Part racing game, part platform game: Bike Rider UltraDX - WORLD TOUR is the latest title to enter the eShop, this time moving from 3DS to Wii U. At first glance it's easy to mistake Bike Rider as a side-scrolling racing game, but take a further look and it becomes apparent that it has more in common with a traditional 2D platformer. Imagine if Mario Kart received a 2D makeover and you'll have a better idea of what's on offer. Following up on the well received Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy, Spicysoft - the publisher behind Bike Rider - has decided to branch out and bring it to the Wii U. Considering the eShop is now home to a neat yet scintillating collection of indie titles, does Bike Rider Ultra DX - WORLD TOUR pull off an impressive wheelie and park itself amongst an already stellar line-up, or does it belong in the wheelie bin?
From the moment the title screen loads with an enthusiastic yelp, all the way to the quirky tunes and visual assets that make up the overall presentation, it becomes clear that this is all the way from Japan. It's a racer slash platform game that doesn't take itself too seriously and regardless of which mode you play, the premise is always the same. The goal is to guide your rider to the finish line, whilst jumping across mountains and dodging obstacles. It has a simple, pick-up-and-play control scheme - jump, move left and right, and that's about it. Power-ups add a tad more depth, allowing triple jumps and the chance to speed up with a nitrous boost of sorts.
Each level poses a different type of challenge, whilst from a presentational standpoint the visuals are crisp and the soundtrack is excitable at best. Stages are based on real world locations and do their very best to fulfill every assumed visual cliché about each region that they can muster. London, for example, is littered with Yeoman Warders, with a constant view of Big Ben and the London Eye, whilst other countries such as France and China manage to stereotype on a similar level. They're fairly uninspired and unlikely to linger in the mind for too long, however they're clean, to the point and don't distract from the gameplay.
There are a number of modes that make up Ultra DX – World Tour, Grand Prix and Battle Royale. The latter of the modes requires the player to travel as far as they can until they eventually crash. The total distance is then uploaded into an online leaderboard and can be quickly accessed after the race to run a quick comparison against other players. From a single player perspective it's the World Tour that makes up the lion's share of the game. There are over 50 stages, with 5 stages making up one level. Further levels are unlocked by collecting coins along the way and don't be surprised if you unlock a few awards on your journey for meeting conditions such as performing 20 propeller jumps and earning a spot in the weekly online rankings.
The biggest and most disappointing factor with the World Tour mode is that, considering the work that has gone into creating a multitude of locations and stages, the courses themselves are just too easy and - ironically - feel far too pedestrian. It's easy to feel as though you're in auto-pilot mode, with little thought or need for dexterity required to progress. It's only by the time you reach level 7 when Bike Rider starts to feel a little less template in its design and some noticeable environmental changes start to come into effect. There's a reward if the player can finish a level without touching the control stick, which in all honestly is utterly pointless as it's just as easy to play this way. By adding more hazards, increasing the distance between jumps and speeding up the gameplay, Bike Rider could have had the injection of variety that it so badly needs and would have been more interesting as a result.
The multiplayer section is where fans of previous entries in the Bike Rider series will probably spend most of their time. In comparison to the World Tour mode the settings are surprisingly well thought out and allow gamers to fine-tune each session in a way that genuinely mixes up the feel of each battle. Total battles, course difficulty, total lives per player and the option to turn player collisions on or off are just some of the settings on offer. The winner of each match is decided on who gets the most points (based on a number on variables), with points being deducted each time a player loses a life.
Because of the varying factors that help to determine the final result, it's amusing to watch competitors as they try to jump on and squash their competition, whist avoiding traps to ensure their own survival in order to complete the course. It's a nice detour from the single player modes, but its ability to keep players hooked for long periods of time is doubtful. The omission of an online Battle Royale mode is disappointing for a game for which multiplayer is a key strength on Wii U, and the camera angles make for a tough time for all involved; sometimes it's impossible to see what lies below, making some jumps nothing more than a leap of faith.
It almost seems unfair to write about Bike Rider in a negative light, as its heart – and the heart of the developers – is clearly in the right place. It's not that this game does anything particularly wrong, but the criticisms aimed towards it are based on what it fails to do and what it could have been. With a bit more thought and attention Bike Rider could have been a considerably more fun and engaging 2D Mario Kart-esque addition to the Wii U library. Instead, it's an amalgamation of tired and recycled ideas that, when combined, results in a middle-of-the-road albeit well-produced racing game outside of its natural portable home. Here's to what could have been.