When I was a child, growing up near Orlando, Florida in the mid-80s, my friends and I were into BMX bikes. Jumping ramps and riding on crudely constructed dirt tracks took up more of our weekends. Riding bikes was also our only means of transportation. We always traveled in style, and you could hear us coming from a mile away, with roaring engine sound of playing cards in the spokes (that's sarcasm, folks). There was also a time when we all had were "spokie dokes," the multi-colored beads that moved up and down the spokes of a wheel, and made an off-key sound as the wheels began to spin. Okay, maybe we weren't the coolest kids on the block, but we sure thought we were at the time.
We were always pretending to be the guys we read about in the BMX magazines. Of my friends, I was the most conservative rider, who wouldn't take the same chances that some of my psychotic friends would. While they would fall flat on their face, trying to drop in from a half pipe, I would be watching from a safe distance, pointing and laughing. But they would get their revenge, one afternoon while I was attempting to do a trick. Don't ask me how I did it, but I got my right foot stuck in the bike's fork, and did a complete flip right onto the pavement. If you've ever seen that scene in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where a Nazi motorcyclist gets a broken flag pole jammed in his bike's spokes, and does a devastating somersault into high into the air, you can imagine what I looked like. Two scabbed knees, a bruised ego, and a red face is was what poetic justice looked like that day. How embarrassing!
Thanks to the invention of video games, we can do some extremely crazy and stupid things from the comfort of my home, without worrying about repercussions. We can be the world's only hope from alien invaders, an athlete going for the gold, a driver that would put Speed Racer to shame, and a citizen in a fantasy world that reflected a time long forgotten or a future yet to come. I can even take the chances to do tricks that I would have never even attempted or dreamed off on a BMX bike with a game like Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX. I think that Mat Hoffman would be really angry with me if video games were real, as I would be responsible for breaking his bikes and sending him to the hospital - many, many times over a two minute span. (I'm much better at the game now.)
Oh yeah! BMX is here on the Dreamcast.
When I tore through the shrink wrap of Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, like a ravenous wolf feasting on it's prey, the first thing I noticed was that it didn't have one of those annoying label stickers on the top of the CDs. (The ones that always seem to shred into a million little ribbons every time I take them off.) Ok, ok, that's not the only good thing about Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, and I don't know if I was just lucky or if they're finally getting rid of those label stickers, but it was a good start. After I opened the jewel case, I fired up the game. Still familiar with the controls of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (which I will refer to as THPS), I had absolutely no problem getting a hang of the game and the controls. This really comes as no surprise as Mat Hoffman shares the same game engine that THPS used and thus share an identical control scheme.
For people who have never played or seen the THPS games, or never played the PlayStation version of the Mat Hoffman game, you're missing out on some really fun stuff and your Dreamcast or PlayStation machine should be ashamed of you. For the 3 gamers out there who have never experienced either game, and don't understand the point of the games, I'll try to explain it to you. The point of both games is very similar -- to interact and "compete" on tracks loaded with conventional trick objects like ramps and rails, as well as unconventional objects like rooftops and power lines (hey, it's a video game!). The more risky the trick is, the more points you get. Massive amounts of points can be obtained if you can do combo tricks, which are achieved by doing several different tricks before touching down on the ground. If these combo tricks are completed successfully, you should have a significant point payout in the end. More points leads to more objectives, and more completed objectives leads to new levels. You get the idea.
The fans of the PlayStation version of Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX will immediately notice that the Dreamcast port is much prettier, with a better graphics engine and an "improved" frame rate -- more on that later.
The career mode is by far the most popular part of the game, where you try to compete on a variety of tracks, by racking up points and completing objectives. Doing so will give you magazine covers, and once you've collected enough covers, you will have access to new bikes, new tracks, and new competitions. You can play through career mode with 8 different bikers: Mike Escamilla, Cory Nastazio, Joe Kowalski, Rick Thorne, Dennis McCoy, Kevin Robinson, Simon Tabron, and of course Mat Hoffman the star of this game. Each biker specializes in certain skills, and has their own signature and special moves.
Hey mom, look at what I can do!
The two-player mode is reflective of THPS, and consists of three different multi-player modes: graffiti, trick attack, and horse. The object of graffiti is to "tag" obstacles like quarter pipes and rails by successfully tricking off them. Your opponent can steal your tags by pulling better tricks on the same object. The person with the most tagged objects wins. Trick attack is a free-for-all where the player who racks up the most points wins. Lastly, horse is a one-on-one trick competition, where one player tries to get the most points by doing a single trick, and the other player then gets a chance to one-up his competition by getting a higher score. If you lose, you get a letter. The player who spells out "horse" loses. You can specify your own words for the game - I prefer words like "loser" or "jackass" as it makes the victory a little sweeter.
The soundtrack is mighty impressive, and has a variety of music genres that fits along nicely with fast-paced action on-screen. Some of the more mainstream groups on the soundtrack are Jurassic 5, Pennywise, OutKast, and - what?! - the B-52's (No, it is not "Love Shack," bay-hey-beee!).
Like THPS, Mat Hoffman comes with a 3D real-time park editor, which allows you to create the bike park of your dreams and ride around on it. Navigating and placing objects in your new park is very easy, and it was also surprisingly convenient when correcting mistakes that were made. The objects are separated into 17 categories including gaps, quarter pipes, rails, stairs, and risers. Each category has a significant number of objects, so creating the park of your dream is almost limitless. Create one and trade it with your friends. It's a lot of fun coming up with some really twisted parks!
The tracks in Mat Hoffman seem a little more realistic in nature than the levels in THPS and THPS2, but are still equally fun and enjoyable. Each track is also introduced to the player in video format, which helps give the impression that tracks are roughly based on existing tracks - but then again, how many times did you grind across a power line on your BMX and didn't electrocute yourself, or drop off of a 30 foot bridge and not die? Probably never, right? Well, in Mat Hoffman you can. How's that for realism? ;)
A game without extras, is a game without sunshine... or something like that. Fortunately, based on that weird assumption, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX is full of sunshine. Each biker has their own videos, but unlocking the videos is a secret, and is an incentive to play though this game with each biker. As homage to the game that started this new genre of extreme sports gaming, you can even unlock Tony Hawk as a playable character, as well as other special levels. There's more stuff to unlock, but I'll let you guys figure that stuff out on your own.
To sum up the good things, anybody who has played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, will feel right at home with Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX.