November 08, 2010
Big Park’s Joy Ride is another instance of Microsoft’s marketing and product promotion gone horribly wrong. Billed as a free-to-play Xbox Live Arcade title at E3 2009, the arcade-style racer suddenly made the magical shift to Microsoft’s Kinect device. By raising expectations and getting people excited about a free-to-play product though, the Xbox creator was already swimming against the tide with Joy Ride... much like they did with the Halo 3: ODST debacle back in 2008 – announcing it would be an add-on to Halo 3 and then re-announcing it as a fully blown spin-off. This time though, there’s no Halo brand to pin its hopes on, and what we’re faced with is Kinect’s first piece of shovelware.
It’s quite odd that the first thing you’ll notice after a few hours of play with Joy Ride, is that the title in itself is ironic. The controls are twitchy, the gameplay is slow and often mundane, and at no point can I say the overall experience was a joy. Its title is almost a self-contained parody of what the game should have been.
Joy Ride’s controls are fairly simple and turning your car is a matter of mimicking that you’re gripping a steering wheel and then turning it left or right. To drift, you lean into the corner as well, and to boost, you pull your hands back towards your chest and then push out when you’ve filled your meter. The rest of the controls are built upon leaning certain directions when you’re in the air to perform tricks: lean left or right and the car will roll, turn the steering wheel left or right and it will spin, lean forward and do a front-flip or lean back and it’ll do a back-flip. And that’s about as complex as it gets.
But what about accelerate and brake you ask? Well, there is none. The game will do it for you, and ultimately that is one of its downfalls. It then means that there is no feeling of control and no sense of speed as you’ll fall into the same old routine of cornering, boosting and stunting which loses its novelty after a few short minutes. It’s like playing Forza 3 with the anti-braking on... which takes all the fun out of the game.
If Big Park’s aim was to market the game towards kids or families, then it still falls short of its goals, by making it especially difficult to maintain control. Not only is it hard to accurately judge a corner and lean in/steer in appropriately, but to get the car on the straight and narrow afterwards is even more so. In fact, just keeping the car on the road can be a pain at times and not once did the controls feel responsive enough, with the handling proving overly twitchy far too often. It’s like racing games have taken a 10 year step back with Joy Ride.
In the box there are a variety of different modes to test out if you wish: including Pro Race, Battle Race, Xbox Live Race, Stunt, Dash, Smash and Trick. The names of the modes are self-explanatory of their contents, but quite possibly the biggest annoyance from a package perspective is the constant flicking back to the main menu after every race you perform. You can’t roll from race to race to battle to race as you wish, which is a real pain.
Across all the game modes, if you perform well in the medals department – or if you don’t actually – you will be rewarded with fans, which ultimately unlock a whole range of vehicles from muscle cars to ice cream trucks, and you can even unlock new events and ultimately, new tracks. The difference between the vehicles is seemingly non-existent though, until you unlock the later car styles and that just means they seem a tad faster. Not fast enough to feel like you’re enjoying the benefits of a racer though.
Those looking for some straight A to B stuff, the Pro Race is the way to go, but for those looking for more traditional Mario Kart style combat, Battle Race is the way forward. With various weapons ranging from rockets and teleportation, all the way through to super speed and deep freeze attacks, you should never be short of weapons. The fact remains though that the overall gameplay in these modes is tarnished by the general controls and utterly mundane gameplay.
Stunt mode is a little simpler, with you thrown into a half-pipe as you boost and trick your way to a high score, with grabbing items, breaking glass, extending the clock and tricking the key to success. Dash on the other hand is a simple avoid-the-obstacles type mode, and because it’s more on-rails and you only have to switch lanes by steering very occasionally, it actually handles better than the other modes. That’s not saying much though, because avoiding obstacles and switching lanes isn’t fun on the motorway, let alone in a video game. To cut a long story short, it’s actually quite boring.
Smash on the other hand is a fairly interesting and fun mode for the most part, that tasks you with the goal of smashing small and medium statues, again, in a bid to net a high score. The ultimate goal is to rack up points by smashing as much as possible, but if you can open up the way by smashing the medium statues, you can get through to the large statue for an extra points boost. While I say it’s fun, and the gameplay may not be as plagued by the handling issues here quite as much, the fun is still very short-lived.
Last, and quite possibly least, is Trick mode, which has you copying the on-screen poses while on the wings of one of your cars – yes, cars have wings now. I say quite possibly the least, simply because it has a few issues that break the mode in various instances. While doing poses like the Semaphore and the Gun Show, the mode works perfectly, but when the device asks for arms to be crossed over or one hand to go behind your back, the device completely and utterly fails, thus breaking your streak and ultimately breaking the chance of getting the high score you deserve.
From an achievement perspective, the list is a little all over the place. On the one hand, Big Park show plenty of originality within each mode by setting small goals to aim for – like destroy the big statue in Smash in under 30 seconds and win a battle without weapons in Battle mode. However, the rest of the list is made up of lame completion goals – like play 30 times in this mode, play for 10 hours and drive in every vehicle style. On the balance of things, it is a fairly decent list, but there’s way too much by-the-numbers achievements.
Joy Ride, bless it, tries desperately hard to be Microsoft’s answer to Mario Kart on so many levels which makes it even more cringeworthy to see it fall flat on its face every time. With twitchy controls, uninspired gameplay, and a sheer lack of any sense of speed or adrenaline that you’re supposed to get from a racer, Joy Ride is anything but what its name suggests. Maybe they should rename it Lame Ride, which must be said, is not as catchy, but it would make a hell of a lot more sense.
It’s pretty annoying from an audio standpoint, with its cheesy background music and... well, not much else.
With the integration of your Avatar, the game world that Big Park has created is suitably fitting with that whole look and feel. It’s not looking to define any genre with it, but it more than adequately does the job.
It handles like a 60 year old schizophrenic car that has jelly for tyres. That’s very bad by the way.
A few race modes, with a handful of more mini-game–esque modes. It’s not likely to grab your attention for more than a few hours.
A Jekyll and Hyde list if ever there was one. Plenty of unique and original achievements are brought back down to earth with the more monotonous goals like playing for 10 hours, play this 30 times, play that 30 times and such. Trust me, playing for 10 hours is a hell of an achievement!
It’s hard to recommend Joy Ride to anyone. If I did, my recommendation would be something along the lines of... “Hey you, buy Joy Ride... it’s meant to be a racer, but it handles like a 60 year old schizophrenic car that has jelly for tyres and is easily the worst Kinect game I’ve played to date.” It’s hardly a recommendation, but it’s the best we can muster. Avoid Joy Ride at all costs.