Review - Cyclemania (DOS, 1994)

What's the first thing that pops into your head when you read a computer game advertisement including the term "interactive movie"? If you're a seasoned veteran of the electronic entertainment wars, you know to run far away from such ads. These "interactive movies" are usually called such because they incorporate a large amount of digitized video and sound, which unfortunately leaves little room on their CDs for quality gameplay. At least that's our best guess as to why "games" of this type almost always leave players wanting something more.

Well, shucky darn and slop the chickens, I've actually found a game that makes excellent use of digitized video yet still remains a GAME. This wondrous program is called Cyclemania, and it's the latest release from Sport Accolade, a new sport-oriented subdivision of Accolade Inc.. Don't go running off to your local software store just yet, though, because although Cyclemania is a step in the right direction, it's more of a trot than a gallop.

If you've ever played a cockpit-style racing game in a video arcade, you already know what Cyclemania is about. There's no blown engines, no accurate physics model, no shifting wind currents, and no pit crews. You steer a bike . . . it's really that simple. What aren't so simple are Cyclemania's five race courses, which each have their share of obstacles. Most notable among them are (I kid you not) half-asleep truck drivers and incredibly unintelligent cows. I don't know about you, but I'm forced to wonder how the designers at Digital Dreams could leave the cows in after merely thinking about the mess that would result from one of them colliding with a motorcycle. Maybe it's just me . . .

Anyway, aside from the solo time trials found in every racing game, Cyclemania basically offers one method of play. The Championship circuit pits you against several other bikers in races of five laps or more. You begin by choosing a bike, which actually requires a bit of thinking. The three available models differ in top speed, acceleration, handling, and durability. Choose one that fits your style, tweak a couple options (such as number of laps, competitor aggression level, etc.), and you're off. Controlling your bike is simple. LEFT and RIGHT steer, UP accelerates, and DOWN brakes. You'll have to lean into turns, and when I say lean, I mean LEAN. As in, "lean far enough over so that your ears get scraped off." "Realism" apparently got chopped off the list of requirements for this game early in the development process. That's okay . . . I'm sure Cyclemania will be appreciated more by the younger crowd . . . most of whom could care less about complexity. At least I didn't when I was that age.

Winning a race results in a cash reward, which can be used to purchase enhancements for your motorcycle. Among the several upgrades are tires, shocks, and even engines, and they really do seem to help your bike's performance. Obviously, the best thing to do is purchase parts which enhance the weaker features of the bike you selected. This will "even out" your bike and put you in a better position to win more races.

And hey, what about that digitized video I was complaining about earlier? Well, Cyclemania makes use of it in two places. The first time you'll witness it is when you start your engine . . . all five of the roadways available to you in this game are actual roads that have been digitized and reassembled. As a result, the courses look very real and change smoothly at high speeds. The second use? Well, as an added bonus, Cyclemania presents you with digitized footage of real motorcycle crashes whenever your on-screen likeness takes a tumble. This is actually pretty funny at first, but the humor wears off quickly. Fortunately, you can toggle it on and off.

So you get the idea . . . what we have here is an arcade-ish racing game that, like many games before it, sacrifices complexity for graphics and speed. The truth is that you'll probably like Cyclemania the first time you play it, and depending on your age and/or level of tolerance, you may or may not enjoy playing it further. Okay . . . you can go to the software store now, I guess.

Download the demo for Cyclemania