SX Superstar Review (Xbox)
SX Superstar is the latest in Acclaim’s long line of “Jeremy McGrath” games…just without the McGrath. This year, Acclaim dumped the coverboy and went with a generic approach, presumably to show a new direction in the game. The McGrath series of games have long been known for their shoddy control and less depth than a kiddie pool. Unfortunately for SX Superstar (SX), the problems that hindered previous incarnations of McGrath are still very much alive. The control is slippery, the racing isn’t much fun until you progress a good length into the game, and Acclaim seemed to tie up most of their development time in some sort of lifestyle simulator. In their effort to take you from rookie amateur to professional champion, you are given an apartment, a crappy bike, and a fugly girlfriend (wart and all). Your job is to win races, which gets you more money, better bikes (all 10 of them..weeee), a bigger house, and hotter girls. The idea gets kudos for being somewhat innovative, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
The visuals in SX are largely hit and miss. The terrain looks like a textured set of building blocks…angular hills and straight edges abound. The bikes look decent enough, and there are a handful of nice effects (water droplets splashing the screen when you land in a creek…at least I think it was a creek. It looked like a blueish cluster of jello), but overall, nothing will knock your socks off. The riders get dirty as the race progresses, and there are some nice sky effects. However, when you’re talking about water drops and sky effects in a racing game, then the development team missed the mark. Players will always be focused on A) the vehicle they’re racing, and B) the venue they’re racing on. If those two things are purely average (as they are here), then the masses won’t get pulled into racing a motocross game. As I played through SX, I found areas on each track that I felt could have been done better. The “houses” you get are nicely rendered, but still have the cartoony effect that the rest of the game presents. The camera system, however, is what killed the graphics the most for me. You have a close-up chase camera (where you can’t see anything directly in front of you), a medium chase camera (where you don’t have a close enough view of your rider to really get a feel for what’s happening), and a first person camera (where you get completely disoriented and crash frequently). A user-definable camera angle would have been great…I’d take the close-up camera and elevate it a bit, so I could see what the heck I’m about to run into. Throw in a “big air cam”, where the camera pans back a mile when you launch into the air, and you have a recipe for camera disaster. If this title is going to win anybody over, it’s certainly not with the graphics or camera options.
Once again, it’s a motocross game. You have a lot of winding engines and some rock tunes. Sliding across gravel sounds exactly like sliding across mud, unfortunately. You’ll hear some answering machine messages that are fairly humorous (the first time through), but for the most part, you’re going to spend your time on the track. Engines, engines, and more engines. Normally I really get into turning off music and just listening to the motor in my racing games, but I just couldn’t do it with SX. The aural representation of a 2-stroke racing bike isn’t even close to what it could (and should) be. It honestly sounds like the development team took a single snippet of a 2-stroke engine, then changed the pitch a bit, and rehashed it for every bike. Crash sounds are repetitive as well (and you’ll be doing that a lot due to the controls), so don’t expect an award winning sound representation here. It is serviceable, nothing more.
Every other flaw in a racing game can be easily overlooked if the on-track action is up to snuff. Unfortunately for SX, for every good thing there is in the game, there is something equally detrimental holding it back. When you first start the game, you’re in a run-down shack of an apartment with a picture of a fat chick with a hairy mole on her face (your girlfriend) on your cockroach-covered end table. On the answering machine is an angry girl yelling at you to stay away from her mom, yadda yadda. If you to go your garage, you can see your beater bike, a 125cc gnat. You can’t get much more rock bottom than the scene they give you, so I guess they made their point. You start racing (after you sift through endless answering machine messages) soon enough, and you’ll be winning money in some of the most boring racing you’re likely to experience on your Xbox. Anybody who’s ever ridden a dirt bike will have to laugh. It feels like you’re trying to steer a 2-wheeled yacht through a canyon, not a nimble 125 featherweight bike. Dirt bikes have “snap” to them…you can jerk the bike around at will, and once you get some bite on a tire, you can break it loose and really have some fun. Dancing over the track surface is what dirt racing is all about, and you don’t get any of that feeling here…at least not early on. You have a slug of a bike, weighed down in 30 pounds of semi-hard concrete. If you manage to stay awake through the first series of races, you will probably have enough cash to buy one of the top bikes right away. After my first season, I almost had enough to buy the best bike in the game…so I raced a couple more runs, purchased the machine, and proceeded to beat the AI by almost a full minute on most tracks. The tradeoff is that the handling feels a bit better with the faster bikes. Your speed, combined with the ever-present “powerslide” and “preload” buttons really get you whipping around the track on the 500cc beasts.
