Review: MotoHeroz (WiiWare)

In pole position

If there's one letter of the alphabet that, when included at the end of a title should instantly tell you not to buy that game, it's the letter “z”. The quality of a product with a name that has the linguistic audacity to inappropriately replace the sensual sweeps of a sexily shaped "s", is for the most part awful: just see the Petz, Babyz and Horsez titles as evidence. Similarly, when a developer starts mucking around with grammar and form, such as missing or substituting a letter for effect – we're looking at you Driv3r – the alarm bells should also be ringing. MotoHeroz commits both of these grammatrocities, but don't let its way with words fool you; RedLynx's latest effort is not only one of the best games on WiiWare, it's one of the strongest on the entire platform. Full stop.

The team behind the game has a strong pedigree when it comes to the racer genre: Trials HD and DrawRace 2 are both RedLynx titles that successfully utilise the hardware on which they appear, whether it's the online infrastructure of the Xbox 360 or the immediacy of iOS touch devices. The developer has taken a similar approach with this physics based racer that has a puzzle edge, yet with only sparing use of motion controls.

Movement of the default wheeled model of your vehicle is a doddle. Holding the Wii Remote on its side, buttons 1 and 2 handle acceleration left and right respectively, the D-Pad shifting the weight of the buggy and affecting its angle of pitch. There are several bonus pick-ups in the game too, all activated with the A button, ranging from nitrous boosts, to causing explosions surrounding the car, to a spring that launches it into the air. The Minus button restarts the race completely (which you'll be using a lot) and the one use of motion control is to right yourself when upside down with a shake of the controller. Later on in the lengthy single player experience there are underwater and helicopter sections that intelligently alter the handling scheme, providing a welcome break from the ground based action.

Not that you'll tire of it in the first place. The courses, taking place upon four themed and distinctive backdrops, are so well shaped, so perfectly formed, that they take on the feel of puzzles to be outsmarted, speed conundrums that the player will take several attempts to understand and several more to overcome in the requisite time limits. While most racers within a similar vein are happy to simply provide huge ramps and tricky landings to contend with, MotoHeroz goes several steps further and by the end you'll have loop-the-looped, driven vertically up vast stretches of walls, rolled down a hill in a makeshift toboggan, floated across the sky on helium filled balloons and a whole lot more. The title is so crammed with variety that often it only has the time to cover an idea once before moving on, keeping the participant in a constant state of anticipating what challenges it'll throw at them next.

All of this only works so well because of the robust engine at the game's core. Within a half hour of play you'll know exactly how your vehicle will behave in any given situation, accurately predicting the exact speed required to take a jump, in order to squeeze through a hole not much bigger than your buggy, saving precious seconds on runs. Conversely when you fail, you know it's your fault, the physics system is too robust to ever let doubts about it creep into your mind.

In most respects, the presentation is a continuation of this title’s excellence. The different areas are chunky in design, highly detailed and feature a bold colour palette, all smoothly presented with little to no loss of frame rate. Subtle little lighting tricks and effects further lend this title an aura of high quality, as does the audio, the engine noise penetrating the play and serving as the audible equivalent of a speedometer. Yet there are rare occasions in which the background and foreground can become confused, and it's never pleasant to have an attempt at a time ruined by slamming into what appears to be roadside décor. It only affects a handful of tracks and you'll avoid them on a second attempt with ease, a minor blot on otherwise excellent design.

Single player is not all MotoHeroz has to offer though, we haven't begun to discuss the game's online and multiplayer offerings. The title features easily accessible four player local competitive racing on a huge number of tracks with any car you've unlocked in single player, though online competition is not an option. This, however, is more than made up for by the compulsion brought about by daily time trial tournaments. Logging onto the multiplayer, you're given a number of challenges to participate in and asked to set times for the world to see. With only 24 hours to post a score, it all but guarantees that MotoHeroz will be on the front page of your Wii's main menu, dipping in regularly to see how well you did and to continue ploughing twenty minute sessions into it long after you've seen everything it has to offer. Of course there's also DLC on the way, so "everything it has to offer" may well end up being much greater than you might expect.

Conclusion

Despite the absence of competitive online multiplayer and the occasional minor visual issue, it's difficult to see where the developers could have improved upon this bumper racing package, such is its completeness. Maximising its use of the Wii hardware in key areas and reigning it back where it's not needed, MotoHeroz flourishes in every aspect: it looks great, plays superbly and makes you want to return to it time and time again. Had this been released on disc at full price, it would be a strong recommendation. Even at the premium price of 1500 Nintendo Points, it's unmissable.