Retro Review: Motocross Maniacs (Nintendo Game Boy)

One of the earliest Game Boy releases (and the first from Konami), Motocross Maniacs is what every portable-born game should be, as far as I'm concerned- easy to grasp and not too time-consuming, but great to dip into for five or ten minutes for a quick challenge while waiting for a train.

You can't make it much simpler than this- Motocross Maniacs boils the art of stunt motorcycling to just two buttons (accelerate and nitro) and the directional pad (for higher jumps and tilting your bike forwards/backwards) and doesn't even have Excitebike-esque lane changing- it's completely side-on. There's eight courses with three difficulty settings (which only affect the strictness of the time limit) and while that doesn't sound like much, there's plenty of variety here. They start out fairly easy, with obstacles like loop-de-loops, small rocks and sand traps that aren't too taxing to navigate (just as long as you remember to land properly, otherwise you'll fall off your bike and look like an idiot) but they soon evolve into long sequences of floating platforms and near-vertical ramp shafts that exist for two purposes- to stop you from reaching the end in time, and to let you pull off some sick jumps. The courses are very well designed, with interesting loop/ramp patterns crammed in to keep things challenging, and the placement of power-up items (which include giving you more time, adding to your nitro supply and increasing your max speed) is used to nice effect- to get you to do some crazy jumps to nab them. Or fall on your face trying.

Real Bikes Ain't This Easy to Drive

As good as the courses are, it's the controls that really make Motocross Maniacs shine. They're very simple and easy to pick up, but they also allow for a lot of crazy stunts you'd think were otherwise impossible- in fact, with enough skill you can avoid wasting your limited number of nitros and do the majority of jumps using just the accelerator and d-pad when you know what to do. If you really want to show off, you can even do flips in mid-air (which, when done in the right place, reward you with either the ability to nitro in mid-air or a pointless mini-bike that follows you) which offers a further challenge- in most cases where it looks like you can't pull off a flip, you can. There's a great deal of satisfaction to be had in pulling off a gruelling series of jumps without stopping or landing face-first into a wall or the floor, and it's all thanks to the very tight controls. There's little more to say regarding the mechanics- they just work incredibly well, to create a great little time-waster.

Since it was Konami's first game on the system, though, there's plenty to nitpick about. For a start, graphically it's even simpler-looking than games like Super Mario Land, with basic sprites and no background to speak of save for the odd signpost. The best way to describe them is functional- not great, but they'll do. Also, there's a few collision detection quirks, where your bike behaves in a way you won't expect- there's a jump on Course 6 in particular that looks impossible at first glance, but your bike will make it somehow as long as you let the odd hit detection run its course. My final complaint is the Vs. Computer mode- nothing you do affects the computer player, so you can't crash into them or anything. That's fine against a human opponent (hope you've got a link cable) but with the computer, your biggest enemy is still the timer so the whole thing feels a bit pointless, no matter how funny watching the computer fail the same jump five times in a row may be.

Gameplay Footage

Crazy Bikers!

However, the problems above don't detract from Motocross Maniacs's strengths- it's a game with easy-to-grasp mechanics, and from there the game challenges your mastery of said mechanics very well, especially on the higher difficulties (Courses 7 and 8 in particular are brutal). What makes it work as a portable game is that, even if you haven't played it in a while, you can get your bearings back again very quickly, making it an ideal game to get out for five or ten minutes every now and then. It's telling that, after having not playing the game for a very long time, I instantly got back into the swing of things and was hopping from rocks onto mid-air loops again in no time. If you have any kind of Game Boy (except, uh, the Game Boy Micro) then get this game, and you too will know the joy of navigating multiple vertcail loop-de-loops then launching off onto a floating platform.

... By the way, the game was also included on the Japan-only Konami Collection Vol. 2 (Game Boy) and colourised in the Europe-only Konami GB Collection Vol. 3 (Game Boy Color), renamed Bikers. Beware- the colour version seems to run much slower than the original, making it worthless!

Last Updated ( 12 March 2011 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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(Link to this comment) Cauterize 2011-03-09 22:54
Classic! One of my all time Game Boy favourites :) Great review!

I stumbled upon this one by chance back in the day when I had my Game Boy Color. I took a gamble on this cart from the selection in the window of Gamestation and was amazed at how addictive it was :)
(Link to this comment) eeztheman 2011-04-24 21:58
A quaity early GB title, still one of my favourites, great for a blast for 10- 20 mins at a time.
(Link to this comment) Segasocks 2011-05-19 14:47
This game was simply amazing when you linked two gameboys together and the races became competitive with another person.There bike would show up as a shadow on your screen.I used to own the NES version but for some reason it never seemed to be quite as magical.

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