But, once again, for every good thing the game does, it fails miserably at the same time. As you get to the premier bikes, and the speed picks up, the control scheme really drags it down. I have yet to see an Xbox motocross game (out of the whopping 2 or 3 of them) use the triggers for gas and brake. Why must I use the right analog stick, or A/X to stop and go? It’s so much more natural for me to use the triggers, and since the right trigger is set up to be powerslide, you have to do this nimble finger dance just to get through a corner successfully. Tap A/tap trigger/tap X/tap trigger/tap A/tap A. That’s just for a fairly tight turn. The reasoning? The powerslide doesn’t slide unless you’re on the gas or the brake. If you try to hold the powerslide, you’ll just slip across what seems to be ice, right on into a wall (and a crash). However, if you hold the slide button too long, the rear end will whip around, and you’ll start doing the concrete-sludge dance again as you struggle to get your bike pointed in the right direction to resume racing. What’s worse, the slide button doesn’t even seem to use the analog capability of the trigger…it seems to be on/off, nothing more. Trying to get your brain to vary the right analog stick’s throttle with the right trigger’s slide ability is downright hilarious. You’ll end up going full throttle when you meant to slide, or slide when you meant to go full throttle. It’s pure comedy to watch anybody try to race the better bikes. You end up just slowing down for turns and putting around the track. Your 500cc behemoth is so much faster than the AI riders (even on the professional circuit) that you really aren’t at risk of losing unless you crash a lot.
The answering machine/fax machine portion of the game (and the career upgrade mode itself) also leaves a lot to be desired. Your parents call from time to time to tell you how proud they are of you, and you’ll hear angry girlfriends chew you out, and new girlfriends praise you endlessly. The fax machine brings in new sponsorship offers, and other than looking around your pad, there isn’t a lot to do. It’s just a staging area for the loading screens getting to and from a race. The messages get repetitive, and you’ll find yourself skipping past them soon. And as you upgrade girlfriends, it’s really a shame that you can’t accept or decline getting a new one. It’s like being a robot…your rider makes these choices without you knowing what’s going on. You spend 2 races with one girl, then all of a sudden there’s a new girl there. By the professional circuit, you’re changing girlfriends like underwear. Very little interaction. It’s not like wanted a “Sims” type lifestyle simulator…far from it. But if they’re going to put something like this into a racing game, why half-ass it? Do it right. The racing is average at best, and multiplayer (split screen 2 player) is good for laughing at each other, not much else.
SX Superstar is an average arcade-style motocross game at best. At its worst, it’s a frustrating exercise in button manipulation that makes you want to take up knitting. The racing engine itself isn’t difficult, but getting the bike to go where you want is. The “lifestyle” aspect has absolutely no effect whatsoever on your racing career, so it ends up feeling like a waste of time when you’re going from one race to another. In the grand scheme of things, SX Superstar will be a forgotten game in the Xbox lineup. MX Superfly is a better racing game for the time being. Motocross Madness 2 (PC) is still the best MX game of all time, and creator Rainbow Studios (who also did the wonderful ATV Fury series on PS2) are currently hard at work on MX Unleashed, due out in Q1 2004 on the ‘box. I see no reason to recommend MX Superstar to anybody other than perverted teens who would get a kick out of actually having a girlfriend (even if it’s only in the game). The game is average, pure and simple…and even then, it’s on the lower end of the scale.