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MX vs. ATV Untamed (DS) artwork

MX vs. ATV Untamed (DS) review

"I wasn’t prepared for such a devastating trip through the portable chop-shop. I only managed to squeeze about four minutes of reckless fun before Untamed and its constricted tracks morphed into an exercise in repetition. There’s a fine line where a game stops being challenging and starts feeling like work."

I have caught my fair share of ridicule over the years after defending Rainbow Studio’s off-road games. According to some of my “open-minded” coworkers, MX bikes and ATVs are for illiterate hillbillies with confederate flags for curtains, and not city-kids like me. Maybe it’s the Appalachian moonshine in my family tree, but I love the spray of mud from fish-tailing corners, opening the throttle past the point of reason, and that slow-motion second of airborne freedom.

When I heard that Untamed was heading to the DS, I knew better than to expect the rolling environments, the competitive A.I., or the mud-slinging graphics of its bigger brother. Still, I wasn’t prepared for such a devastating trip through the portable chop-shop. I only managed to squeeze about four minutes of reckless fun before Untamed and its constricted tracks morphed into an exercise in repetition. There’s a fine line where a game stops being challenging and starts feeling like work.

I immediately jumped right into the race with Tournament mode. After choosing the MX bike over the ATV, I was graced with a small cast of professional riders including Ricky Carmichael (a.k.a. the one name I knew), and the choice between “Limited” and “Open,” but no discernable differences among any of the options. Limited sounded cooler. Three laps of breakneck turns and screaming jumps later, I crossed the finish line in first place. It was the amateur bracket after all. Satisfied with my moment of glory, I turned off the DS. Big mistake. The manual didn’t say there were three, cumulative races per cup.

Having a cup system is fine (assuming I know ahead of time), but riding away with gold is a Herculean feat thanks to one, inescapable routine – memorization. Motocross is all about rhythm. You have to know every jump, exactly how much speed to get, and when to shift your weight to stay in the lead. Screw up once and you’ll be crawling through the peaks and troughs of a section while your opponents blaze overhead. I rode some of the tracks a dozen times or more in Practice sessions before I got the hang of them, and then a few more times in Tournament mode until I came in first.

Practice makes perfect, but it still needs to be enjoyable. I can easily spend an hour practicing a single trick in skate. or a combo in Tekken, because the rewards are immediate. Within seconds I can incorporate my newfound maneuvers into my next battle or line. In Untamed, one particular jump at the end of the third track, and the end of the cup, gave me a serious migraine. Beating that jump required endless loops around the track until I had it dialed, plodding through the two preceding races to put practice into action, and failure. Back to square one.

The track layouts are now burned into the deepest reaches of my memory, but my grasp of the physics behind Untamed is shaky at best. Untamed is far too bouncy for my taste, like someone covered a giant trampoline with dirt. Whether blazing through whoops at top speed or rolling over a lip at full brake, I couldn’t stop bouncing. How was I supposed to keep a flowing rhythm when I couldn’t stay on the ground? The A.I. certainly didn’t share my problem. I’ve seen opponents hit massive jumps at full bore and slip down the other side without a moment of hangtime, saving them a precious second or two. After trying every conceivable combination of braking, accelerating, and weight-distribution, I have come to the conclusion that gravity hates me.

Perhaps I’m not cut out for the off-road world, but even if you have the skills I lack, Untamed’s appeal is exceptionally brief. Instead of expansive, outdoor environments, the DS version has 10 arena-based tracks spread over three cups. That’s not a bad number, but you can only mix and match so many jumps and obstacles before the Excitebike flashbacks settle in. If you get through all three cups, congratulations, because you get to do it again with the other vehicle. There is a very noticeable difference between the quickness of the MX bike and the stability of the ATV, but I couldn’t bring myself to learn the rhythm of every race a second time around.

The trick system was the one feature of Untamed that I truly enjoyed, and not surprisingly, the encyclopedic trick-list is at the forefront of the manual. My first trick, an Indian Air over an entire section, sparked a dumbfounded, Keanu-worthy “whoah.” Tricks can be tossed into your normal runs to get the crowd cheering, but the Stunt Challenges are made specifically for showing off your skills. Instead of laps, the only goal is to outclass your opponents in the air. The one downside is that the Stunt Challenges take place on the same old tracks.

Except for the A.I.’s occasional, tank-like ability to stay on the ground, nothing is necessarily broken in Untamed. Even my complaint about the physics can be chalked up to a matter of personal preference. Untamed failed to impress because rote memorization is not my idea of fun, even if it is 90% of the game. When I overcome a challenge in a game, I like to feel rewarded, not relieved.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (January 15, 2008)

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