ATV Fever is at its best when machines hit the dirt and one gets into the zone of navigating a track’s turns and bumps. It’s a good way to distract oneself from the strange choices made in the organization of the game off the track.
But first, the racing. ATV Fever has a pretty simple control setup. There are no tricks; no competitor-face-punching. It’s just go, brake/reverse, slide, and turbo boost. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the most challenging and rewarding aspect of the races is navigating the track itself.
There are 14 tracks visible in Free Play when starting the game, most of which need to be unlocked in other game modes. Each layout includes varying degrees of turns, small bumps, hills, and water to blaze through, and doing well means getting used to the feel of the controls. The D-Pad works best for steering, even when playing on a 3DS. While the Circle Pad works, it feels overly sensitive and is bound to send ATVs veering into many a barrier. A lighter touch with the D-Pad with proper management of sliding and the throttle actually feels good, and there’s a sense of weight and substance to the vehicles.
Unfortunately, other parts of ATV Fever feel much less substantial. While the fundamental layouts of the tracks are nice and the backdrops do change, there are no real defining elements to make any stand out in a particular way. Even the obstacles seem similar, with the DS-age graphics not adding to any sharpness, and it makes all the tracks just seem to blur together. This effect is exacerbated when the different modes throw you right into races without telling you what track you’re on. Your best bet is to memorize the shape of the course as it appears on the bottom screen map.
Some of the race modes themselves are also confusingly set up. On the plus side, there are time-based challenges that are easy to figure out and work well when your biggest rival is the track itself. Get through three tracks without running out of time. Groovy. But there’s also a “Championship” mode that’s just mind-boggling.
The championship series span over multiple tiers with two types of ATV, and seem pretty standard at first: race against 5 CPU racers for points. But is it a championship series when it consists of only two races? How about one? Yes, there are one-race tiers in the championship mode. Win the race and you’re off to the next tier. What’s the point of points here, then? They make it feel like these events will be larger, but they don’t deliver.
The CPU-controlled drivers show up for every race, often keeping up well and providing something to pit one’s performance against. It’s a pity that they are devoid of personality, though, and serve more as mindless obstacles when you’re near them, much like the drone cars in F-Zero. Boosting is a good way to get by opponents; boost power is limited, naturally, but can be replenished by catching air. That’s a fun way to do things, but the only way to view your remaining boost power is by tapping the bottom screen to switch from the map to your tachometer and lap times. There's definitely room on the top screen to have put information like this.
There are different models of two types of ATV in Fever: utility (4-wheel) and sport (2-wheel). Each has different stats and all can be used in Free Play once unlocked. When it comes to modes such as the Championship, however, only one ATV is available for use on each tier. No choice or customization is offered, except for colour, and it adds to the bizarre feeling that you’re being dragged through these modes with little control or knowledge.
It’s always one human versus the game in Fever, with no multiplayer or online offered. The music is mostly hard synth guitar, which feels fitting and is a bit reminiscent of Mega Drive/Genesis sound at times, for better or worse. Achievements are also offered in the game but, like a lot of other elements, just seem to happen without an meaningful impact.
For those who are purely dedicated to the feel of mastering tracks without any exotic frills, ATV Fever could provide that satisfaction. The foundation of solid control is there, and the game seems best for short bursts with a devil-may-care attitude toward track choice: just gun it and go. Those who seek flair in design, enjoy customization, or like to collect things, however, will likely feel weak and wobbly after a few hours with this Fever. The sense of reward from any of these aspects just isn’t there.