Review: Motocross Championship (Sega 32x)

 Let me start out by saying I like racing games, a lot. So my review of Motocross Championship is going to differ with just about everyone else's. Motocross Championship, like it's name implies, is a motocross bike racing game launching with Sega's 32x console back in November of 1994.

Graphically, I think this is a fine looking game. It feels very much like a Mode 7 game, with hills and bumps, instead of being flat. The racing surface has some very acceptable dirt sprites. The backgrounds finish up the track's look and feel with various mountain and stadium back drops. The developers definitely cheated a bit however, as the bottom third of the screen is taken up by an overlay showing your position, time, laps, and speed. There are also a black borders on the top and bottom of the screen, a pseudo wide screen look. In short, the actual racing takes up about half the screen.

The player sprites are pretty basic, with poor animation. When you go around turns, you can see your rear wheels kicking up dirt, which is a nice touch. But, the 32x is a 2D power house, as demonstrated by Tempo, Knuckles Chaotix, and Brutal: Above the Claw, so I expected a bit more oomph. The frame rate clips along fairly well. I would guess somewhere in the 20 frames per second neighborhood. And even with 5+ bikes on the screen, it never shudders. Over all, it looks better than a Genesis game, but never that impressive.

The sound in this game is strictly 16-bit. There is one song that loops endlessly on each track. Thankfully, the sound of the bikes engine drowns out the noise. When your bike crashes into something there is a generic crashing noise. And that is pretty much it. Like most 32x games, the sound is average at best.

The game features 2 modes, season and practice, supports up to two players, and has three difficulty levels (amateur, expert, and pro). There is also an option to disable the music. In season mode, you start of in a 125cc bike. You earn cash as you progress through the season. Finishing third or better allows you to progress through the next track. I found the amateur difficulty a mild challenge, but quite fun.

The controls of this game are what make Motocross Championship fun. Like modern motocross games, the key to the controls is to load and unload your suspension. You shift your weight to the front by holding up. This gives you a nice boost of speed on the straights and leading into the jumps. Holding back shifts the weight to the back, helping you land big jumps and getting you over the bumpy parts. The steering is also very direct and it is easy to get around turns and obstacles. The tracks are littered with oil spills (ala Mario Kart) which make you fall off your bike. So you need to memorize where the spills are on your first lap and avoid them on the next two. Each race is three laps long. When you hit everything just right, hitting every big jump, landing everything just right, missing the oil spills, is when the experience really comes together.

The game features an annoying password save feature, requiring you to write down a 10-11 digit code featuring letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols. In an age where gaming systems have gigabytes of storage, this is very annoying. I'm am glad we have passed this stage in gaming!

There are 12 tracks available in the game, with 4 different environments. There are indoor and outdoor stadiums, with the only difference between them being the different backgrounds. There are also 2 desert tracks, which feature a different colored road surface than the stadiums. There is a desert background and a canyon-like background. I wish there was some more variety in the tracks appearance. But as the game progresses, there are more and bigger jumps, and more twists and turns to navigate.

Each race lasts between three and seven minutes. After each race you win cash, which is pretty much useless. After the end of the season, whoever has the most cash wins the season. There is no point system, only cash. After finishing third or better on all 12 tracks, you are rewarded with a 250cc bike. I have not yet progressed through the next season with the faster bike, but it is pretty much the same experience only faster. It is easier to make it over multiple jumps with one leap due the increased speed, but you now have to let off the accelerator during the turns.

The artificial intelligence in the game is quite bad. The 11 AI drones on the track serve more as moving obstacles than real opponents. They swerve all over erratically, and run into you. This is one of the downsides to this game. When an AI drone hits you (or you hit them) you screech to a halt. At this point, 5 or more opponents go whizzing by, or worse, crash into you. Because the AI is bad, it is a pain in the ass to maneuver your way back to the wrong. Overall though, it really isn't worse than 16-bit driving AI of this era.

In summary, the game has poor sound and not enough variety. But it makes up for it with a smooth frame rate and tight controls that makes the game a blast to play. This game isn't rare at all, I recently picked up a mint copy with a manual for $4.00 at a local used game store. For racing fans, I strongly recommend it.

Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 4/10 
Gameplay - 8/10
Overall - 7/10 Great fun but notably lacking in a few areas