Review: Supercross 3D (Jaguar)

Supercross 3D was released for the Atari Jaguar on December 20, 1995, and capped off the Jaguar's final holiday season. The game is an ambitious attempt to simulate the sport of Supercross with the use of a textured polygon engine. I came into Supercross 3D with extreme skepticism and very low expectations, as it is one of the lowest rated Atari Jaguar games there are. So is it really that bad?

Supercross 3D is a fairly full featured racing game, taking you through a simulated Supercross season through 14 different tracks/cities across the United States. You start on the west coast, and work your way counter clockwise around the country, ending in Washington sate. The cities include: San Jose, Anaheim, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Pontiac, Minneapolis, and Seattle.

The stadiums in each city are all the same, but the track layouts and dirt color are all different. The simplicity of a Supercross track lends itself well to a low polygon game, and seems to suit the Jaguar's hardware well. The tracks look good, featuring simple geometry and convincing dirt textures. Each stadium also feature real-time video board showing your race, which is an interesting touch for such an early 3D game.

The opponents, and your own rider, look decent as well. They are rendered using sprites, scale very well in the distance, and don't get pixelated when close to the screen. Additionally, the animations are spot on, and they interact well with the environment. It's a good blend of 2D sprites and 3D tracks.

However, the frame rate is pathetic. Absolutely horrendous. I would normally state this should have been held back for a few more months of tweaking, but Atari folded months later so it really doesn't matter. Still, the frame rate chugs between 4-6 frames per second during normal game play. It does improve if you are way out in the lead and the game isn't rendering your opponents, but it's still not very good.

Supercross 3D features absolutely no pop-up, but perhaps there could have been a better compromise to help out the frame rate. This is easily the biggest reason people hate this game.

Moving on, the controls are relatively straight forward. The B button is the accelerator, and the A button brakes. The C button is for tricks, but they don't really do anything to the game play. The up and down button leans your rider backwards and forwards, and is a key to the game. I also suspect this is often overlooked, much like Motocross Championship for the Sega 32x.

Leaning forward will gain you some extra speed in the straight section, and leaning backward right before leaping off a jump will get you some air. This is handy during during big jumps, as you can often jump over the next jump in line, to maintain speed. It's also essential during the whoops (bumpy parts).

What is frustrating is that you cannot go off track (don't leave the textures area) or you will crash, wasting precious seconds off your time. Often times, hitting a ramp at just the wrong angle sends you off track, or worse yet, an opponent bumping into you causing you to go off course. Then you get the lame crash animation and have to wait for the game to reset you. It would have been nice if the out of bounds area just slowed you down.

The low frame rate also occasionally messes you up as well, as the tight tracks do require some precision. With a better frame rate, I think the controls would have really shined here.

The main meat of the game is the tournament mode. You start the city with a heat race. If you finish in the top 3, you move into the semi-final. Finish in the top 3 and you move onto the final. The final determines how many points are awarded towards your season total. If you fail to place in the heat or semi-final race, you get a last chance race, where you need to finish in first or second, to move onto the next race. If you fail out, or complete the final race, you move onto the next city. Supercross 3D does have a save features, allowing you to save at any time and continue later.

The other modes include practice, which is what it sounds like, and a single race mode. Supercross 3D features five difficulty levels, Rookie, Rad, Pro (default), Tuff, and Ace. The default pro mode makes for a pretty balanced game.

The sound is where things start to fall apart for me. There is but one song, and it isn't terrible good. It's a weird rock track featuring what I can only describe as a synthesized organ with awkward drum beats. The sound effects are limited to a generic crash noise when you land your bike, and a brief engine revving noise now and again. What a shame.

So is Supercross 3D as bad as they say? No, not even close. The controls are good, some of the tracks flow very very well, and the tournament mode is fairly long. It leaves a bad first impression, but once you get past that, there is a decent game hiding under here.

Overall, Supercross is an extremely playable game. The bad frame rate, and the fact that going off track results in a crash is likely a turn-off for most gamers. But if you stick with it, the excellent controls and decent AI offer a decent challenge. Flawed for sure, but recommended for racing fans.

Game play 6/10 - Decent controls, lame crashing
Sound 2/10 - Crappy music, crappy effects
Graphics 3/10 - Great, simple, 3D graphics plagued by a terrible frame rate
Overall 4/10 - If you can look past the grit, a decent game lies beneath