Games have been attempting to emulate the sport of motocross since the days of Excitebike for the NES. Lately, a standard has formed in the genre, with just about every motocross game publisher delivering an arcadelike racer with some sim elements sprinkled on for good measure. MX 2002 Featuring Ricky Carmichael adheres to this standard by offering fast, easy-to-learn action and a floaty physics model for bigger jumps and tricks. The game also requires you to constantly think about when to pop your clutch and how much you should preload your suspension for each jump. The resulting product takes a little longer to get used to than your average motocross game, but the result is a deeper game that still has all the fun of a more arcadelike offering.
MX 2002 breaks down into a pretty standard mode set. Exhibition lets you race where you want, either alone or as a full race. Freestyle is the game's trick-based mode, where you ride around large levels and do tricks to earn points. The career mode lets you create a rider and race a standard race calendar while allowing you to unlock the rest of the game's many tracks as you progress. You'll start your career on slower 125cc bikes, but as you work up to the pro circuit, you'll start riding faster 250cc models. Finally, a challenge mode, hidden on the game's options menu, gives you a specific task to accomplish, such as getting a hole shot and keeping your lead throughout an entire race. As you complete the challenges, you'll unlock various video clips. The game has a collection of pro riders and lots of different bikes, though there's really no difference between any of the bikes and riders. You can also create your own rider for career mode, assigning him a name and number that will appear on the back of his shirt, as well as dressing him up in various sponsored clothing. Exhibition racing and freestyle competitions can also be played in a two-player split-screen mode. Some of the freestyle tracks have special events associated with them. For instance, the bus jump level gives you an ever-widening gap of school buses, and the goal is to see how wide of a gap you can jump. Later on in the career mode you'll encounter a high jump event, as well.
Races boil down to using a few of the game's different systems to your advantage. For starters, L1 lets you open up your clutch, and releasing it after a half second or so gives you a quick power burst. This is great for taking the early lead, and it also assists in getting back up to speed after a jump or tight turn. R2 and L2 are used to preload your suspension, which gives you bigger air on jumps. There are different levels of preloading, depending on how long you hold down the button before releasing and jumping. Since the idea is to land your jumps on a downward slope to quickly gain speed after landing, you really have to learn the tracks to know how much to preload for each one. The R1 button can be used to kick the tail end of your bike out to powerslide around turns. Stunts are executed by holding one of the preload buttons in midair and tapping out a button sequence on the face buttons. Simple tricks only require one button press, but others can require up to three. There are 28 different button-style tricks, which you can also combine with huge jumps or midair spinning and flipping to earn even more trick points. Overall, the game controls very well once you've gotten used to the preloading and clutch popping.
MX 2002 has some bright, colorful textures in it that really make it stand out, graphically. The trackside environments are nicely detailed and the dirt textures used for the tracks look great, even when you're up close and personal with one after a wreck. The riders animate well on tricks, though it would have been nice to see them move around a little more while on the bikes. The game has a very stable and fluid frame rate that never seems to hitch up or bog down, even when there are multiple racers onscreen. The game's track design is very solid. The game's real-life tracks were modeled using GPS satellite data to give them a very realistic feel.
Like any other game based on an ESPN2-style "extreme" sport, MX 2002 features a licensed soundtrack. This one contains music from Sum 41, Saliva, American Hi-Fi, Relative Ash, and Injected. As the game only features seven songs in all, you'd better get used to hearing Sum 41's recently successful single, Fat Lip, on a pretty regular basis. If one of the songs really gets on your nerves, you can simply remove it from the rotation on the game's sound options menu.
While most of the motocross games currently on the market seem to really preach to the choir of players who already know and love the sport, MX 2002 is good enough to attract those of you who aren't already onboard the motocross train without alienating fans of the real thing in the process. The career mode could have used a little more depth in the form of additional events, but in the end, the game controls very well, and there are more than enough tracks in both the standard and freestyle settings to keep you occupied.