Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Developer: Left Field Productions
Release Date: November 2, 2006
Dave Mirra was well on his way toward becoming a true contender in the extreme sports genre after the 2001 release of the sublime (for its time) Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2. Then Grand Theft Auto III happened. Acclaim Entertainment, sensing the oncoming wave of controversial (and often successful) games, opted to take the series in a totally new direction with BMX XXX. Mirra sued to have his name removed from the product, and for good reason; the game was both a critical and commercial flop and shall live on forever as the punchline to some truly amazing jokes.
When Acclaim folded in 2004, the Dave Mirra series was picked up by budget-game publisher Crave Entertainment, who subsequently re-released Freestyle BMX 2 for PlayStation 2 as a Greatest Hits title. Dave Mirra BMX Challenge represents the first new release in the series in four years, and with a retail price of $29.99, it considered by many to be a budget title. Along with the "budget" price comes a limited development budget – BMX Challenge features shoddy level design, a terribly flawed control scheme, and an extremely limited amount of content. Looking for a new punch line to those old jokes? Dave Mirra BMX Challenge might be it.
Left Field Productions has had a fair amount of experience with two-wheel racers in the past, developing the 2000 favorite Excitebike 64 and 2004's MTX: Mototrax. Now that the engines have been removed, it looks as though the development team was never taught how to use pedals. Dave Mirra BMX Challenge feels woefully incomplete, like a student project with a license slapped on at the last minute. On the rare occasions when it is not giving a how-to on sloppy game design, BMX Challenge is surprisingly vanilla – completely lacking in personality or style.
Dave Mirra BMX Challenge brings a new approach to the series. While half of the content revolves around the age-old concept of racking up points in a set amount of time, the other half is a simplistic bike racer that somewhat resembles Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. The back of the case claims "17 levels with 9 different environments," but there are just nine levels, period. This is clearly a case of deceptive advertising. Sure, you have to play through eight of the levels twice, but it is the exact same level, only with (presumably) more skillful opponents.
The real challenge in Dave Mirra BMX Challenge is not the difficulty, but actually trying to navigate the poorly designed levels. Extreme sports titles are typically constructed to allow for huge trick lines and should help gamers find a rhythm within the layered, endlessly trickable levels. BMX Challenge does no such thing, due to a number of glaring issues.
Rails to nowhere? Check! Many of the grindable handrails and ledges lead directly into walls, off of rooftops, or into the ocean. Worse yet, many of the objects on which you should be able to grind are merely part of the scenery. Going from a vert ramp to a grind represents a serious risk, as you may just crash into whatever it was that you were aiming to grind upon.
Crashing certainly is not relegated to botched grind attempts, though. On several occasions, I bailed for no reason at all, having hit some kind of invisible snag in the environment. Also, running into nearly anything in the levels will knock you off the bike, be it a jump into a picnic table or a light graze against the side of a wall. However, you can run into your opponents at will without consequence, and such a move will cause any affected competitor to ride backwards – seriously. It's the staggering realism that keeps me coming back to Dave Mirra BMX Challenge. Please note the sarcasm.
Aside from the bonus level, the eight main races in BMX Challenge are quite short, though you will spend four to six minutes on each. The first three laps of each race will send you on one fork in the road on each course, while the final three laps will send you on the other; in totality, however, each course only contains about a minute of unique content. Familiar concepts are explored within these levels, which feature such riveting titles as "School" and "Far East." Ultimately, the window dressing does little to differentiate these levels from one another, though the bonus "Compound" level offers a refreshing change of pace.
Nearly as bad as the level design is the control scheme, which eschews the tried-and-true style established by Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in 1999. Unlike Tony Hawk, in which the X button controls both crouching (accelerating) and the ability to ollie (jump), BMX Challenge maps those tasks to separate buttons. As such, the game lacks a "home button," which is essential for a game that emphasizes both speed and complexity. Pulling off a trick typically means releasing X, pressing the Square button (to jump) and then tapping either the Triangle or Circle button to initiate the actual trick.
How the game processes your trick commands is also suspect, as it will piggyback any commands you input instead of initiating the new trick immediately. If you press a trick button twice, the game will force you to pull off both moves before you land. However, if you hold the first trick for a couple of seconds, the other trick will start after you let go – which is when you are expecting to land. Dave Mirra BMX Challenge requires an absurd amount of precision, so much so that it directly impacts the average level of enjoyment. Between the poor controls and shaky level design, it can be extremely difficult to pull off a solid trick run.
Yet, for a game that features the word "challenge" in its title, BMX Challenge is shockingly easy. Races on the "Rookie" difficulty can often be completed with a 20-second lead, and I never placed below second on the "Pro" level. The same holds true throughout much of the Trick part of the game, though the final "Pro" levels require a stunning amount of points to complete. All in all, the career mode has about four hours of total gameplay, and there's little to go beyond that, and little reason to replay it a second time.
More disappointing than the lack of steady difficulty is the complete dearth of style or atmosphere. The game features no additional pro athletes beyond Mirra, no licensed gear, no real-life footage, and no licensed music tracks. Crave could have called this game "Extreme Bike Challenge" and avoided shelling out for the Mirra license. Aside from the occasional Slim Jim billboard, the environments are plain and generic, and draw distance issues pop up regularly. The framerate is thankfully steady for the most part, though you may notice choppiness when an opponent bails on-screen.
Dave Mirra BMX Challenge does feature a fair amount of multiplayer content, with five modes (including "Capture the Crown" and "Who's the Leader") and support for up to four players. However, with only Ad Hoc wireless play and a lack of Game Sharing, you may never have the opportunity to try out these modes. Besides, what kind of friend would you be if you convinced three of your buddies to pick up this game?
Even with its heap of flaws, Dave Mirra BMX Challenge is not an offensive title. I was able to play for an hour or more at a time without throwing my PSP or cursing the BMX gods. Frankly, the game doesn't try hard enough to really instigate a fierce level of frustration. BMX Challenge is not interested in style, quality, or progress. It feels like a lost project from the "me too" era of five years ago, when every other company was looking to break into the genre. Remember T.J. Lavin's Ultimate BMX from MTV Sports and THQ? Of course you don't; with luck, you won't remember Dave Mirra BMX Challenge in five years, either.
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