Humor is very difficult to pull off in games, especially when you need to balance it with good gameplay. Very few studios have gotten this right, and fewer still have been renowned for doing so. Twisted Pixel has churned out some truly fun titles, such as The Gunstringer and Ms. 'Splosion Man. It is also one of the few studios with an Xbox One launch title in the form of LocoCycle. Unfortunately, this effort turns out to be humorless, and the gameplay is mediocre.
The story is pretty standard, though it's briefly reminiscent of the "Short Circuit" movie. Somewhere in Nicaragua, weapons manufacturer Big Arms reveals its latest creation to interested military buyers: militarized motorcycles with firepower that outmatches anything on the market. One of those bikes, I.R.I.S., is hit with a bolt of lightning and becomes sentient. While being repaired in the garage, she notices a biker magazine and a TV ad talking about Freedom Ride, an event in Indiana. She feels she was destined to go there, so she takes off, dragging her mechanic Pablo — whose pant leg is caught in her axle — behind her.
From the opening cut scene, you immediately know LocoCycle is going for laughs. The developers seem to have redoubled their efforts for relying on live-action versus computer animated scenes. The opening sequence lasts for a good while, and more are present between the major chapters. The scenes either cater to stereotypes or feature the absurd, like S.P.I.K.E., I.R.I.S.' nemesis, eating ice cream. The scenes also try to go for a B-movie vibe but with better effects. For example, Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Pictures fame is dressed as a general of the newly formed Soviet Union. Audio is also obviously piped in some spots, like hearing a pack of wolves attack Pablo while it's obvious they're just licking his face.
The problem with these attempts at humor, aside from most of the jokes falling flat, is that most of the jokes simply run on for too long. The telling of jokes in every language while in the presence of world leaders is a great example of this. There's also the scene in a park where the developers at Big Arms and Big Science are discussing color schemes and decals for a new jet. The longest-running one, of course, is that I.R.I.S. can't understand the Spanish that Pablo is yelling, and everyone else seems to be blissfully unaware of his plight or his pleas for help. There are some laughs to be had due to the absurdity of the story and some of the dialogue and situations, but this is certainly the least humorous game Twisted Pixel has release since The Maw, a title that didn't aim for humor in the first place.
At first, the gameplay is quite similar to SpyHunter. You drive down a pre-determined path and blast away at enemy cars and trucks. Your guns have unlimited ammo but need to cool down every once in a while. You also have a turbo boost, and you're tasked with avoiding civilian traffic until you get a ramming upgrade. In typical Twisted Pixel fashion, I.R.I.S. can melee enemies. On the road, you have a front and rear melee, which uses both her wheels — and Pablo — to attack enemies. It can also be used to reflect some enemy projectiles, such as missiles, or as counter attacks to throw off foes who try to latch on to the bike. You can jump up and catch enemies in melee combos that are high enough to shame fighting games. The counterattack system is even similar to recent Batman games.
LocoCycle displays even more variety when it comes to the enemy roster and gameplay mechanics. Standard trucks and cars with gunmen are joined by jet skis, guys in jetpacks, motorcyclists, and speedboats. There are stranger foes, such as robots with buzz saw shields, scientists in giant electrified hamster balls, soldiers on rocket-powered boards, and even midgets with dynamite strapped to them. This doesn't take into account some of the bosses, like helicopters and S.P.I.K.E., all of which feature multi-stage fights. While the gameplay mostly sticks to the brawling and shooting with decent helpings of Quick Time Events, the remainder deviates wildly from side-scrolling shooter to pseudo light gun shooter and even a fighting game. You get the feeling that a number of genres and mechanics were thrown at a wall just to see what stuck. As a result, the game feels like it lost focus, but at least it's unpredictable and keeps you on your toes.
This sounds like a decent, if manic, approach to gameplay that is so silly it just might work. There are many problems, though. The first is repetition, and it occurs when slightly new sequences are introduced. For example, there's a sequence where I.R.I.S. breaks down just as a big rig is about to run them over. Pablo's instincts kick in, and you play a minigame where you need to follow directional controls and diagrams to repair the bike and get out of the way. The sequence works well, but you'll encounter it again, line for line, sequence for sequence, later in the game, and by that time, what was once novel becomes tired.
The second issue is with some of the sequences feeling dragged out. To a lesser extent, you'll see this with the midget bombing battles, since you repeat sequences twice to eliminate that particular enemy. Usually, you'll experience this from boss fights. In some cases, bosses introduce a new attack before ultimately combining everything into one last volley. Sometimes, fight sections repeat without any changes at all. With many small cut scenes in each fight and with the scenes being unskippable, these fights feel much longer than they are.
The other complaint stems from the title's overly simple approach to melee combat and counterattacks. Hitting the X button is all you need to pull off hundreds of combos, and the counterattack window is extremely generous. It gets to the point where the words to describe your combo level start to repeat.
If the simple and repetitive gameplay can inspire one positive, it would be that LocoCycle is mercifully short. You can easily beat the game in one afternoon, and since there isn't another difficulty level, there isn't much incentive to replay the campaign, especially since you can easily max out I.R.I.S.' levels and unlock all of the bonus films and concept art. Even the Achievements are easy to grab, and with some pretty high values attached to such a low number of tasks, this title is very tempting for those looking to add a quick 1,000 to their Gamerscore.
The title was originally pitched as an Xbox 360 game, and from a graphical standpoint, it certainly shows. The character models and texture work is fine, but it doesn't show anything that even hints at pushing the new hardware. The same goes for the particle effects and amount of on-screen activity, which all show up as being 360 capable but don't show off anything specific on the Xbox One. Even the frame rate, which is solid throughout, is locked in at 30fps instead of the expected 60fps, especially when you consider this new hardware is running last-generation code. Disappointment starts to set in when you notice the amount of pop-in occurring for faraway objects. If this were being played on the X360, it would have been decent, but on the more powerful XOne, this is quite disappointing.
The sound, on the other hand, fares much better. Despite the game's silly nature, the voice work is handled well. Even with some of the performances being over the top, it fits in with the characters and the world they inhabit, and it's certainly no worse than other vocal performances in video games. You'll hear lines being repeated in combat, though, so some of the tired jokes become even more worn-out when you hear them repeated in such a short time span. The effects are fine, though a bit muted from the constant dialogue between I.R.I.S. and Pablo. When they finally give in to silence, the effects become appropriately loud enough to enjoy. What really impresses is the music, which goes for a full orchestral soundtrack akin to a big-budget movie. Despite the lunacy in the game, the music is completely appropriate for each situation.
While LocoCycle is far from the worst game of the Xbox One launch, it certainly isn't the best. The humor isn't very funny, and the game can feel like a drag, especially the boss fights. If you can stand the cheesy dialogue, the voice work is good and the music is excellent, but the rest of the presentation doesn't hold up. If taken in short bursts, the gameplay is fine, and the title is short in completion time and the time it takes to nab Achievements. It's difficult to recommend at the original $20 asking price, but at its current $10 price point, it might be worthwhile if you have nothing else to play on the shiny new console.
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