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Sometime between populating getaway resorts with the walking dead in Dead Island and evoking the perils of the Wild West with the Call of Juarez series, Polish developer Techland also released the flawed Nail'd, an off-road arcade racer with a manic sense of speed and expansive big-air drops. Beyond some minor additions to its already tried-and-true formula, the downloadable Mad Riders is essentially a remake of its older brother and suffers from a lot of the same problems as a result.
As off-road arcade racers go, Mad Riders deals with mostly familiar standards. Your chosen all-terrain vehicle features a boost meter, which can be fuelled up by performing midair tricks and quickly sliding around corners. Driving through some lines of colour-coded tokens gated along specific parts of a track also provides you with small supplements of boost, while driving through others grants you the option to open up previously hidden shortcuts. You can also gain boost by performing stunts three times in a single jump and maintaining your boost unabated for just a few seconds. This system also works the other way around by providing an occasional boost to the poor soul stuck lagging behind in last place.
Doing all of these things--as well as winning races and making good time in checkpoint-based trials--contributes XP to your overall level. This grants you access to more ATVs with their own relative attributes and new tournaments and modes. However, the statistical differences between each ATV are far too negligible to take seriously, as the game's frenzied pacing never necessitates any sort of performance-based consideration. This dampens the weight of the progression when levelling up and unlocking better ATVs, since you never really feel a strong need to upgrade. Plus, because you don't get a good look at your ride during races, spending time customising its colours and appearance is a rather moot undertaking.
The laws of physics do not have jurisdiction over Mad Riders. Just like in its predecessor, Nail'd, the sheer speed and velocity of the racing is strangely unhinged, but that feeling doesn't get put to good use. The tightly spaced nature of each course tends to funnel you forward with little room for tactical freedom beyond the aforementioned shortcuts, making the courses feel unnecessarily restrictive. Equal time is spent between bouncing off the sides of the course and actually racing on it--you often feel as if the game's gravity is forcibly dragging you down from the air after a jump merely to keep you on track. You can partially contain this last effect by "air steering," that is, pulling down on the thumbstick to extend the distance of a jump and pulling up to shorten it. This can be handy, although it's a tactic that rarely proves vital unless you're looking to top a time trial score or gain some extra air in a stunt event.
Success in Mad Riders often relies on beelining through a race from beginning to end with little improvisation. Some may enjoy this throwback to the physics-ignorant racers of old, but the game's fast-paced focus becomes diminished by a lack of real danger--which cheapens the thrills of rocketing through a course at unreasonable speeds and ultimately conspires to make the game a sort of dull roller-coaster ride. The most common frustration you run into is getting stuck behind a tree or rock after veering ever so slightly off a track's narrow pathway, which stops your momentum dead.
The game's bright colours, cheesy voice-overs, and positive reinforcement bring to mind a late-'90s arcade racer vibe. The commentator's repetition of the phrase "Sidewinder!" when you're drifting around corners will surely drive you insane, but thankfully there is an option to shut him up. An understated cel-shaded aesthetic also lends itself well to the game's sharp-looking rocky mountains and lush forest environments. It's a fairly appealing look that adds some much-needed personality.
The online multiplayer modes are the same as those found in the single-player component, allowing up to 12 players to take part. A sense of speed is well maintained throughout, and playing with others helps to liven up the otherwise dull racing. There are some issues, however, such as having to quit out and start a new lobby to change your chosen queue of modes, which is pretty frustrating.
Between its pleasant visuals and nostalgia for the Sega-styled arcade racer scene, Mad Riders could have been more enjoyable than it is. Instead, it's just plain boring. More than anything, it simply feels like a game you've played a hundred times before. This lack of personality makes Mad Riders difficult to recommend when there are better, more accomplished racers out there.'
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