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SuperCross Circuit (PSX) Review



Motocross games have grown in popularity over the last few years, and 989 Sports' SuperCross Circuit tries to satisfy some of the hunger for the motorcycle racing genre. Featuring realistic riders and tracks, this title may kick the dirt up and give you a run for your money. The game starts easy but quickly takes a leap in difficulty, testing your gaming skills. You can try your hand at the motocross and supercross circuits, or perform tricks in a free ride mode.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
The races in SuperCross Circuit feature a total of 8 racers. While actual races have much larger fields, by restricting the number of opponents, the game runs at a smooth pace. There is virtually no slowdown in this title. In fact, even entering the first turn in a race with 8 bikes on screen nets a smooth as silk presentation.

Fortunately, the game did not sacrifice graphics for speed. The in-game graphics give a true sense of the motocross and supercross atmosphere. For the supercross series, the races are held in actual stadiums, including my hometown Houston Astrodome. While the seats in the Dome were the wrong color, the essence of the building was captured. In the distance the stadium seats were filled to capacity with fans, and in some locations, you can even spot parts of football fields. Remember that the supercross events typically take place in football and baseball stadiums, and the programmers made sure to include every detail of the stadiums. On some tracks you'll even see remnants of the football field, such as yard lines. Show up at a track early just to practice and you'll find an empty arena or a couple of devoted fans watching you turn a few laps.

The course-side graphics are top-notch as well. The supercross courses are lined with bales of hay and signage to mark the course boundary. The dirt track has a realistic look to it, and you'll notice darker lines to help guide you through the turns.

The outdoor motocross courses are no different. The elevation changes in the game are sensational. The hills and jumps come in all shapes and sizes, and for some of the bigger jumps, they end up making you guess which way the course turns on the other side.

And the motorcycles and riders themselves each have unique looks. Supercross Circuit features actual professional riders, and each rider has his set of leathers, helmet, and boots. While the graphics may be a little blocky, you'll have no problem recognizing logos on the riders.

Presentation/Audio : 65
Do you like the sound of gas trimmers? Well, the motorcycles in this game sound kind of like you are working on your lawn. While the 125cc and 250cc motorcycles have somewhat different sounds, the sounds of the motorcycles are uneventful. A change in throttle yields a change in pitch, and a sudden burst of throttle gives yet a higher pitch. Collisions in the game sound pathetic. If you hit another motorcycle, a clink sounds. That's it.

Unfortunately, there is no voice commentary during the races. Unless you have the music turned up, all you'll hear are those weed whackers working away. The only other sound is an occasional cheer from the crowd, but you have to bring that on by performing a mid-air stunt.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the game is the audio. It's just not imaginative and just too repetitive. You might as well turn the volume down and listen to something else.

Interface/Options : 80
There are two styles of play in Supercross Circuit - racing and free ride. In the racing modes, the emphasis is clearly on crossing the finish line first. In this mode, you'll concentrate on just a few controls: the D-pad or analog pad controls steering and leaning the rider forwards or backwards; the X button puts on the gas; to brake or turn hard in a corner, the square button is used; and to give a throttle burst, the circle or R1 button can be tapped. I found the layout of the buttons to be inadequate for the supercross courses. The short straights and multitude of turns means mashing buttons to brake, accelerate, and give a boost of throttle. The best option is to play with a programmable controller to help space the buttons out. A few hours of play with the standard configuration will certainly lead to discomfort. The motocross courses faired a little better, mainly since the amount of braking is reduced for those style courses.

Tricks can be performed in the racing mode, although you'll find yourself too busy with the competition to dazzle the crowd. Rather, the free ride mode provides the best opportunity to play with the extra options. Special moves are produced by pressing combinations of the L2/R2 buttons and the D-pad.

Menus are a breeze to walk through, and the game loads quickly. Game saves are quick and small. The game requires only one block to save your progress. The manual discusses nearly all the game options, though I did find that some of the options for setting up your bike were not discussed in the manual at all.

The vibration feature of the dual shock controller has lackluster support. The first vibration compatible motorcycle game I played was Moto Racer 2. In that game, the controller rattles with every jump and collision. It even gives feedback when you take turns too fast. The vibration in Supercross Circuit is subtle. You don't get bone-jarring jolts with every jump.

Gameplay : 90
Boy, do my thumbs hurt. As mentioned earlier, Supercross Circuit has a couple of game modes. Most of your time will be spent in the Career mode. In this mode, you start by purchasing a 125cc bike and competing in a series of four races on "local" tracks. You haven't hit the big time yet. In addition to buying a set of wheels, you can also get your racing outfit. There are a limited number of uniform, boot, and helmet designs, but some can have custom colors.

The next step is to select 7 racers from a list of professional riders that you will compete against. The racers will be with you for the entire series, not just that race. From there, it's practice time or off to the races. Once the gate drops on the local track, you'll get your first taste of racing. The courses have a variety of turns and jumps, and you'll find that you'll need to adjust your approach for some of them. If you forget to hit the throttle boost, you could land in the valley of two jumps and struggle up the hill. Conversely, jump too far and you may plant yourself on the edge or on the front slope of another hill. Timing and knowing the course are the keys to victory.

Money is awarded based on the finishing positions. Cash is used to repair and upgrade your motorcycle, and the available upgrades include engines, tires, exhaust systems, suspension, and brakes. Points are also awarded. A maximum of 25 points is awarded for first place, and a paltry one point is given for finishing last. The local series consists of four races, and the goal is to finish atop the rider list to advance to the next level.

