On a system that's pretty devoid of good racing games, the potential for greatness with MX vs. ATV Untamed is huge. Aside from games like Mario Kart DS and Race Driver: Create & Race, there's been very little for portable driving fans to dive into and enjoy while on the road. With this being the first MX vs. ATV effort on Nintendo platforms, we were expecting THQ to set the standard on their respective platforms, and while the DS version of Untamed still does just that, it's also showing its freshman-year jitters as well, as MX vs. ATV: Untamed nails the gameplay, but comes up short as far as lasting appeal goes.
If you're late to the MX party (or just on time, as far as DS goes) we'll give you a quick look back into the franchise's history. Originally releasing under the ATV: Offroad Fury name, THQ picked up what is now the MX vs. ATV franchise and has since been releasing games on a yearly basis for the most part. The franchise has always been big on two main aspects, focusing first on traditional rhythm-based racing, and teaming that with an over-the-top attitude, as players can pit tons of vehicles against each other, participate in crazy off-road events (including ski jumps, open world races, and free-roaming playgrounds of extreme racing goodness) and hook up with friends both online and off for competitive racing and stunt sessions. On Wii, the series benefits from sharing dev teams with the PS2 version, and thus has everything you'd expect in an updated MX vs. ATV title. On DS, however, THQ's own Tantalus games has been put in charge of starting the franchise over from scratch on Nintendo's portable, and as such the game isn't nearly as far along in its evolution as the other platforms.
on Nintendo DS.
Tantalus games is about as seasoned as a pocket dev team can be in the world of racing though ˇV having worked on pocket versions of Top Gear and ATV on GBA, and even MX vs. ATV on PSP - so it's no surprise that the core of MX vs. ATV is still quite enjoyable. You'll only be getting four racers on the track at once, but the overall feeling of rhythm racing is most certainly there. You've got gas, brake, clutch, and of course the ability to pre-load jumps, allowing you to perfectly take off and land massive gaps that have been specifically created within each track. The game's level design is hands-down the best part of the experience, as it's obvious that creators went into each of the game's ten courses and carved out gaps over and over until the final product felt perfect.
The first time you take on St. Paul or the extremely diverse Portland track you'll swear the design is flawed, but take your bike for a spin around the track a few times and you'll soon learn the tempo of the track, using pre-load when necessary, and laying off the air time during specific portions of the course. Despite any flaws we had with the game, the core racing kept pulling us in, as the DS version of MX vs. ATV delivers an extremely technical experience that most racing games won't dare to do. If you think the game is as simple as holding down A and pointing your bike or quad in the right direction, you're in for a very rude awakening.
What you'll quickly find though, is that while the track design and overall racing continues to push you as more and more hours are logged into the game, the overall depth isn't really there. You've got three main cups spanning the ten tracks, eight racers ˇV four MX, and four ATV ˇV and two overall modes including X-Cross Tournament (racing mode), and Stunt Challenge. Once you plow through each of the two tournaments with both MX and ATV classes on both amateur and pro settings, you've basically seen everything Untamed has to offer. You can always set up your own custom event using any rules, courses, and vehicles unlocked in the main game, but the experience is nearly identical to a Stunt Challenge or X- Cross race in the end. You won't get the crazy mini-games from the other platforms, every track features only four racers and indoor locales, but as long as the core gameplay hooks you, you're still in for a few solid hours of play.
At the gate...
and on the track.
On the multiplayer side of things, MX vs. ATV delivers to a certain extent. You won't find any online modes or Wi-Fi connectivity, but if you've got a few friends with the game the entire experience can be played locally with up to four players. You can host any of the three cups in both X-Cross and Stunt, race with MX, ATV, or both, or create a custom event with any track, mode, and lap count from one to ten. It's a huge investment to get four copies of the game in one place, but literally 100% of the package can be played multiplayer, and that's pretty impressive. Obviously we'd love to see online play and DS download for single card gaming (something that's been around since the GBA days, and needs to be in any multiplayer DS experience), but that'll have to wait for a potential sequel. As for the audio/visual offering, Untamed has some great model work and animation, but it's fairly simple overall. You'll get a few crowd pops now and then, teamed with some pretty generic guitar riffs and tones, but all in all it's a decent package; no more, no less.
Thereˇ¦s a lot to live up to when it comes to the MX vs. ATV name. The series has been around for years, each time evolving and adding more and more content to justify the next wave of titles. For Untamed, however, DS is getting a first run at portable MX vs. ATV action, so the package feels justifiably slim in comparison other platforms. The core gameplay is impressive though, embracing the more technical side of MX vs. ATV with rhythm racing and pure race/stunt competitions. If youˇ¦re looking for over-the-top races, open world competitions, and tons of playable vehicles, youˇ¦re going to need to look elsewhere. If you find simple pleasure in popping off huge 40ˇ¦ kickers, soaring over tabletop landing pads, and setting yourself up for a hairpin turn while over 100 feet in the air, however, MX vs. ATV is fun while it lasts. The core experience is there; now itˇ¦s time to crank up the intensity a few notches for next year.