Italian developer Milestone might not have the pedigree of Polyphony Digital or Codemasters – at least, not yet – but the racing specialist has always seen the value in porting many of its games to handheld platforms. Just being able to play the original MXGP – albeit in its ‘Compact’ form – on PS Vita, years before Switch even launched, was a revelation for off-road racing fans. In the years since, Milestone has had varying degrees of success on Nintendo’s current-gen hardware, and with Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame 3 it’s produced a port that reflects those years of refinement while still not doing enough to elevate the series beyond the usual pitfalls of an iterative motorsport series.
The first entry in MXGP’s arena-based cousin ended up being a very choppy experience, with notable modes completely ripped out as part of the process. When the sequel arrived on Nintendo Switch at the start of last year, it brought with it a far more agreeable take for those that wanted to take their two-wheeled racing on the go, including the return of online multiplayer and the popular track editor. Admittedly, it wasn’t perfect, but at least it was a step in the right direction for a studio that clearly wants to create as much parity as possible between Switch and other platforms. With the series’ third entry, that parity is closer than ever, including changes to the sandbox compound map, a new physics model and more.
For those yet to be initiated in the ways of muddy motorsport, Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame 3 is a bike racing simulator based on the annual AMA Supercross Championship. Raced primarily in the US, the sport functions a lot like motocross, with a large number of competitors riding off-road motorbikes around dirt tracks filled with ramps, jumps and tight corners. Much like previous entries, success is all about knowing how to use the inertia of your bike (controlled with the left analogue stick) and the balance and position of your rider (controlled with the right stick). When you’re jostling for space around a wide corner, or having to readjust your angle in mid-air to compensate for an upcoming turn, you realise there’s far more going on here than just overtaking other riders and pulling off fast lap times.
With a relatively stable 30fps on Switch, even the slightly blurry track or rider textures fail to impact the sense of accomplishment that comes from successfully taking your fingers off the gas, leaning into a corner, shifting the weight of your driver to compensate then hitting the gas to gain a few extra inches of progress. Even pulling off a scrub (where you twist your bike in mid-air on a long jump to reduce your height) is incredibly satisfying. The game’s physics have been adjusted for this third entry, but only series veterans who play with more realistic settings will really appreciate these adjustments (such as how your speed is far more affected by where you land on a ramp or braking bump, or how easy it is to fly off your bike if you clip a berm).
Years of development in this genre have given Milestone a lot of opportunities to refine its craft, but that does mean we’re now in a position where each entry has fewer and fewer major changes. The inclusion of female riders is a welcome one – even if it is laughably late by this stage – and the newly-updated 'Compound' presents a new desert-esque environment to bomb around when you want to practice your landings and tight cornering. You can play through this sandbox environment with up to three other players, and compete in a generous helping of mini-games and race modes (Treasure Hunt being one of our favourites), but the larger environment does make the asset-blurring downgrades really stand out.
Dedicated servers for online multiplayer – which, according to Milestone, protect online players from being kicked from a lobby if the host abandons it or is disconnected – is another new improvement that’s being touted loud on the game’s marketing campaign, but as of writing the online lobbies are completely empty so we weren’t in a position to test their integrity; a shame considering the game has barely been out two weeks and it’s already like a ghost town. You can still play locally with friends, but it makes you wonder whether having servers shared by players on multiple platforms would help avoid this kind of online void.
The Monster Energy Supercross series – in fact, all of Milestone’s series – continue to prove a Double-A studio can produce solid racing physics and a mostly polished experience, but even the likes of EA’s internal sports studios have struggled with franchise fatigue over the years. The Supercross & MXGP games don’t have the audience size of, say, Codies’ F1 series, but a game with a smaller yet dedicated following still deserves something with a ‘wow’ factor that helps it stand out from the previous game. Whether it’s utilising the Compound as a trick-driven arcade hub, or incorporating a narrative-driven story mode, you’re simply left wanting something more.
If you’ve played the previous instalments and the series and you appreciate updated rider rosters, the introduction of female riders and the improved physics (for those that play on more realistic settings) then Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame 3 will definitely appeal, but with a completely absent online community, this port is a tougher sell over those on PC and other console platforms. Still, despite its shortcomings, this is a solid two-wheeled racer that retains all the usual modes and extras and runs like a treat in handheld mode. Just don't expect it to feel massively different from the previous instalment.