Most of the games covered in this column require a great deal of involvement. Besides the necessary step of obtaining a copy of an old game and running it through the appropriate hardware, many of the titles I cover tend to indulge in extensive note-taking, high difficulty or, more importantly, a very specific frame of mind to make them shine. It’s perhaps for this reason that I decided to write about Motocross Maniacs, a quirky racing platformer that may be very accessible, but certainly isn’t uninteresting for it.
You could quickly compare it to those cheaply-made phone games that may have a good premise but reek of inexperience, but this was a series made by Konami in an age where games couldn’t be sold for 99 cents. It couldn’t be designed just as throwaway entertainment; the company had to make it worth playing over and over.
And it did. Taking the simple premise of angling your motorcycle to take hills and using nitro boosts to reach all kinds of platforms, it designed a tight, fun game in which you slowly improve, trying one trick in the morning and a different one during your lunch break.
It’s a game you can play to relax when you are tired. It doesn’t demand your attention or try to awe you with raw artistic power; it’s content to be a game, without any other pretensions than being entertaining. As much as I strive to find unique experiences, there’s something valuable about games that are just that, games. These seek to be comforting; they’re there when you need them, instead of crossing their arms and waiting for you to make the first move, or showering you with shallow praise and instant gratification.
When you discover how to go through loops faster in this game, you aren’t rewarded, and there’s no particular punishment for crashing. Navigating the courses is its own reward. There are no bells and whistles, just good skills and the joy of becoming better.
Isn’t this why we play games after all? Because they show something interesting? So much time is spent trying to achieve greatness that we often forget about simplicity, about the time when crazy motorcycles flying in the air and doing backflips wasn’t considered strange. I could write about the nuances in level design, or how strategically interesting it is to time your jumps better, but in the overall scheme of things it doesn’t matter. What matters is in plain sight, and talking about those topic would only diminish them, for they must be played.
There are three games in the Motocross Maniacs franchise (if you ignore the original Famicom title, which wasn’t a 2D racer). The best of them may be the second one, released for the Game Boy Color in 1999, and which can be had for a pittance. You may want to get the GBA game instead, as it’s not as dated. Motocross Maniacs is not one of those series of games that become a centerpiece of your collection, and it won’t rock your world, but at the end of the day, I’m glad I have a copy of it.