If you finish the local series in first place, the 125cc West Supercross series opens up. This four race series gives you your first taste of stadium racing. You'll be in for a treat when you get here. As mentioned in the graphics summary, the attention to detail for the supercross events is tremendous. And the racing is even better. The jumps are higher, so timing is more critical. Nothing is worse than landing at the bottom of a large jump with no momentum to get you over the hill quickly. You'll watch other riders jumping over your head as you slowly make it up the hill. The tight turns are handled exactly the same way as actual racing. Quite simply, the experience is a rush.

After the four race West Supercross series, the 125cc East Supercross series opens up. This series also consists of four races. Get past this series and it's time for the outdoors. A six race 125cc Motocross series gives you a taste of riding through the country. The motocross courses offer a completely different style of racing. While the supercross circuits are all about short straights and tight turns, the motocross courses lend themselves to more of an open road style of racing. While the straights are longer, the skill level required to come in first remains high. You'll encounter some blind jumps in a few courses, and you definitely need to set yourself for each turn to avoid excessive braking.

Once you've made it through the 125cc class in first place, the 250cc class opens up. The 125cc series are fairly easy, and all four series can be beaten in a few hours by experienced racers. However, the 250cc class is a sudden jump in difficulty level. I found the jump to be frustratingly difficult at first. However, the key is to make sure you have enough money saved up. Buy a decent bike and improve it as soon as possible. If you come into the series with just enough money to buy a bike, you'll find yourself consistently bringing up the rear in the first series, which is a 9 course supercross series. Even after buying all the available equipment for your bike, you'll find that the strength of the other drivers is difficult to overcome.

The final series in the 250cc class is a 12 course motocross series. So there you have it - 9 stadium courses, 12 motocross courses, and 4 local courses. That's 25 tracks at your disposal. For those who complain about the lack of tracks in a game, leave your complaints at the door. Some of the tracks are downright nasty. 21 of the 25 tracks are authentic, and after racing a few of the more difficult ones, you'll gain new respect for the riders. The track design in this game is second to none. If you like jumps and turns, look no further.

The AI of the opponents is good. Riders are aggressive and will pass you at any time. I noticed that the AI is very fair. There's no apparent cheating by the AI at all. You can find yourself in first place during a race, but if you aren't aggressive on the course, you eventually get passed. Likewise, if you make some early mistakes, you can catch up and make your way through the field. The AI riders make their own mistakes. You find them face first in a turn or stuck at the bottom of jumps. The only time the field runs away from you is when you haven't upgraded your motorcycle.

With all that's good about the racing, there are a few bad things. First, the game only has three views available for racing. The options are either first person or a choice between a near and far third person view. The first person view is too difficult to use. A real racer can turn his head to view upcoming turns, but here you just look straight ahead. Get a little loose and you will be looking straight at the side of the course rather than down the track. The only acceptable views are the third person views, of which the far view is the best. But even that view is somewhat close to the action. In the first couple of turns of a race, there may be as many as 8 motorcycles on the screen at once, and finding your bike in the pack can be difficult. In fact, sometimes you get lost in the crowd and you essentially driving blind for a time.

The other problem with the game is the handling of the bikes. I did not notice any real difference in handling between the 125cc and 250cc class other than horsepower. Furthermore, bikes within a class handled nearly identical. And the handling was a mixture of arcade and simulation. The forward motion seemed realistic, but turning was too quick and touchy. Turning under hard braking seems fine, but turning at speed is simply too fast. Weight shifting is instantaneous, and you can bounce back and forth like a ping-pong ball. The quick turning is a special problem coming out of turns. Because of the high sensitivity of the controller in turns, oversteer is a problem and leads to instability coming out of turns. With practice this can be minimized, but it does add to the frustration level.

Supercross Circuit also features an arcade mode where you can race on any of the unlocked tracks. Races can be 5, 10, or 20 laps, and the difficulty level of the opponents can be set. A free ride mode is a single rider only mode where the object is to score points by performing aerial tricks. Taking place in one of two locations, the free ride mode seems like a throw-in for the game. I didn't find it terribly enjoyable. The courses seem ill-designed to handle the speeds necessary to prepare for spectacular jumps.

Replay Value: 85
Supercross Circuit scores in the replay department on two fronts. First, there is the goal of coming in first. For those obsessed with finishing at the top of the standings, the game will keep you occupied. While the 125cc class series are relatively easy, the 250cc class is a big jump in difficulty. The added difficulty may turn some off while others will look forward to the challenge. To alleviate the challenge, you can upgrade your bike, but the upgrades are nowhere as deep as games like Gran Turismo.

Second, the game is fun, especially the supercross tracks. While the game is fun, you won't find yourself playing it hours on end if you stick with only the arcade mode. If you just want a spot race, you'll find yourself picking it out of your collection for a quick race. It doesn't have the depth of a Gran Turismo or the thrill of a Need for Speed, but it does offer a break from the standard car racing games.

Overall : 85
If you can look past some of the spotty control issues, the graphics and track layout in Supercross Circuit puts you as close as possible to the experience of being a professional supercross and motocross rider. The tracks are phenomenal, with jumps that yield huge air, blind jumps, and tight, twisting, curves. The AI competition is some of the best you'll find in a racing game. The career mode is well done and adds more depth to the game, although it's a little shallow on the upgrades to the motorcycle. In the end, the positives outweigh the rough edges in the game (controls, poor sound, and lack of more driving views).

By: James Smith 11/24/99

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