ATV Quad Frenzy for the Nintendo DS was almost a pleasant surprise. Almost. The game comes at the tail end of the year, a perfect time for the the not-so-great, low-profile games to trickle into the store unnoticed, stealthily positioned to hit the kiddies' stockings from the last-minute shopping parent/grandparent. This racing game is a solid off-road challenge that pushes cool 3D environments and physics on the Nintendo DS, but it's pretty clear that the development team spent more time on the racing engine than it did on the overall package. It really feels like the product was yanked out of the programmer's hands before the rest of the design could be implemented. Quad Desert Fury is fun until you realize that they left out one important element: a competent user interface.
Majesco's racing design, a product of Shockwave-centric development studio Skyworks Technology, is a much better tech demo than it is a full-fledged game production. The core of ATV Quad Frenzy is its engine that combines 3D elements with solid, smooth, and very competent voxel graphics. A "voxel" is a programming technique of putting height data on individual pixels, popularized on the PC until powerful 3D hardware made the technology unnecessary and, ultimately obsolete. But it's still a cool way to create outdoor mountain effects on systems with not a lot of performance under the hood, and here on the Nintendo DS the visuals come off pretty darn nice. There are some downsides, like the side effect of the landscape being drawn in a few hundred feet ahead of the player. But overall, the game moves smooth and enables the developers to create some realistically flowing terrain that works well for an off-road racing game.
The game itself isn't going to knock your socks off with a sense of speed, mostly because that's not the game's aim. The ATVs rarely crack 65 MPH in the race, so you're not going to get an adrenaline rush watching the scenery whoosh by. This racer more emphasizes the technical aspect of off-road racing, with the vehicles launching off jumps and bumps, and the player having to deal with a four wheel bike that has a habit of getting a little goofy due to the little whoopty-doos in the course. The slower pace and somewhat mushy controls are intended to give the bikes a sense of weight, but that's much of the intended challenge: to make players focus on their bike's bouncing and sliding, because one goof-up can cause a loss in the race.
Admittedly, though the game's strengths lie within the actual race, it still could use a bit of polish. It's a nice start for a racing game foundation, but it still needs a spit and polish for it to be considered a full-on success. ATV is missing the little details like dirt kicking up on the tires to make the bikes feel more like they're on the road. But it's also a little odd in its HUD display, which is all relegated to the lower screen; the game's directional indicator points the player in the direction he should be going in relation to the crude map instead of the direction he's facing in the 3D world. And in a racing game where the track's vaguely laid out with course flags, having this awkward directional indicator hurts more than helps. Especially when the game puts overturned vehicles back on the track in the same exact direction that the player was facing at the end of the wreck, regardless if it's in the completely opposite direction that the player needs to be going.
The game's handling is a little on the loose and wonky side, but they do their job to make the bike bounce around realistically. Your vehicle can easily tip over, sending your rider flying out onto the course in a clunky effect that's less "ragdoll physics" and more "action figure physics." Everything seems to move in slow motion when airborne, though, including the hastily implemented "trick" system that's ultimately unnecessary - you can pull off a trick in midair, but the interface to do so is pretty retarded (hit Select to choose a number that represents a stunt) and press A+B together to pull it off. There's no reward involved, and because your on-screen driver moves...in
motion...you'll more than likely land the vehicle before your driver gets back into his seat.
But where the game really fails, and it's a doozy: the game's progression and presentation isn't only broken, they're almost non-existent. ATV Quad Frenzy's user interface is so hastily thrown together it's a chore to navigate and understand. Sure, you can enter into a career mode, but good luck figuring out where your position is in the season, or where the next race will take place. It's easy to pick your driver and your vehicle, but the interface is so crappily laid out that you'll be cycling through the menus like a looping set of webpages until you realize that you can just hit start at any selection to begin the race. You'll just have to remember which racing option was selected before pressing select, because the game never tells you. And good luck figuring out if the cartridge saved your race in progress, or what Track 2 in the Arctic actually looks like, because the menus are rediculously uninformative.
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