I haven’t played very many Avatar-based games on the Xbox 360, but I suppose if I played a lot of games with decent Avatar awards, or spent a lot of money on purely cosmetic items for the things, I might care more about that annoying little Mii knock-off that vaguely looks like me and appears whenever I start up my console.
I want to keep the comparisons to Mario Kart and its ilk to a minimum here, but seriously, the appeal of playing a Mario Kart-type game where the only playable character is that Avatar is lost on me.
Races in Joy Ride Turbo sound remarkably sterile; say what you will about Daisy announcing her name ad nausea – that annoyance is preferable to an eight-man race where none of the characters make a peep and are only able to express themselves via fist pumping.
There is a moderate level of variety to the tracks, at least, though half of them sport enough red cliffs to make you think that you’re playing a TF2 racing game.
(Note to self: Make TF2 racing game. Choose Heavy and laugh at whoever chose Medic and has to constantly be behind me.)
The racing in Joy Ride Turbo borrows a page from Mario Kart Wii’s book, by incorporating a very shallow trick system to mess with the pace of the races by throwing in a bunch of huge jumps.
What passes for a trick system in this game is the ability to spin on any or all of the 3 axes using the analog sticks. In order to do the best tricks, it’s just a matter of pushing both sticks diagonally once you hit the air and waiting the second or two it takes for the vehicle to start sluggishly spinning.
An already simple trick system is made mind-numbingly so when you mix in the fact that you don’t even have to worry about landing correctly; get anywhere close to the ground, and the cars will, 95% of the time, correct their position instantaneously like some sort of half car/half cat.
(Note to self: Make racing game that uses cats instead of vehicles. Give manx the lowest handling rating.)
Joy Ride Turbo isn’t all moderately competent battle racing however, there is also a more open-ended driving experience known as “stunt mode”. Stunt mode offers you a pair of what can best be described as skate parks for vehicles. There is a vast array of ramps, loops, and cannons to propel through at your own leisure, as well as a bunch of collectible items that are constantly out of reach. If you’re in the mood for it, it is actually quite fun to mindlessly spin around in the air and see if you land in a new part of the level.
As much as I like stunt mode, the more I think about the premise of it, the less I see the point to it. Performing tricks in Joy Ride Turbo only yields an increase in your boost meter and a medal that shows how many times you’ve spun, which only stays on screen for a few seconds. Given how extremely simplified the tricks are, maybe a full-fledged Tony Hawk-style scoring system isn’t the most appropriate solution, but it would’ve been better than what is offered.
Even more puzzling about the stunt mode is that it has a multiplayer component. It’s essentially the same as the single player version, except that somewhere in the level, there’s another person who is also goofing around in the air.
What I learned within 15 minutes of playing stunt mode with somebody else is that it would’ve been infinitely better if there was some way to keep track of where the other human players are. I don’t care if it’s a map, or a beacon, or whatever, but something better than a tiny picture of the player’s profile picture that only shows up when they’re already smack dab in the middle of your screen. This would make it a hell of a lot easier to synchronize tricks or just antagonize them with a barrage of collisions and weapons – whichever you’re in the mood for. Perhaps a scoring system based on more than how many coins you’ve collected would let us settle once and for all who is better at randomly spinning in the air sans fear of crashing.
There is a vast selection of chunky cars and trucks at your disposal… eventually. Joy Ride Turbo starts you out with three cars, hides parts for the other 12 cars and their slightly varying skins in crates scattered around the tracks, meaning to have anything more than a hilariously crippled garage, you’ll have to explore every nook and cranny of the stunt parks, and discover all of the shortcuts the tracks have to offer.
In theory, this is a great system, adding icing to the cake that is each race track’s myriad of scenic paths, but I took issue with the way it takes three parts of the same vehicle to unlock it, when there are over 40 variations of vehicles unlocked this way; in theory, you could collect 80 hidden parts and still not unlock a single new vehicle. More likely than not, you’ll spend your first go-through of the game stuck with the same three cars. I suppose that in this way, Joy Ride Turbo rewards those who stay in it for the long haul, but my interest started waning by the time I unlocked not but a few of the cars.
I really don’t want to give Joy Ride Turbo’s design flaws a pass simply because it’s only $10, or because it’s way better than that Kinect version released a while ago, but I don’t want to immediately dismiss it just because of those damn Avatars. In reality, there really was some amount of fun to be had; it was just lacking a bit in the joy department. Maybe it would’ve had more joy if I actually unlocked that Morolian Avatar award from the XBLA version of Space Channel 5 Part 2.