There’s nothing quite like the thrill of tearing up the dirt on a motocross bike. The thrill of the chase, the tight margins of corners which separate riders by barely hundredths of a second. It’s all high-stakes stuff.
It’s that same thrilling experience which you hope to get when you take to the track in a motocross video game. On that level, MXGP3 somewhat delivers. The reliance on inch-perfect cornering is present and correct, but having seen what the developers delivered with this game on other systems, the overall package feels a lame disappointment.
MXGP3 – The Official Motocross Videogame, to give it its full and needlessly long title, is a very stripped down edition on the Switch. Graphical textures have been greatly reduced, which is an alarm bell right from the off. The tracks feel static – if you focus on the rear tyre of the bike, it almost seems to blend in to the track, and there’s no sign of mud shooting all over the place as you’d expect from a developer who went out of their way to deliver those sorts of necessary finer details. There is basically no detail at all in the sky during the night time races and the presentation for the most part is pixelated and unclean. It looks like something that the Gamecube would have had no trouble pulling off, and for that reason the developers have to be given a “must do better”.
The controls are pretty self-explanatory, with buttons to accelerate and separate ones for the front and rear brakes. It just doesn’t feel like you have that pinpoint accuracy when taking the bends that is so important in a game like this. That could be down to the game’s low resolution, but at least it doesn’t take away from the suspense of not knowing who’s going to come out of a tight corner first. That being said, you can’t possibly finish as low down the rankings as you might have in other versions of the game, simply because it’s physically impossible as the developers have removed ten of the riders in each race. Do developers really have this little face in the power of the Switch’s hardware?
Despite the drop in the number of riders on the track, there’s nothing to really differentiate between the riders, with every one feeling and handling exactly the same. Even in the career mode, where you design your own rider to take on the real-life ones, your apparent newbie still feels just the same as the rest of them. The same is true for each of the bikes, despite being able to choose from a range of different manufacturers.
I usually don’t like to pull up the frame rate on games, instead preferring to focus on the actual content and gameplay first and foremost. But in a high-speed racing game such as this, cramming in as many frames per second as possible is paramount. Without it, as is the case here, you feel like you’re playing a video game, and you can’t lose yourself in the suspension of disbelief that you really are tearing around the track for too long. That continues when you can literally land on other riders’ heads after a jump and they’ll no-sell it like you’re made of paper. At least give us some sort of retirements…
There is a free mode which allows you to drive anywhere across the track whenever you like, but in a race situation, if you slightly miss any of the bumps, your rider will either be comically floored and cost you some valuable seconds, or will vanish and immediately reappear back in the correct place on the track, albeit with all of your momentum suddenly evaporated. That gives it a bit too much of a retro or arcade feel; maybe even a Mario Kart feel, where you expect Lakitu might appear out of nowhere and fish you out of the ditch. You’re given next to no chance to correct yourself – this vanishing and reappearing mechanic is seriously unforgiving.
There are lots of other features missing from the versions of this game on other systems – not least the absence of multiplayer. Yes, really. A racing title has shipped in physical form on the Switch without its multiplayer mode. There’s no online, either. Something that was standard practice even back as early as the days of the N64 has somehow fallen by the wayside here, and I hope this won’t be a continuing trend. Also missing from the versions on the other systems is the great track creator.
But fortunately, the most crucial element that the game needed is there – it is fun to tear up the track. Yes, the CPU may be on the rigged side, and one or two mess-ups will ruin your hopes across the rest of the three-lap race, but the satisfaction in pulling off a victory is immense. This is particularly helped by the slow-motion finish cam, which watches the riders sail into the air as part of a photo finish. At one stage I felt it might just be too close to call the winner, so to see my name at the top of the leaderboard at the end was a great thrill. Knocking over other riders is also a great enjoyment, but it’s pretty hard to do unless you refuse to take your finger off the accelerators at corners. And even then, they’re back up and going again within a second, so you’re never able to have a Dick Dastardley and Muttley celebration of your evil misdeeds.
The main reason you’d pick this up is to play MXGP3 on the go. Fortunately, the performance handheld and docked is largely the same, which is always a big plus as far as a Switch title is concerned. But MXGP3 leaves you wanting more, and not in a good way. You want more from the visuals, more racers on the track, more precision over your direction and more freedom to atone for your mistakes and to avoid the jarring disappear/reappear crash rescuing mechanic. And, without a doubt, it’s a given that games of this nature should have at least local multiplayer. More loving care is needed for MXGP4.
MXGP3 is far more bare bones than it ought to be. It sure does offer some thrills in its racing, but the scale-backs for the Switch version and particularly the loss of the multiplayer modes are impossible to forgive.