustration than fun.
One of the strangest aspects of ATV Quad Frenzy is its trick system. There's only one way to pull off a stunt in ATV, and that's by holding the A and B buttons down together. However, there are 12 tricks you can pull off. To choose which trick you wish to execute with the A and B buttons, you must press the select button to scroll through a numerical list of tricks. Wouldn't it have made more sense to mix in the trigger buttons (or even the X or Y buttons) to give you access to more tricks right away? As it stands, the trick system is clunky and incoherent, so much so that unless you pop open the game manual, you may not even realize that the other tricks are there in the first place.
Beyond a lack of speed and brain-dead computer-controlled opponents--who have no better track sense than the rocks and trees that line the virtual courses--ATV Quad Frenzy is hampered by one of the worst presentation setups we've seen in a long time. The main game menu is at once ugly and horrifically organized, forcing you to back up through entire sets of screens to get to the main menu when you want to change game modes or change ATVs, for example. You'll also have a tough time telling how far you've progressed in any mode, thanks to the horrible user interface. A game with gameplay this bad is problem enough, but forcing a user interface this impenetrable on gamers is just plain wrong.
Although ATV Quad Frenzy is no beauty-pageant winner in the graphics department, the ATV models themselves are bulky and solid looking, and some of the crash animations are fun to watch, even if they suffer from the same bogged down pace as the rest of the game. In fairness, the lackluster tempo doesn't seem to be a result of spotty frame rate--the game seems to move at a decent clip throughout--but rather because that's how fast the designers decided the ATVs should go. The textures in the environment are pixelated and repetitive, however, and there's some pretty egregious draw-in of the backgrounds, especially when you consider how small some of the tracks are. When it comes to sound, we liked the upbeat music, and the engine sounds of the ATVs themselves are serviceable, if mostly unremarkable.
Practically all of the things you've come to expect from arcade dirt racers are missing in ATV Quad Frenzy for the Nintendo DS, including the vaguest sense of speed, challenging AI, and any sense of danger. In their place is a sense of frustration resulting from sloppy game design, ugly physics, and a user interface that looks and feels like a first draft. There's no sense in losing your hard-earned cash on a game that's missing so much.