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Jet Moto 3 (PSX) Review

Background Info

Jet Moto, when it was released in 1996 by Sony, was one of the cutting-edge futuristic racing games for the PlayStation. The game, developed by SingleTrac, wasn't ultra-realistic. Sure, it didn't feature Michael Schumacher or Dale Earnhardt careening around Monaco or Talladega. But man, it was fast and fun. Sony then released the sequel, Jet Moto 2, in 1997. Unfortunately, fans of the original didn't see this as any cutting-edge update. Some complained that Jet Moto 2 simply was a minor update of the first by SingleTrac, with the biggest update being analog controls. Since the first game wasn't that bad at all, maybe just tweaking was a good thing. Well, now 989 Sports, Sony's sports division, has released Jet Moto 3 – this time developed by Pacific Coast Power & Light Co. All of the familiar competitors – The Max, Vampeera, Wild Ride, Technician and their buddies – are back for another round of futuristic hovercraft racing. But this is a different game from its predecessors in many ways.

Presentation/Graphics : 94
JM3 starts with an impressive full-motion video featuring racing action through various environments. It's very cool and sets the table for good things to come.

The graphics in this game are stunning. Playing this game during the time of Dreamcast launch still reminded me that there's plenty of life left in the little gray box we know and love as PlayStation.

Colors are vivid and subtle. There are plenty of special effects, such as shimmering water and slow-flowing lava from volcanoes. The various settings of the tracks –urban, jungle, arctic, ancient, ocean, etc. – really give a chance for Pacific Coast's graphic artists and designers to shine. And they do. This game has some of the sweetest-looking graphics of any racing game I've seen on the PlayStation. Not quite as pretty as Need For Speed: High Stakes, but in that league.

And JM3 doesn't have the nagging framerate problems that sometimes plagued NFS: High Stakes. Speed freaks rejoice: This game simply rips! My previous benchmark for pure speed in a racing game was Moto Racer 2, which hauls ass. This game, especially when using the turbo, makes Moto Racer 2 look slower than an income-tax refund.

The game flies along smoothly, with very few seams or pop-up problems. The textures are well done, especially in the suicidal Ice Falls course.

Riders also lean accurately into turns, stand over jumps and hang off the bike during powerslides. The bikes and riders don't have tons of definition, but some muscles appear on the rider. It's not a major concern, as this game moves so fast that you don't have much time to watch your rider, anyway! Riders also sail off the bikes during crashes, and the bike appears to explode on really hard crashes. Very cool effects.

And for that same reason, the return of the speedometer for the first time since JM is nice, but sort of useless. The tracks are so challenging and the game is so quick that you don't have much time to look at it.

In JM, the bikes created cool wakes and rooster tails when travelling over the various surfaces. These aren't evident here. But since the bikes are supposed to hover over the surface, there shouldn't be any rooster tails.

Presentation/Audio : 88
The bike sounds are good. They vary in pitch and tone from a low grunt to a high whine with changes in acceleration and braking, and the bike screams when using the turbo. That's a refreshing change from JM2, where the bike sounds droned and weren't very convincing. Accident sounds are realistic, too, without being over the top. You just hear a thud or a crunching sound. Nice.

But I must extend the sincerest thanks to 989 and Pacific Coast for eliminating the stupid grunts and shrieks from the riders whenever they crash or collide. This was absolutely the most annoying part of the audio from JM and JM2. It's gone now. Bravo!

The only shrieks I heard occurred when I fell off the edge of a cliff on the awesome Ice Falls course. It was a long way down, baby, and the fading "Ahhhhhhhhhhh" scream was a nice touch.

The music is workmanlike. I enjoyed the sensual, atmospheric music in the menu screens. It sounds futuristic, which fits the mood of the game well. The music differs in each race and matches the motif of the track. When racing in the desert, you hear a techno song with sort of a Flamenco guitar track in it. When racing on the Ice Falls course, you hear sort of a cold techno track. When racing in the jungle, you hear a techno track with strong tribal beats.

Good stuff. Not to the level of the FIFA soccer series, which had the best music I've heard in any game. But the music accentuates rather than annoys. Not bad at all.

Interface/Options : 80
First, let's start with the manual. It's very well done. All aspects of the game are explained in brilliant color, including modes of racing, controller layouts, screen displays, etc. There is really little left to chance. Each of the biographies of the 10 unique "characters" that serve as racers in the game are explained. One cool thing about the entire Jet Moto series has been the "personality" of each of the characters, giving the game sort of a role-playing game feel. This continues in JM3.

The menus in JM3 are very intuitive and easy to use. It's quite easy to move from a one-player to two-player game, access the memory-card section, choose a rider, etc. One cool feature in the menu section of the game is sort of a "picture-in-picture," which features various scenes and characters from the game at random. It's meaningless to the play of the game, but nice eye candy.

As mentioned before, there are 10 riders from which to choose. All of the familiar characters are back, as I mentioned before. And as before, each rider has different characteristics in acceleration, top speed and weight. This is more than just for show. These characteristics really affect how the bikes perform.

