Genre: Drag Racing
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Release Date: 2/14/14
I haven’t jumped on board the next generation of consoles yet because I haven’t caught up on everything I wanted to play from the last/current generation, and I mostly didn’t regret that decision as there wasn’t anything I was interested in playing on the Xbox One or PS4 right away. With one exception. That exception was LocoCycle as I’m a fan of the development studio Twisted Pixel and enjoy the goofy style that they bring to their games.
But now I get to play it since it has now been released to the Xbox 360 (and also available on Steam). Take that next gen! My excitement for the game has decreased since the announcement that it would be on the Xbox One, not only because I thought I might not get a chance to play it for some time, but also because reviews of that version of the game were consistently negative in nature, some going as far as to accuse the game of overt racism. With the amount of criticism against the game I tempered my expectations appropriately.
Turns out I didn’t need to set the bar so low, LocoCycle didn’t just rise above my low expectations, it drove off of a ramp and into my heart.
The game right away surprises by opening up with video cutscenes of actors instead of CGI. Twisted Pixel have used this technique in the past but mostly in a minimal fashion. With LocoCycle most of what would be computer generated cutscenes between chapters are played out in compressed videos of people acting the scenes out. I liked this a lot and would love to see this used by more studios.
In the video opening the game introduces us to Big Arms, and a representative of that company that is there to auction weapons off to the highest bidder, including representatives from North Korea, Russia, a fictional African country, the United States and a member of a biker gang. The weapons that are being auctioned off? Two weaponized motorcycles with sophisticated artificial intelligence; I.R.I.S. and S.P.I.K.E.. When a storm breaks out and the motorcycles have to be wheeled back to a garage lightning strikes I.R.I.S., frying the AI of the bike. When it appears something is wrong with the bike the mechanic, Pablo, at the garage starts checking it out and gets stuck. While that is happening I.R.I.S. sees a commercial on a nearby TV about a freedom rally, which resonates with the recently electrocuted AI program and decides it needs to set out to the rally at all costs, with the unfortunate mechanic still attached and being literally dragged along for the ride.
You can tell that Twisted Pixel got an increased budget as part of being bought by Microsoft. In the videos they were able to get Freddy Rodriguez(Planet Terror), Robert Patrick(T-1000), Lloyd Kaufman (Troma) and Tom Savini (!) to act in it which made me feel a sort of odd connection to the developers because if I was making something and I had money, I’d want to hire a cast like that. Plus they had to create actual motorcycles for the parts of I.R.I.S. and S.P.I.K.E., there’s a small making of feature in the extras of the game where you can see them putting the bikes together, which is just awesome.
The rest of the story of the game is Pablo the mechanic being literally dragged along through a journey that takes the two protagonists through a million quotes that reference 80’s movies quotes (like referencing Robocop, Terminator, Jaws, and obviously “Knight Rider”) and many classic video game jokes. I disagree with the assessment some have made that the game is racist, especially with the idea that it is overtly so. Pablo speaks Spanish and after I.R.I.S. gets struck by lightning she can’t understand anything he says, which is supposed to explain why she doesn’t just let him go and continues to drag him behind her. This leads to a lot of corny miscommunication jokes which are probably the least funny thing in the game, but at no point is it ever made to feel like I.R.I.S. is maliciously dragging Pablo around either because of his race or to do him harm. Quite the opposite, Pablo if anything is meant to be the straight man of the story, the one that the player connects to. During the entire game he is the only character that comments on the craziness of everything going on around him. The game clearly makes him out to be the most sympathetic character and the hero of the story. I.R.I.S. likes Pablo and never sets out to hurt him, the bike drag him around because it doesn’t realize what it is doing wrong as it’s kind of crazy after the lightning shorts the AI out. To put it another way I.R.I.S.’s actions are crazy because I.R.I.S. is a LocoCycle. You’d think that wouldn’t be hard to understand since THAT’S THE TITLE OF THE GAME.
So if you may have found yourself abstaining from playing the game because you may have heard it was racist, unless you’re the type of person that projects your own issues into a ridiculous game this will not be a problem. I think another reason that it may have received some lower scores on the Xbox One was because if you buy a shiny new video game system and LocoCycle is the first game you play on it, I can see being underwhelmed. Even at 4GB on the Xbox 360 the game has some ugly backgrounds at time and simple textures throughout. This isn’t the game you’d ever bring people over to show them the power of your new console as it doesn’t look all that great on an old one.
If you read through that rant and are still with me you may notice I haven’t talked much about the game itself, and that’s probably because unlike the story, the game is kind of forgettable. The game plays out though different levels that are broken down into smaller game chunks. There are times when you might be driving and trying to shoot/bash other cars off of the road, then there are these odd aerial melee battle sections, or sections with quick timed events or where you need to avoid obstacles. The game does a great job with mixing these sections up so as not to feel like you are doing the same thing every time, and it is constantly adding new enemy variations, changing patterns or adding additional obstacles for the player in smart ways. Like it’ll introduce a new enemy type, then as you continue it’ll mix the enemy type in with other enemies, and later might add additional patterns or speed up the required reaction time in order to defeat them; all of which is pretty standard video game design philosophy.
Only problem is many of these smaller game chunks aren’t that great in the first place and no matter how they diversify or add newer patterns into them it doesn’t do much to increase their enjoyment. The one I liked probably the least was the aerial melee sections, no matter how many enemy types they added it still just felt like I was mashing buttons and throwing Pablo around like a boomerang until they were over. Countering enemy attacks feels like it should’ve been a big part of the strategy for success at these parts but often I countered without my personal input, it would just seem to happen. Whenever I’d get to these sections I just wanted to mash buttons faster hoping they’d be over quicker.
The rest of the smaller game chunks are more enjoyable, I don’t know if it’s just because I liked Spy Hunter but shooting and smashing cars was a good time, some of the quick timed events were crazy enough with what was happening on screen to be fun, and I liked the various parts of the game that required the player to quickly figure out the patterns to either avoid obstacles or defeat enemies. The boss battles were great as well and the entire final sequence of the game put a huge smile on my face.
This isn’t to say that the game mechanically isn’t good, it is just that some of these chunks of the levels are much better than others so the quality of the game feels inconsistent. The fast pace of the game though ensures that even the parts of the game I didn’t enjoy as much were over quickly and at the end of levels I was rewarded by being able to increase different attributes for I.R.I.S. and at the end of a chapter there was another interesting video to watch.
When I wrote the review for Jazzpunk I mentioned that the odd abstract tech humor of the game didn’t work for me, as much as I admired the style of the game. LocoCycle on the other hand resonates with my sense of humor well, not just because it happens to reference all the 80’s movies and games I loved but because Twisted Pixel is willing to create a game that’s so goofy, fun and also a little awkward that I could imagine Gilbert Godfrey doing an introduction for it like back when he used to for movies on USA’s Up All Night program. I’m willing to overlook minor inconsistencies with the way the quality of the game or the way it flows from one thing to another because I get to play as a motorcycle fighting Tom Savini on the back of a missile as it is flying through the air. I find that sort of thing awesome, but if you read the end of that last sentence and thought that sounded lame, then LocoCycle is probably not the game for you.
Short Attention Span Summary:
It doesn’t look that great and some of the different game systems within it aren’t so good, but taken as a whole when I finished the game I had a giant smile on my face and any game that can give me that kind of joy is a winner in my book.