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by Eidos

Screenshot-03-01-01.jpg (5952 bytes)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. I’ve read many of these reviews, and the reviewers don’t really have a reason to dislike Mad Dash, they just kind of do. There are reviews that say Mad Dash doesn’t 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.

Screenshot-01-01-01-01.jpg (6509 bytes)Let’s set up some a priori assumptions: If you don’t like kart racers (think Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, Loony Toons Racing, etc.), then you won’t like Mad Dash. It is a kart racer. I happen to enjoy kart racers a lot, although I’ll 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 isn’t a lot of time for social hob-knobbing or story development when you’re 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. It’s hard to imagine so many people really not enjoying it, and I’ve heard some asinine criticism ("Man, you can’t have a race game without vehicles!"). So we’ll try to set the record straight here.

newscreen_6-01.jpg (6544 bytes)The basic premise of Mad Dash is like the basic premise of any other racing game – inconsequential. There’s 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.

madscreen01-01.jpg (7049 bytes)The levels are big. I mean really big. During the height of your performance you’ll 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.

Screenshot-02-01.jpg (7455 bytes)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 can’t; 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.

newscreen_7-01.jpg (8291 bytes)Of course, the abilities are just the beginning of the complication. This is why I don’t understand what other reviewers mean when they complain about how shallow Mad Dash is. It’s by far the most complex kart racer I’ve 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.

newscreen_2-01.jpg (9117 bytes)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.

newscreen_5-01.jpg (9793 bytes)You pick up power-ups, as in any good kart racer, and they’re 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.

madscreen04-01.jpg (9850 bytes)So, finally, we’ve gone through all the different things you’ll need to be in control of while playing Mad Dash. It’s daunting at first, and I’ve had friends who pick it up, don’t get it right away, and don’t want to try anymore. A poorly run race in Mad Dash is slow and excrutiating, and you’re 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, it’s not like you have to devote half your life to it or anything. After a couple of races most folks I’ve played with pick it up pretty well.

madscreen03-01.jpg (10697 bytes)The characters aren’t 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 you’d 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.

newscreen_1-01.jpg (8352 bytes)And did I mention they look cool? In fact, everything in Mad Dash looks cool. It is a very pretty game, but you probably won’t notice. In a way, it’s 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 can’t be the same, then don’t even look at Mad Dash. You’d be better off adjusting your struts and transmission one more time in whatever hyper-realistic vehicular race game you’re playing today. But if you’ve 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.

Shawn Rider   (12/09/2001)


Ups: Huge courses; great kart style gameplay; lots of fun; high replay value; really pretty.

Downs: Swimming; climbing; zip lines; and that hand over hand thing.

Platform: Xbox