I grew up in the era where people cared a little more for monster trucks than they seem to now, and Bigfoot was the most well-known monster truck at the time. Monster truck rallies and wrestling are some of my favorite random things from the ages of five to 10. I still enjoy wrestling to a certain degree, but my enjoyment of watching giant trucks wreck other vehicles has certainly waned over the years.
Obviously — and you'll be especially aware of this if you live in the Midwest or Tri-State area — monster truck rallies still exist. There are a whole slew of new drivers and trucks making the rounds, and while they weren't all familiar to me when I started the game, there are some pretty cool designs for the different trucks if you take the time to watch the video from different events. They might not capture the sense of awe that I used to feel for this stuff when I was a kid, but watching giant trucks destroy things still can put a smile on my face.
It's a shame that this game can't. Monster Jam: Path of Destruction for the Nintendo DS puts you behind the wheel of a variety of current monster trucks, and it takes you across locations in the United States as you participate in a handful of events in different arenas. The idea is solid enough, but the execution is certainly lacking.
The first thing worth mentioning is that Monster Jam is particularly unattractive. Unlike the Nintendo 3DS, the DS isn't well known for its graphical prowess in 3-D games. Monster Jam doesn't really buck that trend, as the truck models are pretty ugly and blurry, and aside from different colors, it's kind of difficult to differentiate one from another. The arenas, which I'm sure share quite a few differences in design in real life, all look the same within the game. The courses on which you play will change, but the overall layout stays similar.
Another poorly executed feature comes from the sound department. The game opts for some voice work when you select a new arena, but it sounds awful coming from the DS speakers. It's very obnoxious every time it pipes up, but it also seems to kick in at random times. You can choose one arena and get nothing, but when you move to another arena, you're told the location and the name of the current champion for that stadium. It'll also repeat the same information every time you visit. Regardless of how bad it sounds, if the developers bothered to add this feature, they could have changed up the lines of dialogue a little bit. The other factor that makes the audio such a big detractor is the lame rock music. It sounds about as generic as you can get, aside from the rare licensed track like "Bad to the Bone" that might play when you begin an event. From what I can tell, the sound effects for each truck sound identical, and I'm sure that can't be accurate.
The actual gameplay doesn't fare much better. You begin by creating a monster truck, but you quickly gain access to actual vehicles on the monster truck rally scene. The only real plus here is that there is a pretty sizeable roster — 21 vehicles in all. From there, you'll start on the events, of which there's only a handful at the outset. Although you get to move around the United States to different locations, the actual events don't tend to vary that much.
You have a Freestyle mode, allowing you to pull off tricks in your truck of choice in an oval stadium field that has a few ramps and destructible objects. You compete for the best score possible and try to win a gold, silver or bronze medal. Then you have circuit races, where you race against AI-controlled trucks in a preset course. There's also Stadium Race, which creates a bracket that pits you against another truck on a short track; your goal is to finish first, and then you move on to the next racer.
Rounding out the rest of the events, there are Stunt Challenges, which give you specific tricks to perform within a specified time limit. There's also a Team Race mode, which pairs you with an AI-controlled vehicle in a race against another two-man team. Time Crunch has you going along a preset course and driving between gates in order to add a few seconds to the clock, and the truck with the best time wins. Then there's Gate Rush, which is similar in concept to Time Crunch, but the course is more open, like the Stunt Challenge events.
It sounds like a fair amount of game types, but when they're spread across 10 locations with five or six events apiece, it becomes awfully repetitive. It doesn't help that the game isn't that fun to play. There's some really touchy steering, so you'll find that you'll often oversteer on tight tracks that don't allow for a great deal of error. If you flip your truck, you're given the ability to turn the front and rear tires to re-orient yourself, but I could only rarely get this to work. It's also extremely easy to tilt yourself in the wrong direction once you're in the air; this is all right if you're doing tricks, but it's not so great if you're just trying to race.
Monster Jam incorporates a leveling system, so after finishing each event, you gain some experience, regardless of how you place. Leveling up unlocks more of the named trucks, along with truck upgrades to improve your ride. The upgrade system works fairly well, so when you visit your garage location to implement the upgrades, you can easily see the effects of the different changes. These aren't too specific, though, as they don't break it down by engine, transmission or tires. Instead, you get an image of your current truck on the top screen, and there's some artwork for different truck designs on the bottom screen. You can scroll between these options and see how the five different vehicle stats will change. The stats are divided into air balance, handling, nitro, strength and torque. When I tested out the different changes, it rarely felt like they made an impact. I got a slightly elongated nitro burst, but that was about it.
Overall, I felt that Monster Jam: Path of Destruction felt like a low-rent effort on the DS. I know Activision has published Monster Jam titles before, but this feels like a poor attempt at cashing in on a very niche sport. I can't suggest this to non-monster truck fans, as it does little to capture the excitement of an actual event. It's also not something that I'd suggest to hardcore fans because there's little about the sport that's done right here. It's a very simple racer with some lackluster design, awful visuals and an equally poor soundtrack. It'd be great to play an awesome monster truck game that could bring me back to my youth, but Monster Jam: Path of Destruction isn't it.
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