Here I go again, getting way off the curve. Obviously, reviews of Mad Dash have
come out already, and most of them are pretty mediocre. Ive read many of these
reviews, and the reviewers dont really have a reason to dislike Mad Dash, they just
kind of do. There are reviews that say Mad Dash doesnt have knowable or likeable
characters. There are reviews that say Mad Dash slows down a little at especially hectic
times in four-player reaces. There are reviews that say Mad Dash is too simple. And after
reading these reviews, I have to wonder if those folks played the same game I did.
Lets set up some a priori assumptions: If you dont
like kart racers (think Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, Loony Toons Racing, etc.), then you
wont like Mad Dash. It is a kart racer. I happen to enjoy kart racers a lot,
although Ill admit that many of them lack a general appeal. Certainly, recognizable
characters help a game where mostly all you do is run through courses. There isnt a
lot of time for social hob-knobbing or story development when youre just trying to
get to the finish line. And, of course, you want a kart racer that has a good amount of
complexity so you can keep coming back to it, get better than your friends, and repeatedly
prove your dominance in the kart racing arena. So what about Mad Dash? I love it.
Its hard to imagine so many people really not enjoying it, and Ive heard some
asinine criticism ("Man, you cant have a race game without vehicles!"). So
well try to set the record straight here.
The basic premise of Mad Dash is like the basic premise of any other racing
game inconsequential. Theres this bad guy and he wants to do some bad stuff
so he gets all of these racers together to win pieces of a meteor, intending to steal the
pieces from the winner in order to further his evil (bad) plans. Every character involved
in the game is a bizarre, cartoony animal sort. There is the crass boar, the space dog, a
weasel, a lion, a big blue guy, and four others. Winning the game unlocks new characters
and levels. At first you can play eight levels, including Tiki Village, the Ruins, Dino
Oasis, Mt. Magma, Pipewerx, Biotech, and Alpine Cup.
The levels are big. I mean really big. During the height of your performance
youll still take three to five minutes to complete each level, and there are no laps
in Mad Dash. Each race is run straight through a level. To give you an idea of how big
they are, a single level in Mad Dash is bigger than the entire game Gex 3, both of which
were developed by Crystal Dynamics. On each level are a bunch of alternate paths. Some
paths require special abilities to follow them, while others are open to all racers and,
if used appropriately, can really pull out the race.
There are three basic types of racer: dashers, bashers, and gliders. Different
tracks are a bit more accomodating to different types of racer, but for the most part any
type will do well as long as you make use of the ability-specific paths in each course.
Dashers can make it up steep inclines others cant; bashers can bust through walls
and obstacles; and gliders can soar above the fray, often catching speed-ups or shortcuts.
As you race, you pick up pieces of green meteor. Grab enough of them and you get all the
abilities, which can allow you to really move ahead of the pack.
Of course, the abilities are just the beginning of the complication. This is
why I dont understand what other reviewers mean when they complain about how shallow
Mad Dash is. Its by far the most complex kart racer Ive ever picked up. You
make use of both analog control sticks and every button on the controller during each
race. In addition to dashing, bashing, or gliding, you can also powerslide around corners,
giving yourself a little speed boost. You can also perform stunts when you make a jump and
are awarded a speed-up for completing them successfully. In addition, you can catch rails
and slide them Soapshoe style to catch quick lines over difficult terrain.
In each race you are asked to climb, swim, use a zip line, or cross a gap by
going hand-over-hand. To speed up during these activities you must spin your right analog
stick in circles, all the while guiding your character with the left stick. Granted, this
is the most annoying part of Mad Dash, and definitely the thing that gets old the
quickest. Still, these segments last for a short time and if you get good you can get
through them very quickly. And the variety in what you have to do to control your
character at any moment is a great equalizer it takes awhile for everyone to get
good at, and even then people screw up because of the nature of the task.
You pick up power-ups, as in any good kart racer, and theyre pretty cool.
Among the best power-ups are the Psycho Chicken, a guided chicken missle, Bouncy Fruit,
which blows up on impact with a character, and Ribbon of Pain, which makes your trail
deadly. There are more power-ups to fill out the requisite speed-up, defense, and freeze
functions for a total of nine power-ups. These are a lot of fun to use, and they are
scattered all over the courses. If all else fails, you can always just beat the racers
near you with your fists, too.
So, finally, weve gone through all the different things youll need
to be in control of while playing Mad Dash. Its daunting at first, and Ive had
friends who pick it up, dont get it right away, and dont want to try anymore.
A poorly run race in Mad Dash is slow and excrutiating, and youre bound to have a
couple of them in the beginning. Investing some time reading the manual really helps on
this one. While there is a definite learning curve, its not like you have to devote
half your life to it or anything. After a couple of races most folks Ive played with
pick it up pretty well.
The characters arent immediately recognizable, although there are some
characters here that could become icons if they show up in enough games. All of the racers
are very well-designed and appealing, and they spout off edgier comments throughout the
races. There is no doubt that this is a game designed for the teenage sense of humor (and
techno music fetishism) in all of us, and youd be hard pressed to find any of the
Mario Kart characters spewing lines like these. So while the racers do come from pretty
much out of nowhere, they grow on you.
And did I mention they look cool? In fact, everything in Mad Dash looks cool.
It is a very pretty game, but you probably wont notice. In a way, its a shame
to waste such beautiful design and scenery on a breakneck racer. You will find yourself
wanting to pause and look around (good luck without a look button), and then you will find
yourself eating dust in a serious way. Such is life during the mad dash.
Basically, whether you like or dislike Mad Dash seems to come from preconceived
notions. If you already hate kart racers, then why would you even bother? If you honestly
think that a race game without vehicles just cant be the same, then dont even
look at Mad Dash. Youd be better off adjusting your struts and transmission one more
time in whatever hyper-realistic vehicular race game youre playing today. But if
youve ever enjoyed a kart racer, or if you play games with friends, Mad Dash needs
to be in your collection. It is, without a doubt, one of the best titles out for Xbox
right now. The racing style and furious action will keep you playing this against your
pals for months.