By Stephane Roncada
Motocross video games are back in the buzz thanks to the recent release of MX vs. ATV Supercross, which thankfully revives THQ’s old MX vs. ATV series. We needed a fresh new game for our sport, so much thanks goes to Nordic Games for making it happen. Check out more on the game here.
With motocross games back in the news, we decided to look back at some of the best blasts from the past. We contacted the all-time expert, 2000 125 East Region Supercross Champion Stephane Roncada. RonRon is not only one of the most talented riders to ever throw a leg over; he’s also so into racing online that he turned game design into an actual career when his racing days ended. RonRon had a hand in the latest MX vs. ATV Supercross game, as well as several of the games on this countdown. But beyond his work, he’s just a gamer at heart—you’ll surely agree with a lot of his ideas here. Now go read, and then go play!
I created this list using the following rules to help me choose the top ten:
- Fun Factor: How much fun I had playing the game.
- Impact: What the game meant to me and how it impacted future MX games.
- Hours Played: How much time I spent playing the game.
- Features: What the game did better or worse than others, or added to the experience.
- Graphics: How good the game looked, mostly against other games from the same time frame.
- Played It: I only used games I actually played, so if your favorite MX game isn’t on this list, it might be because I never played it.
Of course I understand that Excitebike or Supercross Circuit look like dog poopoo compared to new games like Alive or MXGP, but good graphics don’t make good games; they’re just the cherry on the sundae.
10. 2XL Supercross
Released: April 1, 2009
Platform: iPhone/iPad, Android
I wasn’t sure if 2XL Supercross had a place in the top ten best MX games list until I realized it was the first fully 3-D MX game on mobile devices, and I still hear to this day, “Man, my kid and I love this game. We play it every time we get a chance on my phone. It’s so much fun!” The game is fun, and was kind of revolutionary for the time. It looked pretty good for being on a mobile phone, especially back then when the iPhone and Android devices weren’t as powerful as they are nowadays. Supercross in the palm of your hands! And, as a bonus, I was one of the artists on that game and created many of the tracks.
9. Mad Skills Motocross 2
Released: February 20, 2014
Platform: iPhone/iPad, Android
Excitebike, but with much better physics and graphics! The only thing missing is a track editor, but the developers release new tracks so often that people wouldn’t have time to make their own anyway. Mad Skills Motocross 2 is like MX heroin, because apart from being super-fun to play thanks to the great physics, it’s also on your mobile phone, which you never go anywhere without. Its predecessor, Mad Skills Motocross, was a huge success, and I don’t know anyone in the MX industry who hasn’t played it. There are many 2-D side-scrolling MX games on iPhone and Android devices, but the Mad Skills games are by far the best. The JAM tournaments in Mad Skills Motocross 2 are a blast with two new tracks released every week—for free. Yes, you don’t have to pay for those. You only pay for extra stuff, like racing against three friends at the same time instead of one, for example, and I encourage you to do so and support this game. You should support any MX game so that more MX games can see the light of day. But this one is really good. Now go ride those wheelies!
Released: March 28, 2014
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Probably one of the best looking motocross games on the market, thanks in part to their great “Photo Mode,” where you can freeze the game and play paparazzi by snapping amazing-looking screenshots of the action. I say that because the game itself, although not bad to look at, isn’t as polished as the screenshots make it out to be. When you go into “Photo Mode,” the game switches to a “better” version since frame rate (how smooth the game plays) doesn’t matter in this mode. They turn on all the eye candy, such as depth of field, which blurs the backgrounds and makes the game look amazing! Snapping photos of your rider in action is super fun in MXGP, and I have yet to see a game do this as well as they did. The physics in MXGP are completely different than what you are used to with the MX vs. ATV series. Where MVA is focused on “Rhythm Racing,” MXGP is focused on “Turns and Power sliding.” There is no rhythm here, jumping looks and feels weird, the scrubs and whips look exactly the same since they are an animation that plays every time you do one, and since the game focuses on the GPs, there are no supercross tracks, only outdoor national tracks. The fun part in MXGP comes in the form of braking and turning, not jumping. At first, I wasn’t having much fun playing the game, and I was crashing way too often, but I kept playing anyways. The game gets fun when you start flowing and taking turns faster and faster. I also think the first-person camera does a great job; I love playing the game from that view. Still, though, I am not a big fan of the physics, and some of the tracks are really boring (being real tracks, they don’t have much choice), but I thought the game deserved to be on the list. After all, it has real GP tracks, riders and teams, and looks amazing at times.
Released: November 30, 1984
Platform: NES (Nintendo Entertainment System)
Yes, it’s thirty years old and looks like a 5-year-old drew it during a bad day in art class, but it was simple yet deep (bouncing on the front wheel, anyone?), had an easy-to-use track editor that allowed you to create great tracks in minutes, and I got blisters on my left thumb every time I played it! Any game that gives you blisters on your fingers due to extended play sessions deserves a place in the top ten MX games list. Plus, I loved making tracks so hard and technical that anyone playing them for the first time would want to throw their controller out the window, while I was effortlessly jumping and bouncing my way to first place...
