Bringing online racing to the 3DS eShop in any form is a pretty ambitious undertaking, but we'll say up front that ATV Wild Ride 3D gets that part exactly right. In our experience the online racing is fast, smooth, and reliable. As far as that goes, we genuinely couldn't ask for anything more, and the simple fact that it has online functionality might be enough for many gamers.
However the game does have its issues, and they unfortunately run rather deeply. This is a shame, because ATV Wild Ride 3D absolutely radiates potential.
First, the good. In addition to the excellent online play, there are varied environments. While there are only a small number of tracks, they each look and feel unique, which lends them a definite sense of character. They are each based in a different region of the world, and come with variants as well. For instance, you might race on a track once, then find it extended the next time you come across it, and reversed the third time. This is a great way of maximizing the mileage of relatively limited assets, and we like that.
As you race through the single player World Tour mode, you'll earn points depending upon where you finish in each race. These points allow you to unlock additional tracks and tours, and there are eight racers and eight vehicles to unlock along the way as well. In addition to the World Tour you can also play a Quick Race, which allows you to choose a track and set the number of racers and laps, among other variables, a Time Trial which sees you trying to set and beat your best times, and Freestyle mode, which awards points for tricks — more on those later — instead of speed.
These offline modes provide quite a lot of playtime, and the online mode adds even more. The visuals are a bit muddy, but they fly by quickly enough that you're not likely to be distracted by textures. The 3D is also well implemented, and doesn't slow the game down to any noticeable degree.
The soundtrack consists of a number of thrashing, aggressive rock tunes, which can sometimes feel out of place in a given environment, but we liked them. We imagine this will be one of the more divisive things about the game, as it's definitely not the kind of music that will please everybody, but we enjoyed it well enough that it wasn't bothersome.
Unfortunately we're by no means finished talking about the game, as there are quite a few issues we feel interfere significantly with our enjoyment of ATV Wild Ride 3D.
For starters, and perhaps the most important issue, there's the clipping. Solid objects, in many cases, aren't solid. Meaning you can drive — or fly — straight through an object that should make you bounce back. It's impossible to predict which objects aren't treated as solid until you're already zipping through them, and if you're relying on a stone or a sign to deflect your trajectory — as they usually do, and are meant to — you can end up on the receiving end of a nasty surprise as you instead drop into oblivion.
The problem ranges from stones and boulders that are actually on the track, and therefore very likely to be hit at some point, to objects that you can fly into off a jump, and in the latter case you can even end up on parts of the track you're not supposed to be able to access. It's sloppy design, and it's quite frustrating.
In other cases, the opposite happens: you collide with a solid object and bounce back, as you should, but the game interprets that — somehow — as you falling off the track, and your screen will fade out while your racer is placed back where he's "supposed" to be. It's very strange, and very annoying, especially when being reset costs you a nice lead in the race, and you never left the track to begin with.
The layout of the tracks is also problematic when you can't see what's coming up ahead. Since you can't always rely on solid objects to keep you from falling to your doom, it's doubly important that you stay centered on the road. However various jumps will launch you into the abyss if you hit them at anything more than a crawl...even though the game encourages you to take jumps as high and far as you can. Racing therefore becomes less of a sport of speed and reaction than it does one of consideration and memorisation, as you can rarely see whether the other side of that ramp holds more track or nothing at all, and if you don't remember, you're just flipping a coin.
Many of the tracks also feature a fair number of hairpin turns, which tend to occur after ramps or other obstacles that have you approaching them at an inconvenient angle. While this isn't a problem in itself, it does again demand perfection rather than reaction, and if the game's AI is anything to go by, even computer-controlled racers who should know everything they're about to face tend to get stuck in these corners regularly, which we think is saying something.
As mentioned, ATV Wild Ride 3D encourages you to jump far and wide, doing tricks all the way. Doing this increases your nitro meter, which allows you to deploy speed boosts by pressing X. You do tricks while in the air by pulling the circle pad in any direction — different directions do different tricks — and pressing L for a short trick, R for a longer trick, and both L and R for a very long trick. If you collide with anything, including the ground, before your trick is finished, you'll be thrown from your vehicle and lose time while the game resets you.
This is fine, but getting extra lift off a jump requires you to hold down on the circle pad until you reach the end of the ramp, then quickly pressing up. From there you also need to slide the circle pad in another direction to do a trick, and all of this makes it extremely difficult to pull off without changing your trajectory coming off the jump. Unless you have rock-rigid motion in your left thumb, you're going to drift off course, and when you do you may find that you're sailing straight for a wall instead of the open course ahead of you. The tricks are a great idea in theory, but pulling them off without steering wrongly is needlessly difficult, and we found ourselves winning more often when we ignored them all together in favour of simply driving straight. You can use the D-pad, but doing so sacrifices your ability to turn more precisely during the rest of the race, so it's a lose-lose.
It's also a bit disappointing that none of the racers have distinct traits — just different names and outfits — and the vehicles repeat stats, but those are not major problems...certainly not in light of the larger problems of clipping and control.
ATV Wild Ride 3D had a lot of potential, but it turned out to be a buggy little curio instead. The online matches are good enough fun, until you fall through a solid object or launch yourself into an unseen pit and remember what made Mario Kart 7 so good.
The game is something of a mixed bag. Its online functionality is solid and very much welcome on the eShop, and the generous number of unlockable racers and vehicles encourages replay for fans of the game. But significant clipping issues, glitchy boundary detection and clumsy implementation of the "trick" mechanic mar the experience significantly. It's a great idea, and the online fun may balance out the issues for some players, but we feel as though this one ran out of gas.