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Monster Jam: CRUSH IT! review (PS4) 
Posted on February 18, 2017 at 05:20 PM.
Before we begin, I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of Monster Jam. It's not that I couldn't be, actually quite the opposite. As an old-school lover of all things WCW, NASCAR and PBR (the sport not the beer), I always figured that Monster Jam would eventually fall into my list of routine viewing habits, I just never got around to watching or going to an event.

But after playing Monster Jam: CRUSH IT!, I may need some more PBR (the beer not the sport).

Gamemill's Monster Jam: CRUSH IT! is a throwback budget title, a nod to those old-school "extreme vehicle" games that claimed so many quarters at the local arcade and ruled the console scene in the mid-90's. There's the obligatory butt-rock and techno soundtrack, there's even the Vince McMahon sound-alike who screams "EXTREEEME!" whenever you pull off an interesting maneuver. It's the PS1 game you and your buds would have played before you discovered Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, except that you couldn't play it together because there's no multi-player. That's right, this is a strictly single-player experience, there's no competition available online or on the couch, unless you count leaderboards. If you can get past this glaring omission there is some fun to be found, but not a whole lot.

Monster Jam: CRUSH IT!'s gameplay is separated into three unique modes, the first of which is Stadium Races. I assumed this mode emulates a real-life Monster Jam event, which makes it kinda neat and also the least arcade-ish of the three game modes. It's awesome to race in authentic venues such as Anaheim Stadium (actually it's Angel Stadium Of Anaheim but who need licenses?), of which there are several. The first thing I noticed however, is that while the trucks and their surrounding environs look really, really good, the physics and controls left a lot to be desired. The trucks feel floaty and the steering imprecise, almost the opposite of what I would expect from a mega-ton behemoth draped with spikes and zombie arms. In any case, winning every race in the circuit is never a difficult task as there's no AI difficulty setting and the default seems to be Super-Easy. Your sole option is to race against a very simple CPU opponent.

The other issue is the race lengths. Races average around 12-15 seconds, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it is a representation of the real-life sport. But Game Design 101 dictates that the playing experience should be not outpace loading times and menu navigation, and if it takes me 30 seconds to get ready to compete in a 15-second race, well, that's not good math.

The second gameplay mode is Stadium Freestyle, which is the mode with the most amount of potential left on the table. Driving a monster truck around an open stadium with tons of tricks at your disposal could have been a ton o' fun, except that the clumsy controls again detract from the experience. There were numerous times when I'd have a jump perfectly lined up, only to have the steering drift slightly left or right and throw me off course. Sure I'm a novice to the world of monster truck challenges, but I figured that flying off a dirt ramp doing mid-air flips and rolls 10 feet in the air should net you a ton of style points. As it turns out, I was able to generate just as many points by driving over smashed cars and doing donuts. Donuts which, by the way, drag the frame rate down to around 10-15fps.

But this isn't even the worst part of Stadium Freestyle. More often than not, I'd end up DQ'ed in a competition by (a) losing a wheel and rambling around aimlessly until I lost another; (b) running up against a wall and getting stuck; (c) flipping the car on its roof and lying there, helpless as a turtle on its shell. Safe to say none of these things provided the compelling sense of empowerment that a monster truck driving sim should provide, and it never felt as though there was a learning curve to hurdle, just plain ol' lousy handling. A mishap every now and then definitely would have added some diversity, but when it's happening on every other run? No fun at all.

The third mode is Hill Climb, which is by far the deepest and most entertaining experience this game has to offer. This is basically Trials meets Monster Jam, a match made in heaven. There are multiple locales and competitions, providing at least a couple of hours of arcade-style off-road entertainment. One positive is that the Trials games require no left or right steering, thereby removing a component which already did not work in this game's favor. Still, the game never quite manages to reach the "Holy $%^!" plateau of the Trials series.

If you're a Trophy hunter you're in luck, as Monster Jam: CRUSH IT! is by far the easiest Platinum I've attained since buying a PS3 way back when. I usually don't go for these types of things, but after unlocking Grave Digger (the only monster truck I recognized before playing, making this game an excellent teaching tool) I realized that I was already well on my way to achieving Platinum. It ended up taking me around three or four hours to button up all of the Trophies, it will take you less if you're a skilled player.

If you're the type who doesn't take his or her gaming too seriously and simply wants to toy around with monster trucks for an hour or two, Monster Jam: CRUSH IT! might scratch a much-needed itch. Harkening back to an era when every video game featured an unnecessary amount of BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS, this is the one I'd donate to my 8-year-old cousin because he accidentally dropped his WWF No Mercy cartridge into a cup of Mountain Dew Code Red. Dig a deep grave.
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