6. MX Unleashed
Released: February 17, 2004
Platform: PlayStation 2, Xbox
As great as Motocross Madness 2 was, its reach was limited by the fact that it was only available on PCs, and not just any old PC; you needed a pretty decent machine in order to enjoy the game to its fullest. MX Unleashed was Rainbow Studio’s attempt at bringing the MCM2 experience to the living room on Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox video games consoles. Although having a track editor and an online community was not possible on game consoles at the time, the game itself was solid enough to attract lots of attention. It’s the reason MX vs. ATV games exist. It looked good, played great, and had tracks that were a blast to race on. MX Unleashed also brought the whole “Freeride” experience to console players with huge environments similar to MCM2, where players could ride around for hours and find big hits, dirt trails, and lots of fun things to do on a dirt bike. I was once again part of the development and created about half the supercross and motocross tracks that shipped with the game.
5. MX vs. ATV Alive
Released: May 10, 2011
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Being the successor to MX vs. ATV Reflex, Alive had big shoes to fill! Some of the environments in Alive look amazing (my favorite was the James Stewart Compound), and I also liked the tracks in the dry-looking hills (Piston Valley, Catapult Canyon). The physics in Alive weren’t bad, but they didn’t feel as good to play as in Reflex. It feels too rigid, not as free, and the rider does find himself in some weird…positions. With that said, once you get used to the new physics and look past the “glitches,” the game is still fun, and it is still an amazing MX game. Unfortunately, the core game didn’t ship with any supercross tracks, only outdoor nationals and a free ride mode, and THQ had to close its doors before Rainbow Studios were able to release all the planed DLC content, which contained all the supercross tracks. Only 2 supercross tracks were made available to the public through downloadable content (plus two more if you count the SX tracks in the JS7 compound). So, in the end, Alive didn’t live up to the standard left by Reflex, but it didn’t completely fail either. If you’re as big a MX fan as you say you are, you should have both Reflex and Alive in your game library.
4. Supercross Circuit
Released: November 30, 1999
There have been lots of MX games on PlayStation and PlayStation 2 over the past twenty years, many of them better looking or more feature-rich, but they all lacked Supercross Circuit‘s gameplay and fun-factor. The graphics weren’t bad; they just looked very 8-bits and blocky, but the supercross-track jumps were well defined, so it was easy to figure out where to land and gave the game a good rhythm feeling, which made it super fun to play. I haven’t played that game in decades, but it is one of the only console games of that time to bring back great memories. I simply remember having a blast playing Supercross Circuit!
3. MX vs ATV Unleashed
Released: March 16, 2005
Platform: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC
This was the first game to combine dirt bikes and ATVs, racing against each other in all types of events, from supercross and motocross to waypoint racing and freestyle competitions. MX vs ATV Unleashed is basically MX Unleashed on steroids! It’s got more vehicles, more tracks, more event types, and improved physics, and it was the very first MX vs ATV game. I was again associated with the team that made the game and created a bunch of supercross and motocross tracks, as well as free-ride environments.
2. MX vs ATV Reflex
Released: December 1, 2009
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Reflex was the first game ever to introduce dual stick controls for the bike and rider and terrain deformation that actually affects your bike and makes you look for new lines around the track. Reflex really was revolutionary, and to this day, is still the blueprint every MX game developer uses as a base for their new MX game. Everyone hated it at first. ”What’s this BS dual stick control?” “I can’t play this game!” “It’s too hard!” But after spending more than five minutes with the game and getting over the steep learning curve (ok, maybe it was more than five minutes), players started to realize what they had: an amazing physics system with tons of depth and an amazing terrain deformation engine. Reflex had everything: dirt bikes, ATVs, buggies, trophy trucks, supercross, motocross, free ride, waypoint, freestyle, buggy and truck tracks, and downloadable content…and it looked good!
1. Motocross Madness 2
Released: May 25, 2000
The Motocross Madness series is the reason I was able to make an easy transition from professional racer to game designer, so it’s no wonder I would pick one them for my top ten MX games list! When the first Motocross Madness came out back in 1998, I ran to the store to buy my first computer just to play the game. I fell in love with it, but things really took off the day I learned I could make my own tracks to play in the game. Dozens of custom tracks later, I met the team that worked on MCM1 at E3, and they had already started working on the sequel: Motocross Madness 2. We hit it off right away and they asked me if I would be interested in working with them on MCM2 by creating new supercross and outdoor national tracks for the game. It didn’t take me long to say, “Are you freaking kidding me? Of course I am!”
What made MCM2 so special was the huge online community around it, with hundreds of random players making new tracks, objects, and bike and rider skins every day, and thousands racing multiplayer on all those custom new tracks. I had over 500 custom tracks installed on my computer, and racing people online was a blast. It was also the first game of the genre (with only MCM1 before it) to let you “Freeride” around in huge environments online with your buddies. The bike’s physics were also really good, especially compared to other games from the same time frame, and the graphics—although not breathtaking—were nice and easy enough on the eyes. The online community (MCM Central, Twisted Dirt, to name a few) kept MCM2 alive for a good decade and gave it a special place in player’s hearts.