Fun, but not without a few quad-ities.
Since Mario Kart 7’s release in late 2011, there's been no answer for the Blue Shell blues. Nothing is wrong with the available kart racers, but more variety in the genre is something I cry out for. Luckily, my hunger pangs for arcade racing were heard all the way down in Austin, Texas. Renegade Kid, the studio behind Mutant Mudds, has crafted a fun racer in ATV Wild Ride 3D, even if you still feel a few bumps along the way.
Released on the eShop, ATV Wild Ride 3D is a reworking of a late-to-market DS title. Players choose from a batch of riders, pick out the ATV that suits them best, and it's off to the races. You don’t have to worry about modifications, or stress over the type of brake pedal to equip or gasoline to fill up on. ATV Wild Ride 3D keeps things simple, a boon for anyone looking for a pick-up-and-play racer, and a great fit for a handheld
The controls are simple and executed well in game, with several different layouts made available. You use the A button to accelerate, B to brake, X to boost, and perform tricks with L and R button and a direction on the Circle or D-pad. Shorter tricks are assigned to L, those slightly longer to R, and those most difficult requiring a simultaneous press of both. Successful tricks yield Nitro; the more difficult the trick, the more of this boost you earn. Players can also increase the breadth of their jump by holding down on the Circle pad and pushing up at the summit of the jump. In practice, the game plays wonderfully, with the controls’ simplicity allowing you to perform admirably in an instant. Your concern won’t fall on them, but solely on taking the top spot.
The game’s single-player component is split into several categories: World Tour, Quick Race, Freestyle, and Time Trial. World Tour places you in six tournaments, each composed of four events. For each tournament, players participate against three other racers in two races, an elimination event (in which those in last place are thrown out after each lap), and a freestyle event (in which ranking is based off the points earned from tricks). Your placing in each event adds to determine your ranking in the tournament, which in turn unlocks new riders and vehicles.
While blending these events adds variety, Freestyle is a notable weak point. With the mode’s focus on tricks, placement in each race becomes worthless. When facing off against AI-controlled riders who perform ample tricks with ease, winning requires landing your own tricks. However, putting four tires on the ground isn't exactly necessary—I was often able to fling myself off ramps into the abyss to earn enough points to insure a first-place finish. Tricks complete when the animation does, and with three other riders barreling for that top spot, haphazardly earning everything you can becomes commonplace. The excitement of just barely nailing a trick is gone, and its absence lessens any entertainment value. The purpose of the track disappears when all you’re looking for is the next hill to throw yourself over.
Importantly, Wild Ride's racing is its strongest quality. The hills and valleys of each track reward risky behaviour, and provide many opportunities to earn Nitro. Turns can come quickly, requiring swift thinking and a good knowledge of the road ahead. Even so, the track design seems lacking on a technical level. Arrow signs that warn of upcoming turns aren’t a physical presence in the world, and you can pass through them. Since these signs appear as barriers on the edge of the track, it’s discouraging when you just pass through one, often into the void. Some jumps can be just as painful, sending you out of bounds just for driving over them at normal speed. While you could chalk up these instances to unfamiliarity with the courses, the computer-controlled racers often make the same error. If the AI can’t properly drive these courses, I’d argue that some changes should have been made.
Offline, the game is as addictive as you allow it to be. If chasing scores and clearing the fastest time is everything to you, there's a healthy amount of potential for that. However, the game still only has so much to offer. While it boasts 24 tracks, each is just a different take on a core set of six. The game’s unlockables aren’t going to keep you coming back, as a successful run through the entirety of the World Tour nets you all the bikes and riders it has to offer. The computer-controlled opponents don't keep things interesting either, often bunching up against troublesome turns and never learning from their mistakes.
Online play is where Wild Ride comes alive, though. Knowing the ins and outs of each track is crucial when up against friends and the unknown. Skill is most important, and since you earn ATVs with maxed-out attributes early, there's no reason for non-competitive play. In my online races, I never dealt with issues of lag, or dropped players and races. Expect to do a bit of communicating to set up races with friends, though. Ongoing races aren’t visible as a lobby, and the host needs to back out to the matchmaking process to usher in other friends or contestants. Hardly the end of the world, but still a roadblock to quick play. Along with the races, the game has an online leaderboard that tracks players worldwide. While the leaderboard is simple and doesn’t track much beyond your wins, it remains useful.
One peripheral part of the game I found not to my tastes was the soundtrack. All the music is performed by a single band (Swift Justice and the Hired Goons) and appears to be of the punk rock variety. While it would be unfair of me to say this is “bad” music, I found it repetitive, and eventually turned it off altogether.
ATV Wild Ride 3D is a nice change of pace from the other racers available on the 3DS. It places an emphasis on player skill and knowledge, and provides a playing field balanced to encourage learning. Its rough edges occasionally create a wilder experience than intended, but in the face of these blemishes, the game still stands as a worthwhile experience.