by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Just in time for last-minute Christmas shoppers everywhere, Atari Corp. releases Supercross 3D for the Jaguar video-game console. As hinted by the title, this is a first-person representation of motorcross racing, where daredevil bike riders brave bumps, jumps, and each other in dirt track arenas. Players pick from one of fourteen tracks, configure their bike, and then run through a series of elimination heats until a winner remains. There's also a tournament mode that pits the player against 28 racers on all of the tracks, a practice mode for budding racers, and five levels of computer difficulty.
Let's get one thing clear: Supercross 3D is not meant as a simulation of real-life motorcross racing. For example, racers are kept on the track by an invisible barrier, and players landing or driving off the course are either bounced back or crash. The courses themselves are also somewhat simple, containing only right-angle turns and a small set of hills and bumps for obstacles. Indeed, this cartridge could almost be seen as a first-person sequel to the early Nintendo game, Excitebike.
Not that there's anything wrong with this, because Supercross 3D is an engrossing and fast-paced game. Each race is an aggressive contest, as victory or defeat hinges on the player's ability to quickly cut into turns, block and bump opponents, and find the fastest way past each obstacle. Three-dimensional thinking is critical; taking a ramp too slow or too quickly costs time, either from an over-cautious leap or from flying off the track. The game ends up constantly challenging the player, and it's that challenge which makes it so exciting and so much fun. Too bad there isn't a simultaneous two-player race mode...
The rest of the game is just delightful. Controls are simple and responsive, though some might find it a little sensitive at first. Difficulty levels are significantly distinct, and the default setting is tough but beatable. The manual is severely lacking, unfortunately; it offers almost no advice on the subtleties of motorcross racing, such as how to properly land after a jump, or how the different bike configurations affect its performance. It also doesn't mention some of the game's rules or features, like how accelerating before the race starts results in a penalty delay. The poor manual doesn't affect the game per se, but it does create an unnecessary handicap for players who don't experiment with the game.
While Supercross 3D delivers in captivating gameplay, it falls short in the sights and sounds. The actual race is rendered with a mix of sprites and texture-mapped polygons, but the frame rate is a slow 12 to 15 frames per second. The game manages to be playable, but it's still a distracting and disappointing result. Other race graphics, such as the background stadium and flagmen, are merely functional, though game screens between races are nicely done in a spartan way.
Sounds and music are little more than utilitarian. Game sounds come mainly from the roaring while of motorcycle engines, with an occasional crash tossed into the mix. The audience is oddly silent, and the only voice is a Homer Simpson-esque "Ow!" when the player takes a spill. A few fast-paced tunes play during the game, but they're short and uninteresting, and the best thing about them is that they don't intrude enough to be irritating.
Supercross 3D is not a perfect game; the graphics and sound could have been better, and a two-player mode would have added to the game's long-term appeal. But players who can tolerate these shortcomings will be handsomely rewarded, as this cartridge delivers lots of thrills, spills, and bike-flying action galore.