Monday, March 21, 2016

7 Greatest Motorcycle Games Ever Made

Let’s face it: getting on a motorcycle whilst the winter pummels the roads into a frosty submission isn’t something most Britons would consider. Many prefer the warmth and convenience of the car with its comfortable seating, controllable heating and your choice of entertainment. Luckily though, if you’re still yearning to hit the road on two wheels this month, there’s the option to simply stay indoors and enjoy careening around on two-wheels via a controller instead.

Motorcycling has a venerable history in video games from early arcade racers through to the growth of more simulation-style video games and although never a genre to burn brightly alongside Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, still carves its own niche with on-road and off-road games.

From classic arcade racers to stunt riding and significant simulators of the 2000s, there’s a wealth of retro racers alongside more modern serious racing experiences you can relive to feel the thrill of the road. What’s more, a significant number can be picked up cheap as chips, too, as the best seem to have been released between 1985 and 2006.

Here’s the biggest and best you need to find again…

7. Hang-On 1985 (Arcade/Sega Mega Drive)
Sega

Blistering speed! Road signs a-blur! Chasing the white lines of the road, weaving and darting with the agility of a frantic cat after a favourite toy; this is perhaps the finest and earliest incarnation of motorcycle street racing on the list, and was best enjoyed using the arcade cabinet. You could test your theoretical knee-skimming abilities without endangering your actual kneecaps by leaning on the ridiculously sublime and yet utterly loveable giant plastic motorbike.

The road would spaghetti itself all over the place and your eyes followed, occasionally roving over the screen to scan a passing advertisement. Then, blam, eradicated by an unseen passing car because you were too busy ogling the signage. Just like the risks of real life. Ne’er fear! Climb atop your bike once more, injury free, and race on towards that beautiful SEGA horizon.

This really should have made as a secret unlockable bonus in the equally lovely Outrun 2. Yu – if you’re reading – get in touch with SEGA and build it into the forthcoming Shenmue III post-haste.

6. Enduro Racer 1987 (Sega Master System)
SEGA

I must confess, until now, I’d never realised Enduro Racer was essentially Hang-On off-road. It’d not been bought in any of my local arcades as a child and so the only version I ever played was the rather cut down Master System version. Nevertheless, that version was all about straight lines, baby. Forget analogue sticks and precision cornering: Enduro Racer was simply, “Don’t mangle your body on a variety of off-track obstacles” and hit all of those wooden jumps for added fun.

The d-pad was integral to the experience. Tap it just the right number of times and it became something akin to Morse code. Left, left, right a touch. Now left again. Major left and hold it. Tap right. Right again. Shit! Crash.

I never made it past that “ancient Greek ruins strewn everywhere” stage but I didn’t mind dying trying.

5. Road Rash II 1992 (Sega Mega Drive)
SEGA

Pummel everyone. Kick their fairing and petrol tanks! Smack the side of that one’s helmet but mind you don’t give yourself a wrist injury. Quick! Snatch that truncheon slash night stick and BEAT THAT POLICEMAN! Ha ha! Take that, pig! I punch the air in victory and zoom around a swooping corner, soar up and over a blind bend at beyond 100 m.p.h. CAR! Crash, again.

Thank goodness those fellows in Road Rash didn’t actually suffer road rash because they wore titanium or whatever-proof racing suits. This was Electronic Arts’ 1992’s take on Super Hang-On. Mega Drive multiplayer was cracking with this gem of a game as you and your friends experimented with various meta-games (nine years prior to Halo) including how far away you could run from your stricken and downed motorcycle only to hold pedestrian races back to them, or tried to fly the farthest through the air, superhero-style, causing deliberate bonnet-based accidents at the top of blind hills in order to help propel you further over the peaks and valleys of Road Rash II’s roads.

A pumping soundtrack too, mainly because of the strangely memorable baritone of the Mega Drive’s audio chips. Speaking of chips, what was that yellow bit of the cartridge for?

4. Test Drive Unlimited 2006 (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
Eden Games

Ever wanted that sensation of being on a powerful bike without all the associated dangers and costs? Test Drive Unlimited (TDU) allowed riders to zip around Hawaiian mountain roads and rather excellent freeways (OK, motorways) with a rather marvellous first-person view, helpfully simulating ducking behind the windshield whist the wind itself assaulted your ears – or at least, as much as possible, via television speakers.

