Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Players: 1-4 (2-8 online)
Console: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Hours Played: 7+
Progress: Where Can I Buy Strattera, Placed first in all 100 HP and 200 HP races, had my butt beaten in 300 HP and online, found a little over half of the collectibles in Stunt mode.
Originally announced as a free XBLA title at E3 2009, Joy Ride was retro-fitted with Kinect controls to serve as a full-retail launch title for the Kinect in late 2010. After lacklustre reviews (and probably lacklustre sales), largely surrounding the controls in Kinect Joy Ride, Microsoft gave the game another year or so worth of development and came up with the non-Kinect sequel Joy Ride Turbo. Do new modes and controller-based controls bring new life to Joy Ride, or is Microsoft just metaphorically beating a dead IP? Read on to see what we thought.
- At its core, Joy Ride Turbo is a kart-racing game in the same vein as Mario Kart, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, and Blur. That means multiple car-types, zany items, plentiful shortcuts, and frenetic racing abounds. Joy Ride Turbo skews toward the faster end of the kart-racing spectrum somewhere between Mario Kart 7 and Blur.
- The available items range from standard kart-racing fare to actually fairly inspired, but almost none of them slow down enemy cars in terribly meaningful ways. Some of the cooler items include a chargeable shock-wave that can push other cars aside as well as burst nearby item crates and an ice-block that coats the bottom of everyone else's cars with ice making it very difficult for them to steer. There is also a boost bar mechanic separate from the items that builds up boosting power when you drift or pull off tricks during jumps.
- I know you're wondering and yes, this game does have a Blue Shell equivalent in the form of a purple missile that goes to mess-up the player in first place, but much like the other items in the game, you'll at most lose a second of your time recovering from it as opposed to the several precious seconds lost every time a Blue Shell makes its way to the front.
- The controller-based controls work very well, but I couldn't find a vehicle that felt like it controlled more tightly than a limo or school bus. There are 15 vehicles in three weight classes (Sport, Muscle, and Truck) technically in the game, but at first you only have access to one in each category. The method of unlocking other vehicles is atrocious -- you have to find three "pieces" of a vehicle hidden in various locations around both the racing tracks and the Stunt mode areas to be given the opportunity to pay for it using coins earned by winning races and collecting them therein. All told I ended up with perhaps 6 unique vehicles available to me as even though they tell you which tracks in which to look for specific parts, finding them is a different story.
- The racing part of the game is split into three different difficulties: 100HP, 200HP, and 300HP that have to be unlocked by progressing through them one at a time. Each difficulty level consists of four sets of three track races, one for each vehicle weight class, and then one Grand Prix for them all together.
- Stunt Mode is actually where I ended up spending most of my time with the game, there are two large-ish areas (one is initially locked) to explore as you try to find precious car parts and go the right speed off of various ramps to collect floating trophies. While many of the trophies and car parts are very frustratingly out of reach, I had a pretty good time zooming around trying to collect everything I could.
- Both the racing and stunt modes can be played over Xbox Live or with up to three friends locally. Since Joy Ride Turbo doesn't have COD-level amounts of players it can sometimes take a while to find an online match, but when you do there's a good amount of fun to be had racing against other people.
- Stunt mode is particularly fun to play online as you can watch other people fail to get the car parts they also desperately want and sometimes even antagonize each other by stealing coins using the offensive items that are still available throughout the areas.
- Thankfully graphics are a strong-suit of Joy Ride Turbo. Everything is done in a crisp cartoon-like style reminiscent of a Pixar movie or Team Fortress 2 to match the graphical style of the Xbox Live Avatars that populate the game. Item effects look great and any scenery that gets damaged has actual physics as its pieces bounce around the track.
- Even though the graphics are of high quality, the game does overall feel a little soulless. Nothing really pops, teams with life, or exudes charm in the way that things in more lovingly made kart-racing games like Mario Kart or even Blur do.
- The only thing that I would have liked to see as far as graphics go in Joy Ride Turbo would have been car damage. When you land nose-first into the ground from a drop several hundred feet in the air, it just doesn't feel right when your car just continues to travel merrily along unscathed. I'm not saying that the game's mechanics would have benefited from vehicle damage, this was actually one of the greatest detractors from the gameplay in Blur, but it would have been much more generally satisfying if the cars in Joy Ride Turbo got cosmetically damaged throughout the races.
- As good as the graphics are the sound is bad. I was very tempted to just outright mute the game after playing a couple of races. You do eventually get used to the very campy and usually insultingly terrible sound effects and music, but people with terminal illnesses get used to their ailments too. Basically, ignore the sound as best you can for the first while and then it will just become a background throbbing that you hardly consciously notice after a couple hours of playtime.
- Once you're done placing first in all of the difficulty classes (which is no small feat in 300HP), there's still a lot to do in the game: there are hard-to-get trophies for doing things like having 1,000,000 coins and racing 50 consecutive laps in time trial mode, there are 126 car parts to collect to unlock all of the available vehicles and some cosmetic variations therein, and there is collecting all 40 trophies in both Stunt Park areas.
- If you're a competitive person, the game also features online leaderboards so you can see how you rank against all of the other players (who are probably cheating, how else could they be that much better than you?)
With Kinect out of the picture, Joy Ride Turbo does a solid and respectable job at providing some much-needed kart racing fun on the Xbox 360. Annoying music, a frustrating unlocking mechanic, and a general lack of charm prevent this game from becoming a paragon of the kart-racing genre, but at only 800 Microsoft points Joy Ride Turbo is a good and inexpensive way to have some fun with a group of friends or your children.
(A review copy of this game was provided to us by the game's publisher.)
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