MX Nitro has an air of familiarity about it, and that’s just fine, albeit a little to the detriment of the overall experience.
Motocross is one of the few types of racing sports I actively enjoy. The spray of mud as a dirt bike takes a corner, the showman-like tricks riders pull off as they soar high into the air, and the wince-inducing moments where a rider crumples into a painful heap and are subsequently twatted by their bike after the fact. There’s a gleefully raucous air to it that belies the sheer skill and balls it takes to actually do any of it and not end up a human jam smear. Games such as early classics like Excitebike, to the more modern Trials, have channeled that dirty anarchy into a more stylised videogame form fairly successfully, and MX Nitro follows the same 2.5D trick n’ race path.Question is, does it follow a little too closely?
As with the aforementioned genre brethren, MX Nitro uses a side-on camera (albeit much closer to the action), with a singular route for your bike. You must work your way through multiple stages that vary between straight-up races, trick contests and boss battles over dirt tracks and other various more extravagant, yet grounded, terrains. Each stage has a base objective (finish in the top two, score the highest points total, etc) and some optional sub-objectives that earn you bonus moolah should you complete them.
It looks decent enough, pretty much what you’d expect from a game in debt to the pioneers of the 2.5D dirtbike title. The backgrounds look particularly nice, if unspectacular. Riders and their bikes don’t always seem to get along in terms of animation, with riders clipping into their motorised steeds thanks to certain clothing/bike customisations. The presentation is a crude, early 2000’s attempt at being hip, with the same sort of mainstream approximation of punk that later Tony Hawk’s titles took up.
MX Nitro also handles pretty much exactly like its nearest influences, with the bike’s balance determined by the left stick movement. With this you can set up wheelies, stoppies, and flip the bike in the air, always being cautious not to oversteer it. There’s a slight reduction in the how heavy the bikes feel, but nothing hugely discernable. On the face buttons you can combine simple inputs to pull off tricks both on the ground and in the air. You get a basic set of tricks to begin with, but as you progress you unlock a much larger, and more useful, selection to really rack up the points and feed your nitro meter. The nitro meter is a necessity if you’re to win races and gain more airtime for skill contests. Without it you find yourself struggling to keep up with the AI, who do occasionally put a foot wrong, but very rarely so.
MX Nitro’s biggest strength comes from the slickness of its controls. They aren’t so challenging to master that they alienate the player, but they also aren’t overly simplistic either. There’s ample time to right the bike in the air, and if you foul it up too bad, the quick restart option keeps the flow going nicely. The gradual unlocking of better tricks, bikes and gear means there’s a steady stream of fresh things to try for a few hours.
The problem is, MX Nitro apes its contemporaries so well, it actually feels rather indistinguishable from them. MX Nitro lacks the goofy flair of a Trials, and generally feels like a watered down mulch of other motocross titles. That’s not to say it’s inherently bad, after all it is a good formula, but it comes across a touch bland and devoid of its own ideas. It also lacks the intricacies of other, similar titles, with very little variety to the stages and their obstacles.
Disappointingly, MX Nitro’s biggest difference is probably its greatest weakness. While not grounded completely in reality, it is more so than the genre leaders, and that hurts its chances of standing out enough to recommend as an alternative, let alone above them.
Still, if you really are hankering after more motocross gaming, there’s plenty on offer here that’s solid and enjoyable enough to warrant a purchase. You get 14 locations with several stages for each, a slew of upgrades and customizables, and there’s a decent online component that brings a different dimension to the competitive nature of the game, but how long that will remain healthy and active, given the competition, remains to be seen. If that seems like enough for you, then there’s little doubt MX Nitro will be an effective time-waster. Just don’t go expecting much more than that.