The riders all carry sponsors such as Mountain Dew, Slim Jim and Doritos. I've seen a few complaints from people in Usenet and other spots about this, but what's the big deal? Sponsorship is essential in today's racing, so it probably will be in the future, too. The sponsor logos don't impede the game, and they often offer some identification to the bikes, just like in today's auto racing. (Hey, I'll admit it –I'm a Slim Jim freak, so I spent a lot of time with Convict, the Slim Jim rider.)

Still, I long for the days of JM when you had 20 riders to choose from. Four teams, five riders each. That was really cool.

I do have a few quibbles about the menus. First, after loading the game and when exiting a race, you are sent to a title screen with the option to hit X to continue. Well, of course you want to continue. Chances are you don't want to sit and look at that screen, right? Why didn't the developers automatically send you to the main menu screen when exiting a race or entering the game? It's minor, but annoying.

Also, a description of each mode of racing doesn't appear on the screen when selecting the various modes of racing. This was a really cool feature in JM and JM2. Pick season racing? A short description of the mode would appear on the screen. After you've played the game for a while, a description of each mode isn't necessary. But for those who are renting the game or just purchased it, it would have been a nice touch.

The save function in the memory-card area also is a bit cumbersome when first saving a game to the memory card. The cursor only moves left to right, so you often have to scroll through most of the alphabet or number set to get your name right. Plus you must scroll all the way to the end to enter your name. It would have been easier just to press X. Minor, but nagging.

That said, the memory-card saving and loading process is clear and fast. There are multiple slots available for multiple saves. Very cool. You can also save after each round of a series, which is a nice touch. You don't have to stay up half the night to finish a level before saving. Mid-round saves have become almost the industry standard, but there are still a few companies that don't get it. 989 does, in this regard.

Races can be customized in a variety of ways. Length can be adjusted from three to seven laps, grappling poles, turbo, radar, the bike's speedometer, the navigation arrow and the stunt text all can be turned on or off. The Dual Shock vibration also can be turned on or off. Why anyone would want it off is beyond me, but the option is there.

The AI difficulty of your opponents can be adjusted, but with a catch: You can only select a skill level that is currently being played or has been completed. In other words, you can't jump right into the professional mode right away. You must start as a novice, win that series, work up to semi-pro, and so on. This is different than JM or JM2, which let you jump right in at any level. Some people may not care for this approach, but I do. It teaches you the subtleties of the bike's individual handling and forces you to really bear down and win. It's sort of like the license tests in Gran Turismo. You curse the whole way through them, but you realize after finishing that they really helped improve you as a driver. I think the same can be said here.

There are a bunch of modes of single-player racing. Season mode starts with a four-race series. If you score the most points after the series based on a 10-7-5-2-1-0 system for each race, you advance to the next level. You also get a stunt track. Each level has an increasing number of tracks, and the competitor's AI gets tougher, too. Pretty standard fare.

The circuit mode allows you to pick any or all of the 14 available tracks for a season of racing. This customization is a very, very cool feature.

But as every racing-game freak knows, good games are all about control. And this is a mixed bag in JM3.

Thankfully, 989 and Pacific Coast made the wise choice to allow riders to use both sticks on the Dual Shock. The left stick is for steering and the right for braking and acceleration. Electronic Arts really screwed up by leaving this option out of Need For Speed: High Stakes. How can anyone say that the 100-percent on, 100-percent off mode of braking and acceleration when using buttons is smoother than the gradual braking and acceleration of an analog stick? Beats me.

The Dual Shock is supported well, too. The controller vibrates with vigor when you hit objects.

But the control layout is awkward. This is a busy game from a control standpoint, as there are many modes of control crammed into the trusty Dual Shock. This game has a lot more to it than just steering and speed control. There are pitch and roll controls, a new powersliding function, nose up and down, hopping and grappling.

Frankly, it would be pretty hard to devise the perfect control layout with these many options. But after playing this game for a long time, I learned that leaning and turbo are the two most important functions in this game other than steering and braking/acceleration. I love using shoulder buttons for secondary functions. Lean can be achieved with the L1 and R1 buttons, but unfortunately none of the four controller configurations available offered the turbo button on the shoulder button. Instead, the turbo is activated by pressing on the right joystick. This is awkward as hell when trying to control speed at the same time. Unlike the masterpiece known as Gran Turismo, the controllers aren't mappable in this game. It would have been cool to place the various functions where you wanted them.

Gameplay : 86
This section really must be broken into two different parts: Single Player and Two Player. That's because I've never played a game with such a split personality.

Single-player racing is a lot of fun. There are very few racing games that have tied my stomach in knots from intensity, but this is one of them. Between the management of your speed and the tough nature of the tracks, beating the computer is a challenge, even on the novice level.

It's quite easy to get disoriented in this game, as there is much more racing on the walls, and even a bit on the ceiling in the Urban Subway track, than in JM and JM2. The yellow navigational arrow does a good job keeping you going in the right direction, but a really bad move can ruin your chances for a good finish.

One of the major features of all of the Jet Moto games has been the grapples. These towers of power help to pull you through turns if you hit the grapple button just before the turn. Hit the button too late, and the grapple will pull you back toward the turn. Hit the button for too long, and it will pull you into the wall.

