Microsoft seems to be cornering the market on sports requiring that a perfectly good sports arena be filled with mud. First, it releases the surprisingly fun Monster Truck Madness series, and now it follows it up with this motocross simulator. Anyone who's ever seen a commercial for a Super Bowl of motocross will undoubtedly already have a pretty vivid image of the game in his mind: masked cyclists flying through the air at unbelievable heights, waving raised thumbs and legs at the wildly cheering audience, then landing (possibly in a heap) on the dirt track below. And that's pretty much what the game delivers.
Which is a compliment. With its multitude of modes and good terrain graphics, this is pretty much everything you could hope for in a motocross simulation, and then some.
Motocross Madness is really two games in one. Most of your options are for races - there are national races, supercross races, and the grueling Baja. The first two are typical multilap races in outdoor or indoor arenas. Though the game is by no means a serious sim, the races follow in the tradition of more realistic driving simulations. For instance, you really have little hope of doing well unless you've spent some time memorizing the various tracks.
The Baja races are very different. These marathons have you racing many laps through expansive outdoor environments - they aren't so much about speed as endurance. These are quite fun, as they take a great deal of time to complete, and the standings can change dramatically over the course of a single race.
In the race modes, understanding motorcycle mechanics comes in handy, as well, and you'll have to adjust shocks, engine, and gears if you want to hit peak performance in the different environments. And while Motocross Madness does provide preset values for these - as well as a number of assists - the only major problem with the game is that it doesn't give beginners any context or help in determining how to tweak the different elements.
But where the game really shines is in the stunt quarry. Each of the arenas for this mode is a series of sharp rises and valleys where you compete to successfully perform the most stunts in a predetermined period of time. This mode flaunts Motocross Madness' greatest feature: the excellent physics engine, which has just enough realism to make it believable and just enough exaggeration to make it fun. There's only one minor problem with this mode, which is that the stunts themselves are just a series of preset button combinations, and you gain more or fewer points depending on how long you hold them. It'd be great if there was room for a bit more freestyle action - but there's no denying the thrill of pulling off a few stunts in a single while you're careening through the air over the competition.
Add to this some solid graphics (which require a Direct3D-compatible accelerator), and relatively lag-free multiplayer racing over Microsoft's own Internet Gaming Zone, and there really isn't much to complain about. Motocross Madness is, quite simply, a great deal of fun with a lot to offer both the motorcycle racing fan who wants to test his mettle on the Baja and the action fan who just wants to pull some Barneys a few hundred feet in the air.