Games 4/20/10: MotoGP 09/10, Bird Strike

MotoGP 09/10
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Monumental Studios/Capcom
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)

Criticizing a racing simulation for being imposingly difficult is like docking points from lemonade for making your lips pucker, because that’s arguably the whole point of a good simulation in the first place.

So what follows isn’t a criticism of “MotoGP 09/10,” and for fans of serious sims and the venerable and resilient “MotoGP” line, it might as well be high praise. But casual racing fans who look at Monumental Studios’ motorcycle racing game and envision a chance to relive their glory days playing “Super Hang-On” in the arcade, take note: This most certainly counts as a warning, because “MotoGP” most certainly is not the game you have in mind.

The gravity of the situation makes its presence felt regardless of difficulty level or whether players venture down “MotoGP’s” season/career modes or settle for the arcade mode, which at least emulates “Super Hang-On” in structure if not in any other way. Even on the easiest setting, “MotoGP’s” A.I. riders rarely lay down for anybody.

More immediately pressing, though, are the riding controls. As with most driving sims, they treat gunning the gas pedal and careering around turns about as kindly as a mother bear treats a human being walking into her den. Disrespect a track’s racing line and take too long to brake, and it’s entirely too easy to enter a turn so wide that it takes you right off the track.

In a car racing game like “Forza Motorsport” or “Gran Turismo,” your problems likely would end there, with the car skidding out and maybe dusting a wall before coming to a stop and ceding control back to the player. But in “MotoGP,” trying to fight a skid also entails leaning hard on the bike, and players who lean too far in either direction will see their bike careen out of control from a distance while they fly off of it in another direction. Slightly missed turns very quickly can mushroom into problems that send a player from the head of the pack to 10 places back in the span of a single mistake. See how much fun you’re having if this happens near the end of a race you’ve led the entire way to that point.

But again, that’s the point of a racing sim — either ride smart or lose big. And while “MotoGP’s” learning curve is considerably more imposing than that of just about every other racing game out there, Monumental Studios never stacks the deck so high as to be unfair. The A.I. is good, but it isn’t cheap, and the controls are responsive and perfectly tenable if players take the time to master their subtleties.

For those who overcome the curve, most of “MotoGP’s” other frills reward in kind. The career mode incorporates team management, reputation management and the ability to research new bike technology on top of a lengthy trip through the 2009 MotoGP season, and Monumental promises to offer whatever free downloadable content is necessary to emulate the 2010 season as it happens. (Hence the game’s title.) The multiplayer component (20 players online, two splitscreen) is very basic, but the 20-player support certainly is nice if the game develops a hardened following of skilled players.

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Bird Strike
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: PikPok
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild profanity or crude humor, infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)
Price: $1

“Bird Strike” understandably draws comparisons to the mega-popular iPhone game “Doodle Jump,” because the base object of both games — continually ascend higher and higher without exhausting all means of doing so — is identical. But while “Jump” finds players helping a scribbled, spring-loaded alien bounce between platforms with no room for error, “Strike” is both a little more lenient and a little more open in its design. Beyond the initial leap off a sling, your obscenely charming cartoon bird friend doesn’t even jump: Rather, he soars upward using stray rockets and jetpacks, and upon reaching the top, purposely careens back downward to wreak obscenely cute havoc on all the obstacles he avoided on the way up. Reaching the top in “Strike’s” puzzle levels is a challenge, and the ceiling-free endless mode makes it impossible. But where “Jump” penalizes almost any downward descent with a “Game Over” screen, “Strike” lets players attempt a recovery by catching any unused rockets they spot on the way down. The overriding goal, regardless of mode or technique, is to score as many points as possible during a single flight. Players who fly solo can aim for the gold medal-worthy scores in each level, but those who take advantage of “Strike’s” OpenFeint support — and one of the better examples of how to integrate leaderboards into an iPhone game — can chase and surpass their friends’ marks as well.