Mastering the grapples was crucial in JM and JM2. It's not as important in JM3, I don't think. That's because the game moves so fast that sometimes it's tough to see the grapple towers. Plus the lean also does a nice job of cornering. The grapples still are crucial for success in slower sections of certain tracks, such as the Lost City track. But it doesn't play nearly as big a role as in JM and JM2. That's OK. I'll trade pure speed for gizmos like grapples any day.

There's a pleasant result from all that speed, too. You need to use the brake much more in JM3 than in JM or JM2. I hardly ever touched the brake in those games, simply lifting from the throttle or using the grapples to control speed. Not so in JM3. You must know when to put on the binders to be successful. That's a big improvement from JM and JM2.

This game also is much more forgiving than JM2. It seemed like you were dumped off your bike even in minor collisions in JM2, and that was annoying. You're tossed from your bike only after big hits and poor nose fore-aft control situations in JM3. In other words, if you smash into a wall or nose-dive into the water after a long jump or drop, you're going to get tossed. Otherwise, chances are you'll stay on the bike.

Jet Moto purists may sneer at this, but a more forgiving riding model is crucial in this game. It's so fast that using the same riding model as in JM2 would result in an exercise in frustration. Props to 989 and Pacific Coast for loosening the riding model to match the higher speeds.

That said, there doesn't seem to be as much real racing in JM3 as the first two. First, you're only racing against five other riders. One of my favorite aspects of JM was the 20-bike fields. You were always swapping paint and vapor trails. And while the field was smaller in JM2, the slower speeds allowed for closer racing.

JM3 seems to be more of a battle against the tracks than the other riders. Sometimes you pass them so quickly that the only way you know you've moved up in the standings is to check the display at the top of the screen.

All of the tracks are challenging. There are a variety of twists, turns and shortcuts that must be mastered to be successful. Varying terrain types do have an effect on speeds. When climbing a sandy hill, the bike will slow considerably. But it will haul you know what on flat water or asphalt.

There are very few straightaways, so the turbo button doesn't get a heavy workout in this game. Speaking of the turbo button, it works well – almost too well. Turbo power is collected after each lap and can be meted out during that lap until it's all used up. In the original JM, you had only four turbo boosts per lap. In JM2 and JM3, you can parse out your turbo boosts in varying doses until it's used up. That's a good thing.

But the turbo button works almost too well in JM3. It puts you on a rocket ride of blinding speed that lets you gain quite a bit of ground on the few straightaways. Thank goodness there are few straightaways, or this game might get easy.

But this game is anything but easy. The tracks and the high speed keep you on your toes at all times.

If you couldn't tell already, I'm a big fan of the speed of this game. But that same speed makes this a mediocre two-player game, at best.

I brought this game to a buddy's house, telling him it was good fun. I wanted to play it with him to sample the two-player mode. We turned it on, and it was switched off again pretty quickly.

Simply put, this game moves too fast for split-screen mode. It was almost impossible to keep the bike on the road with a vertical split screen. It wasn't much better with a horizontal, either. Games this fast require a full-field of vision to make the quick, reflex-based decisions that are so crucial to success. You can't do that in two-player mode. I craned my neck while playing, trying to squeeze more forward field of vision than was available. I ended up with a sore neck and a case of serious frustration.

One other negative thing about two-player mode. There are no computer opponents. This leads to boredom if one player gets a big lead. All racing games should follow the lead of EA's NASCAR series and have computer opponents in two-player racing.

Replay Value : 82
Working your way through the season mode will provide quite a challenge. I never got to the stunt mode, but I'm sure that adds replay value, too.

Once you complete the season mode, you can try it again with a different rider. Since the characteristics of each rider are so different, this would be fun and add replay value. The create-a-season mode also adds depth and more hours of fun play.

There are no rally or elimination modes, which I really liked in JM and JM2. No biggie, though, but it does make for a deeper game.

The single-race and practice modes are a problem. It only allows you to access the tracks that you have earned through the various series. You start with only a handful of tracks. So, head for that cheat code right away. It sure would be nice to run single races – killing a few minutes of time for fun – on any track you wanted. I can understand using the "graduation effect" in the season mode, but why deny an enthusiast the pleasure of racing on any of the tracks? I sort of like the "game within a game" approach. Make accessing the tracks hard in the season mode. But give us all the tracks to practice on and have fun with. This is a mistake, one that was carried over from JM and JM2.

But the biggest minus in the replay mode of this game is the two-player mode. It's really frustrating, especially if you're trying to introduce the game to a new player. Two-player racing might be fun for two experienced players, but for anyone else it's just not much fun.

Overall : 85
Any fan of the Jet Moto series will like this game. 989 and Pacific Coast have added pure speed and superb graphics to the Jet Moto equation, which enhances the franchise. This game is more of an improvement from JM2 than JM2 was from the original.

Speed freaks and those who like arcade-style, reflex-based games will enjoy this title. Like the original JM and JM2, JM3 is not realistic or based on any real racing series, but it's fun.

Those who seek realism or a good two-player game should steer clear of this game. But it's a fun ride for everyone else.

By: Paul Kelly 9/17/99

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