Prepare your DS for a healthy dose of mud splattering as MX vs. ATV Untamed attempts to answer one of mankind’s most perplexing questions: Are dirt bikes or all terrain vehicles the true dominators of the off-road?
Publisher THQ has had success over past titles that Untamed is of the same lineage; those games being ATV Off-Road Fury and MX vs. ATV Unleashed for the PS2. The series is careening down a new dirt path on Nintendo’s somewhat popular handheld. While this game has some attributes that will leave some players stuck in the mud, it does overall offer a decent, yet short challenge to those willing to get a little dirty.
Untamed at its core is a rhythm based racer, meaning winning races depends on accelerating and braking at the right moments. Also, landing your vehicle to follow the contours of the road will prove an important factor of victory. Courses are designed to fling you and your vehicle into the air, and for that matter, mostly off the track. This is due to strategically placed hills, lumps, bumps, jumps, (and anything else that describes mounds of earth), and hairpin turns. Lead foot drivers will want to change their hasty ways if they hope to place themselves in the top echelon of off-road oligarchs.
As the name of the game suggests, players are given 2 or 4-wheeled weapons of choice. The bikes offer a faster pace at the cost of being more lofty and harder to control, while the ATVs feel slightly slower and much more grounded, which results in more control when it comes to handling corners. The battlefields include the x-cross tournament where 4 riders race on 3 courses in hopes of claiming the gold trophy; stunt challenge where players compete to perform the most airborne tricks; custom which is nothing more than selecting a mixture of options (like tracks, vehicles, laps, etc.). There is also a multiplayer component that potentially extends the playability of this title, but probably won’t for most gamers due to the fact it is multi-cart play only. Online play is also not an option.
There is a decent selection of courses that offer a variety of challenge. Most players will start on the default difficulty (amateur) in order to get a lay of the land in Untamed. While the initial stages are a breeze, later courses only get more rugged and punishing. In order to enjoy this game, you must have patience and a willingness to memorize each race track – especially where to brake and accelerate. This is where Untamed will definitely lose some of its fan base. This game cannot be played like Mario Kart, and by default, will be snubbed by some for lacking that accessibility factor.
The aforementioned stunt challenge offers players the chance to pull off tricks while flying in the air on their machines. Whichever player achieves the most stunt points when the timer runs out is victorious. The stunt system is pretty basic – you won’t find a complex set of moves or abilities like that of a Tony Hawk game. It also gets repetitive after a few runs, and most players will flee back to the race mode.
Untamed doesn’t do much to utilize the touch screen other than menu selection; all racing/stunt control is done with the standard buttons. While this is probably a better control scheme anyways, it would have been nice to see something thrown in there to use the touch screen more prominently. The lower screen acts as a mini map and statistics display throughout the races, nothing more.
The presentation of Untamed is adequate, but doesn’t do much to impress. The stadiums and racetracks tend to look similar due to the nature of dirt and mud looking the same no matter how you render it. The racers and their rides are crisp and colourful, which makes up for all the brown backdrops. This game doesn’t push the DS hardware by any means, but it makes decent use of it.
The soundtrack to Untamed is heavy metal, heart thumping anthems that may or may not rev you and your respective engine. It’s too bad the game didn’t get all up in my face as much as the music was trying to convince me it was. Speaking of mechanics, those engines tend to sound like an annoying bee trying to crawl into a pop can on a hot summer day.
In conclusion, MX vs. ATV Untamed is worthy of checking out if you enjoy a niche racing game. While it offers a good challenge initially, it lacks a true replay ability and ‘casual’ factor that other more accessible racers retain. Untamed is entertaining for a couple of hours, and as such it is probably only worth renting or waiting until it shows up in a discount bin. Rhythmically challenged gamers will probably want to stay clear from this title. Plus, who really wants to get their sleek shiny Nintendo DS covered in road grime anyways?
Gameplay:8, Graphics:7, Sound:6, Innovation:4, Mojo:6. Final: 6.2 / 10