Reviewed: October 9, 2002
Reviewed by: Scott Shirhall
At first look you might think that Riding Spirits is a motorcycle version of Gran Turismo A-Spec. Unfortunately this is so very, very untrue. It seems that the teams at BAM! Entertainment and Spike tried to pay homage to Gran Turismo, but they didnít come close. What they have created is a game with a huge potential but very little value.
Riding Spirits is a true simulation of motorcycle road racing. The game promises:
The game is very similar to Gran Turismo in that you race to win money (sorry, points) and then use the money (damn, I mean points) to purchase new motorcycles, parts and accessories. There are definitely enough bikes and parts to keep any racing fan busy. It really does help you out when you have earned enough points to tweak your bike.
This ends any comparison to Gran Turismo. I really wish this werenít the case. I had such high hopes of this unique racing game being able to keep me occupied for months.
The gameplay is at the heart of the poor overall rating for Riding Spirits. Now, I have played just about every racing game that has come out for the PS2 so I donít consider myself a beginner, but I had the hardest time trying to place anywhere in the top three. My rider spent the majority of each race trying to get around the course on his ass. The only way to avoid this is to go into every turn like a nervous two-year old on his very first tricycle.
There is no way to fly around the course at top speed without carrying some of the asphalt or infield with you. You can control your bike and rider by yourself by shifting your weight and leaning both forward and backwards. Most people probably wonít select this option and instead set this setting to automatic.
I feel anyone that is a serious motorcycle road-racing fan might be a little more patient than I am in learning how to control the bikes. The poor controls make you feel as if you need to crawl around every track. I know that this is a road racing simulator and not an arcade-type game but it just isnít fun driving slow in any game. I could go on for hours over the aspects of the controls I dislike but I canít so I will now focus on other aspects of the game for those that might consider purchasing this title.
The one positive for this game is the massive amount of options that are available. There are more bikes than you could ever possibly want and more ways to tweak these bikes for ultimate performance. All of the major brands make appearances in RS. Bikes from Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki will give any cycle enthusiast a chance to ride their favorite brand. Beyond the bikes you can purchase suits and helmets to change your riders looks and all kinds of parts to give your bike a boost.
The interface for accessing the many options and accessories is fashioned very similarly to that other game that I said I wasnít going to compare this to. You have a garage and shops where you can store your bikes and purchase your parts and accessories. The changes you can apply to your selected bike include tuning the engine with various components, adding upgrades to the drive system, beefing up your suspension, buying new tires, reinforcing your frame and other minor upgrades. As for outfits, you can choose different colored suits and helmets from different manufacturers. There are numerous accessories available for both the bike and the rider.
When you get into the actual gameplay you are presented with a few options. Riding Spirits mode is synonymous with career mode. Here you can purchase your first bike and compete to win points. When you accumulate points you can purchase better bikes or upgrades for your current stable of cycles. Also in Riding Spirits mode you can do some training in order to perfect your skills. The training mode is very reminiscent of a license mode. Here you are given various tasks to learn that must be completed in a given amount of time.
There are also a couple of other modes that can be selected for your enjoyment:
The graphics will definitely need some work if there is to ever be a Riding Spirits 2. While making selections and shopping for bikes and accessories, everything looks really nice and smooth. When you get these bikes and accessories out on the track however, it is a completely different story. The graphics while playing the game are way below average. The bikes that looked sleek and fast in the garage now look very weak and boxy. The movement of the riders looks as though there was a competition to see who could animate the rider with the fewest steps.
The courses are very disappointing as well. While the tracks themselves and the immediate area on either side of the tracks look good, the surroundings on the courses look awful. Everything looks very bleak and gray. There is a tremendous lack of detail and personality in the tracks. I know that the track isn't the most important aspect of the game but it would be better for immersion into the game if the surroundings were done better.
Probably the worst part of the sub par graphics has to be when you get tossed from your bike. I canít think of anyone who doesnít want to see a little damage or their rider bouncing along the ground at 150 miles an hour when they miscalculate a turn. There is a lot of room for improvement in this area. The bump and the awkward sliding of your rider just do not do the sport justice.
Overall, the graphics are very reminiscent of the best PS1 games. With the power of the PS2 it would have been advantageous to hold the release until they could have spiced up the graphics more. I realize that not all games can be stunning but given that there are no jumps or destruction involved in the game, they could have spent a little more time tweaking the graphics. If you are playing a simulation you need to buy into the story and great graphics can help this out.
The sound for Riding Spirits can be summed up with two words: not good. The so-called music in this game sounds like poorly done midi music. The bikes sound like a swarm of gnats and the collisions sound like clacking billiard balls. There is no music playing while you are racing to get you into the game.
I have never turned the sound down on any game before I played Riding Spirits. I just could not stand it. Every time I heard any noise coming from this game I would cringe. I am not saying you have to go out and obtain the rights to Van Halen songs but any band would have been better than the music that was put on the game.
Time to go back to the sound studio and work on this aspect for the next installment.
While most everything was done poorly or rushed to completion the value of the game remains outstanding. It would take you a year to win all of the races and purchase all of the bikes and accessories. If you could tolerate playing the game long enough to develop your skills you could play this game for a long time and the Versus Mode is entertaining because you will probably be playing against a buddy who is as bad at the game as you are.
While I did bash this title a little bit, it isnít the worst game out there. If you live and breathe motorcycles or road racing then you have found your game. If you are an arcade racer looking for some fast and furious motorcycle racing then look elsewhere.
With some work on the graphics and some improved controls this game could be a winner. As it stands now, itís not. Anyone that has the slightest interest should definitely rent Riding Spirits first. Only hardcore racing fans should even consider purchasing this game and if you really want it I am sure you will find many used copies floating around very soon.