Notable for licensed bikes including brands like Ducati and Kawasaki, the main issue with TDU was meeting the criteria for unlocking and unleashing the beasts. In order to access the first showroom of the two-wheeled terrors, you would have to first visit all of the car dealerships one-by-one. This was generally fine except there are actually a good number of roads you simply don’t drive down at all unless you go for those long leisurely Sunday drives that the Test Drive series has always been known for and regularly used the map properly. It wasn’t even like Grand Theft Auto wherein you could refer to a printed version, sadly.

But the first-person view really did make all that effort worthwhile.

3. Grand Theft Auto: The Lost And The Damned 2009 (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto has always featured motorcycles, even during its 2D incarnations where minimal keyboard or PlayStation controller inputs had you literally rocketing through four-way junctions in no time. Stay on those yellow road markings and you could shift yourself from Estoria to Guernsey City in just minutes or better yet, seconds flat, because you’d slip between cars better than Trinity from that only decent scene in The Matrix Reloaded on the Ducati 996.

(Beware of the red motorbike though; you’ll nearly leave the screen with your blazing speed.)

Where The Lost and the Damned (TLAD) comes into all this was in its reduction of the fragile motorcycle mechanics GTA IV first had. The Houser brothers initially gave us a Liberty City where a glancing blow from a cab driver or swift lane change would mess you up whether travelling at 50 m.p.h. or just 10. With TLAD you could now have a decent speed side-on collision with another four-wheeled vehicle and not flail into the heavens. Instead, Niko or Johnny would grip the handlebars and plant their buttocks with such resolve that you could spin one-eighty or even two hundred and seventy degrees without falling off.

Oh and two closing words: stunt jumps.

2. Trials HD 2009 (Xbox 360)
Red Lynx

One of the early independent successes from the days of Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360, Trials mashed together several elements: roller coaster like obstacle courses, off-road bikes, stunt jumps and the physics engine of all those old freeware motorcycle stunt games you used to play on PC. You know, those ones where all the bike wheels were shaped like four-leaf clovers, the suspension was made by the same company supplying Inspector Gadget’s limbs and your task was to clamber over Mario-esque platforms.

Ferociously addictive in its own right before even adding in enticements for repeat play like friend and global leader boards and the promise of unlockable bikes for bigger, higher, faster play, Trials was superb. The kind of game you’d switch on to wind down with after work only for it to gobble up two unexpected but glorious hours. The unlock system worked on the Metroid system of striptease by showing the player something just out of reach with the measly 50cc bike but something you’d definitely reach if only you had the 150cc brute. One more go before bed, then!

Trials happily spawned sequels and continues onto the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

1. Tourist Trophy 2006 (PlayStation 2)
Polyphony Digital

Gran Turismo for bikes. That’s all.

In all seriousness that statement bears expansion. A serious motorcycling game featuring serious circuits for serious people. This off-shoot of the GT series produced by Polyphony Digial had some interesting mechanics going for it such as adjustable rider mechanics, separate front and rear braking control and racing suit selection, but it was also very raw and stripped down in places. No list of hundreds of motorbikes to choose from: there’s just over a hundred to pick from. No bike showrooms either but a challenge system for you to win bikes after license-like scenarios on familiar tracks.

For me, this game was simply working through to unlock the glorious MV Agusta F4-1000s from my childhood fantasies and literally spending all my time in time trial mode. Shame that the emotion engine within the PS2 couldn’t rekindle all of those aforementioned Road Rash Superman moments with PS2-era ragdoll physics. You didn’t even slide along the track as if you had a metal tea tray underneath your backside on a snow day like real MotoGP riders.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a racing game that has that rather decent “on the edge” feeling when you hit a kerb cornering at high speed and you’re twiddling the Dual Shock sticks with the same nudge-nudge tap-tap movements as Enduro Racer then Tourist Trophy is definitely a game for you.

Do you have a favourite from this list? Any more to suggest? Share your favourites below in the comments thread.

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