Comparisons between the new BMX game from Acclaim and Tony Hawk Pro Skater are inevitable. It seems that the format of the game is copied directly from Tony Hawk so one could say that it is good that Tony Hawk was released do that other companies could see how a good game should be made. On the other hand if nobody had made Tony Hawk then Dave Mirra would be hailed as a new and innovative game. However, as it is now, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX will just be seen as a copycat, a very well-made, fun copycat, but a copy nonetheless.
The major difference is obviously riding a bike instead of a skateboard. This is significant since it allows for many different kinds of tricks and moves. Each of the tricks can be performed with either a trick button or a hold button that when combined makes new tricks and combinations. There are over 1300 tricks available and a nice little list that checks off of the ones you have completed. There is also the option to grind or stall on just about any edge. Of course these tricks can be combined for big points and you are going to need to pull mad combos to complete the challenges. Just about anyone will be able to pick up a controller and pull of some cool moves but the advanced ones take a true skill. The only thing that I found a bit cheap is the way the stalls and grinds automatically suction to any close surface without any real positioning needed. Other than that you will find flips, no-handers, and other tricks brilliantly executed in great detail.
The gameplay progresses just like Tony Hawk and all of the other copycat games. There are various stages packed with ramps, fences, jumps, and other trick-oriented obstacles. You are then given 4 different challenges to complete on the course in a given amount of time. There are three different levels of difficulty on each course, the last being nearly impossible to complete. Upon completion new bikes, outfits (licensed brands like Adidas and No Fear), and secrets are unlocked. Though you are only given 1 of each at the start you will find that it is easy to rack up the extras, but tough to get everything, just like a game should be.
The levels themselves could have used a bit more diversity, but I guess there are only so many places that you can ride a bike. You will find most of your adventures occurring on dirt hills and manufactured ramps in backyards and abandoned lots. I guess this is meant to stay realistic to the courses that actual riders perform on, but I would have like to have seen a bit more creativity. So what if nobody ever bikes through city streets, or miniature golf courses. This is a game. I don’t think many bikers try to jump moving trains either but that is an objective in the first course.
There were some problems with the graphics and the sound in the game. Though the characters remain crisp and the collision detection is good for the most part, often the character will fall though the ground so that he completely disappears. This only happens on crashes and the like so it really does not affect gameplay but it looks a little weird. Also, since the characters can seem to bond to anything, you will find yourself riding sideways along some of the more shallow surfaces. This blatant defiance of gravity will cause the bikers to get stuck in the position and jitter for a while until they finally fall. The last complaint that I have has to do with the level design itself. On some parts it is so hilly and rocky that jumps happen at weird points. What may seem like a little just in the road can cause the bike to attempt a jump and immediately crash since there is not enough air to do a trick. I must stress that these flaws are extremely minor and did not happen frequently enough to take away from the enjoyment of the game. They were just little annoyances that became big when I need those precious seconds to complete my task.
What is a real annoyance is the music. Since the game is produced by Acclaim, the license wizards, there is a lot of great music from known bands like Sublime and the Deftones. And even though the songs are chopped up to fit into the 2 minute play time, it definitely beats a repetitive loop of manufactured music never heard before. The problem is that each stage is only given one song. There is no way to pick anything else you want to hear. So if you are going for the really hard challenges and you have to repeat a task 40 times to nail to you are going to have to shut off the sound if you want to keep your sanity intact. However you have to go all the way back to the main menu to do that. It seems like a way to make sure all of the songs get airtime, but it just makes you begin to hate the bands that they acquired.
The long and short of it is this: if you like Tony Hawk (and who doesn’t) then you will get some good play time out of Dave Mirra. It may not surpass the special place in your heart that you have reserved for the famous skater but you will be glad you purchased this. There is quite enough challenge and replay value to keep you occupied for a good long time and plenty of eye candy to give you cheap thrills. With the overload of snowboarding games and Tony Hawk wannabes it is nice to see a fresh sport emerge with an excellent representation. Now if I can just make it from the pool to the roof…
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