About a year ago, Storm City Games and Beyond Reality Games released an off-road racing game for the Nintendo DS entitled ATV Quad Kings. To put it mildly, it was one of the more poorly received racing titles on a system that isn't exactly known for hosting a plethora of good racing games. Since then, both the publisher and developer have gone back to the drawing board to fix what they can in hopes of delivering a better ATV racing game, and the result is interesting. Armed with a license, Honda ATV Fever is the duo's latest attempt at bringing an off-road racer to the portable console. While a year may seem like plenty of time to make improvements to a portable title, spending some time with this game shows that little has changed.
The game is split into three different modes, and there is a bit of variation between them. The main mode is Championship mode, which has two different vehicle classes. Each circuit consists of four races and, much like kart games, each circuit is point-based. Placement on a race determines the number of points earned, and the player with the highest point total by the end of the circuit not only wins the championship but also unlocks better ATVs and more tracks.
Arcade mode, while taking the same tracks and vehicles from Championship mode, plays out differently. The goal is still to place higher than the competition through a series of courses, but there is a timer that counts down instead of up. Completing laps in the specified time period awards you with more time for the next lap, but failing to meet that quota ends your run. It's a nice throwback to older racing games, which used to employ this mechanic, and it adds some excitement to the racing. The last mode, Free Ride, is simply a practice mode where you can take any of the unlocked ATVs into unlocked tracks and practice to your heart's content.
There are some marked, positive improvements in Honda ATV Fever. ATVs now have stats, so choosing one in a race is more important than aesthetics. There is also a better sense of speed to each vehicle, especially when the turbo is activated. The trick system has been removed, so gaining turbo is based on jumps and slides alone. For completionists, the game also features an achievement system; everything you accomplish, from long jumps to highest speed, has some purpose, even if it doesn't affect the unlocking process for tracks and vehicles.
Despite these big improvements, Honda ATV Fever still has some residual issues from the previous game. ATVs still don't perform up to spec when driving off-course; they slow down dramatically instead of gradually or not at all. The physics system is still suspect, and while that means you'll never have a crash where the rider is flung from his vehicle, it also means that you'll encounter a dead stop when you are hit hard enough or hit a wall. You'll get hit often, as the AI is now ruthless; it tries to push you out of the way at every opportunity, and it also seems to be armed with rubber band coding that favors them over you. The biggest flaw, though, is the lack of multiplayer. Just like its predecessor, this title is strictly a solo affair. While you may find satisfaction in completing every course and gaining every achievement, the game has nothing else to offer once players reach that point.
Control-wise, the game isn't exactly precise. The button scheme is simple, with the A button being used for gas, B for brake, R for tight turning and L for turbo. The d-pad is used for all movement, while the touch-screen is only used during a race to switch between the course map and the speed/turbo gauge. The rest of the button functions are fine, but the d-pad feels a bit loose when going down straightaways and tightens up during turns. The result is that you never feel like you have full control over your ATV because you never know when you're over- or understeering. That lack of precision, coupled with the already difficult AI, doesn't do the game any favors in terms of endearing it to players.
Those who got a chance to play ATV Quad Kings could pick up this game and believe that they had picked up the older title by mistake. Although the track design may be different, it seems that everything else was lifted from the older game and placed in this one. The ATV designs and riders are fine, and while the skyline may look good, the rest of the terrain looks flat, so it's difficult to tell where there's a jump or change in elevation. The water effects look decent, but the rest of the scenery retains a flat, one-dimensional look. As with the previous title, the frame rate holds steady through all of this, and it's good to see that the addition of moving billboards and a faster speed doesn't hinder the graphical engine.
Like the graphics, the sound package could be switched with its predecessor, and no one would notice the difference. There are still no voices during the game, save for cheers and boos. The effect of the ATV motor still sounds like an endless droning instead of a real motor, and the completion of a lap is now accompanied by a loud air horn. Despite decent bumping effects, those two things alone would be enough to drive someone to turn down the music. Meanwhile, the music is primarily made up of generic rock and metal that you may have heard before, but it is generic enough to be considered harmless and forgettable.
In some respects, Honda ATV Fever is certainly a better title than ATV Quad Kings. The vehicles seem to drive a little faster, and there is more to take into account when selecting your ATV. However, it shares too many similarities with its sub-par predecessor. The controls still feel loose, the physics system remains off, it's too difficult early on to win any races, and there's still no multiplayer option. You shouldn't rent Honda ATV Fever unless you're really desperate for some ATV action on your NDS.
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