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DS  header logo

Monster Jam

For: DS

Attempting to drive over the competition

Product: Monster Jam | Developer: Torus Games | Publisher: Activision Blizzard | Format: DS | Genre: Racing | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
 
Monster Jam DS, thumbnail 1
Booting up Monster Jam prompted a bout of nostalgia from this reviewer. Vivid memories cropped up of rainy Saturdays in front of the telly, munching on beef burger sandwiches (buns were something of a luxury back in the '80s, evidently) and watching a unique brand of vehicular carnage unfurl before my young, impressionable eyes.

This is the crazy, overblown world of monster trucks wherein a perfectly normal pick-up truck has four man-sized tires and a gaudy paint job slapped onto it. It is then driven around an arena, crushing cars and competing against fellow behemoths.

They're also pretty handy for the school run.

Monster Jam
sees you selecting one such beast and racing it across a number of tracks and competing in various arenas for position and Monster Points (which accumulate and eventually unlock more trucks and courses). Though it bears the official licence, much of the game plays like a straight-up arcade racer rather than the pure arena events of the real-life sport. It's a familiar blend of three opponents involved in a three-lap dash to the finish.

The action plays relatively smoothly, if not exactly what you'd call quickly. This is scruffy, wheel-to-wheel racing; more about jockeying for position than taking the racing line or shaving the apex of every corner.

Key to your success here is the utilization of boost, activated with a press of the R trigger. Hold on for too long and your truck will overheat, disabling the feature for a while. By running over the boxes and cars that litter the tracks, you can add to you boost level. This encourages you to cause as much destruction as possible, occasionally veering off course to plough through a stack of crates.

It's the open track design that represents Monster Jam's biggest triumph. Each of the sprawling courses sports a generous array of shortcuts and alternative routes that are just ripe for exploration and exploitation. Until you've learned the layouts, you'll often find yourself seemingly lost among a maze of warehouses until you spot a track marker and rejoin the main route. It usually stays just the right side of confusing, and leads to some truly seat-of-your pants racing.

Unfortunately, the times that you do find yourself in confused dead end territory are often due to the muddy, indistinct graphics. Monster Jam is, somewhat fittingly, a bit of a beast to look at. While the trucks are chunky and colourful in a Tonka truck kind of way, the track textures are blurry and lack detail, which can really mess with your depth perception.

Add in an odd boosting and slipstream animation that resembles a couple of rigid poles sticking out of the back of your vehicle, as well as some truly horrendous collision detection (trucks will occasionally pass right through each other) and you have a game that's technically unimpressive, to say the least.

Away from the racing, Monster Jam also offers a selection of the sort of stadium events you'd expect from a monster truck title. First up there's Freestyle, which comes the closest to capturing the spirit of the sport. This mode involves driving around an arena, jumping off ramps and crushing cars to earn sufficient style points. It's fun at first, but a lack of tricks and techniques limits its long-term appeal.

Another stadium-based mode is Stadium Racing, which is fairly self-explanatory. Here you rush around a tightly constructed course within an arena. It reminded us of those glitzy end-of-year rally events where the drivers race each other around an indoor super special stage-style track. It's fun, and requires judicious use of the L trigger for 4WD steering when negotiating tight corners.

There are four Championships available to enter during the single-player campaign, the completion of which unlocks the ultimate Word Finals competition. Though the difficulty level increases noticeably, I still made progress pretty easily. As long as you keep your boost bar in check and don't make too many silly mistakes you really won't encounter much resistance from the AI drivers.

Coupled with the languid pace and wide open courses, this lack of any real challenges can tend to rob Monster Jam of excitement. Given the larger-than-life subject matter, that's a little unfortunate.

These gripes aside, however, this is a solid racer with plenty of unique charm. The distinctive tasks and open, multiple-route racing set it apart as a valid alternative to other more accomplished racers. Just as monster truck action on the telly complements the more refined bouts of Formula 1.
 
Monster Jam
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 3 July 2008
A competent - if technically unimpressive - racer which is enhanced by some neatly branching track design and overall charm
 
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