Some may wonder if Acclaim is capable of delivering a solid supercross game. This is the same company responsible for the disastrous Jeremy McGrath series, after all. However, Acclaim has cleansed itself of the Jeremy McGrath license and enlisted the services of experienced developer Climax (of MotoGP fame) for SX Superstar, its latest supercross game. But does the budget-priced Superstar escape the curse that plagued the Jeremy McGrath series?
Presentation/Graphics : 60
FMX definitely will not be winning any awards for graphics. For one, it has multiple graphical faults (clipping, slowdown, fogging, pop-up, etc.), with an overall look similar to that of early PS2 games. Bland, repetitive textures and dull colors also contribute to the game's unattractiveness. Worse, the pedestrians in FMX are the most grotesque and horribly animated of any recent action-sports title. But the biggest offender is the inconsistent frame rate, which fails to offer a convincing sense of speed and has bouts of slowdown that negatively affect gameplay.
Fortunately, the visuals do not completely offend. The professional riders and fictional characters are sufficiently modeled--complete with fairly smooth animations--and their bikes look good. Additionally, FMX's levels are massive, surpassing those of other action-sports games. In fact, the instruction manual refers to the game's levels as "worlds," which is not far from the truth. Each level has a unique look and theme, with terrain that includes country hillsides, snowy mountains, city streets, and almost everything in between. Flashy special effects, animated objects, and lighting tricks add flavor to the environments while providing much-needed eye candy.
Presentation/Audio : 20
To say Superstar's sound effects are weak would be an understatement, because in order to hear anything other than the blaring music, you first need to adjust the sound levels. Once the sound is properly adjusted, however, you will not notice much of an improvement; the dirt bikes still sound underpowered (it seems the music was intentionally set to overpower the sound effects so to mask their low quality). Adding to the aural blandness are voiceless riders and environments lacking in ambiance. Dolby Digital 5.1 is included, but it is implemented rather poorly.
Don't expect the soundtrack to pick up the slack, as it consists of less than a dozen songs--badly chosen ones, no less--from artists such as N.E.R.D., Deftones, Fenix TX, Pitchshifter, and No Use for a Name. The worst part is you cannot customize the playlist (songs tend to repeat ad nauseam), so forget about using music stored on your Xbox's hard drive. Considering a few of Climax's previous Xbox games supported custom soundtracks makes this omission all the more glaring. Surprisingly, none of the sub-menus has any background music, making menu navigation a disturbingly quiet affair.
Interface/Options : 30
Although Superstar is a budget title, this does not entirely excuse its dearth of options and features. There are no options to adjust the control scheme or picture, both of which are in need of tweaking, yet you can toggle vibration and the Big Air Cam on/off. You can--and should--adjust the sound levels, but have no control over the soundtrack's playlist. What's worse, the clunky interface makes setting up races more tedious than it needs to be. These oversights would almost be forgivable if the features were thorough, but the modes, courses, racers, and bikes included hardly cut it.
Concerning the racers, the 24 international riders included in Superstar are fictitious and split among three groups (amateur, semi-pro, and pro), with no unique abilities between them. It's bad enough real riders are not present, but the fact that the fictional characters have no riding preferences, styles, or skills makes choosing a rider a mindless process. Granted, each character has a unique look and nationality--and there are female riders--but nothing differentiates their riding abilities other than the arbitrary experience group to which they belong. Furthermore, you cannot create your own SX superstar or edit the appearance of an existing rider, though you can change his or her name.
Like the riders, the 16 dirt bikes in Superstar are unlicensed, unrated, and cannot be enhanced or customized. They are evenly divided among three classes (125cc, 250cc, and 500cc), each containing a bike suited for a particular event. The bikes have unique designs and color schemes, but you cannot alter their appearance. And although the Championship mode forces you to pay for bike maintenance, you are not directly involved with it.
You would at least expect the controls to be decent, and for the most part, they are pretty well arranged. However, with only one configuration available, the controls will surely not appeal to everyone. The left analog stick or digital pad is used for steering, A for acceleration, and X for braking. Alternatively, you can use the right analog stick for acceleration and braking. Although some may have preferred to use the triggers for these functions, they handle preloading and powersliding instead. Last but not least, the Y and B buttons (coupled with directional presses) execute tricks, the black button powers nitro boosts, and the Back button switches between three camera views.
Gameplay : 30
While you may not have too much trouble picking up the controls, you will likely have trouble controlling your rider and adjusting to the wonky bike physics. The analog steering is a bit mushy, while the digital steering is too rigid. Complicating matters is an exceedingly touchy physics engine that forces you to ride nearly flawlessly. This is not supposed to be a simulation, yet the collision detection is unforgiving and inconsistent. At times, you can ride through solid objects, like trees, but a minor collision or slightly sketchy landing sends you flying over the handlebars.
Naturally, the opposing riders use this to their advantage, since they cannot actually compete fairly. Whether they are crashing inches in front of you--causing you to bail--or bumping into you before a jump, your competitors race clumsily and dirty. They also seem to pack infinite nitro boost. Nevertheless, as long as you stay on the bike longer than they do, you should not have trouble winning races. Which is easier said than done, of course, because beating the AI is half the battle. You must also contend with the sloppy, horribly designed courses.
To confuse the fictional courses here for real ones would be near impossible, since they do not simulate actual supercross courses, let alone ones ideal for racing dirt bikes. In addition, the barren racetracks are just plain boring to race, especially in the later stages of the Championship mode, when you must race several laps. The open checkpoint courses are the worst of the bunch, thanks to a miserable navigation system that points you in ambiguous directions. Heck, Superstar's heads-up display lacks a map depicting course layout and position of opposing racers.
Continuing on the downward spiral is Superstar's trick system, which does not fare any better than its racing. The trick list consists of only 24 tricks, and to hold a trick, you must hold the appropriate trick button with a direction on the analog stick or digital pad. This is problematic for tricks involving certain directional presses, since the bike's pitch is altered as you hold the trick. Because Superstar's physics model demands near perfect landings, such alterations usually result in a crash.
Successfully landing tricks gives you nitro boost, but you do not need it to win races, effectively nullifying a good portion of the trick element. Using boost is awkward anyway, mainly because it must be triggered with the Xbox controller's ill-placed black button. A few stunt courses are available, in which nitro boost actually comes in handy. Predictably, though, they are not very well designed, driving the final nail in the coffin of the game's trick component.
Not all is worthless; Superstar has elements to appease motorcycle enthusiasts and sticklers for realism. Different types of events call for different types of bikes. Selecting the right bike for an event is important because differences exist in speed and handling. For instance, a standard bike is fine for circuit races, while a Baja bike is suited for Baja events. Moreover, choosing a bike from the correct class is essential, since you will not win races in a high-powered class using an underpowered bike.
It's a shame the gameplay is lacking, because the Championship mode has some cool aspects. In this mode, you choose one of eight amateur riders to take through a supercross career, during which you compete in various events to upgrade your living quarters, status, and love life. Doing well during a season will earn you money (which you can use to buy new bikes), as well as attract sponsors and new love interests. Skillful racing results in better offers from sponsors (you choose which ones to represent) and better-looking girlfriends. The girlfriend aspect does not add anything to gameplay--like, say, boost your rider's "ego meter"--so the novelty fades quickly.
Once you complete a season in first place, you will move into fancier digs and advance to a new, tougher season. Three stages make up the Championship mode, each consisting of a different set of events. The only events you need to enter are races, which award points. Other events, such as stunt and point-to-point challenges, are optional, though they give you an opportunity to earn extra money to help pay for living and bike expenses.
Sadly, there are no incentives to complete Championship mode more than once or with an alternate character. Progressing through it unlocks events/courses in the Arcade mode, and that's about it (your ultimate reward is a lame "game over" screen). All the bikes and riders are already unlocked in Arcade before having to play Championship. There are no stats to upgrade, goals to meet, or bonuses to discover.
Replay Value : 20
Even if SX Superstar had a great deal of features and unlockables (it doesn't), its replay value would still be low, as it is not very much fun to play. Faulty controls, boring courses, poor AI, and a shallow trick system are to blame for this. Championship mode kills some time, but without the ability to improve a rider's skills or enhance his or her bikes, the depth is limited. All told, Championship should take the average gamer roughly a few hours to complete, with no substantial reason to replay it.
Beyond that, you can expect little enjoyment from the dull Arcade mode, reliving all the "fun-filled" events unlocked from the Championship mode. If the courses bore you--and they most certainly will--you can always design your own... Wait, a course editor is not included! Well, there is a multiplayer mode, albeit one that only supports two players via split screen, with no four-way action, system link, or online play available.
Overall : 30
SX Superstar's Championship mode has some interesting touches, which are unfortunately wasted on a poorly designed game. Just about any other game with dirt bikes in it would make a good alternative to SX Superstar. MX Superfly and Freestyle MetalX, in particular, are better choices than this mess of a budget title. Not even the low retail price can save it from the scrap heap, where it is sure to land.