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Review: Xtreme Sports (Dreamcast)

The Dreamcast had no shortage of racing games – most of them really good. It also had quite the catalogue of alternative sports titles – games which rode the fine line between point acquisition through tricks and completing courses under stringent time restraints.

Infogram’s 2000 title Xtreme Sports is a technically impressive third-party title, aptly utilizing the console’s power and, while not very deep, is approachable and fun precisely because of its shallowness.

While most hardcore racing and sports fans would be right to turn their nose up from this game, those looking to waste an afternoon with brainless fun may want to take it for a test drive.

Toques, Torque and Touchdowns

Xtreme Sports follows four thrill-seeking youths from around the globe in their quest to… win… stuff, at the X-Games, or something. Xtreme Sports is a painfully genuine product of its time, cashing in on the funk/punk-pop sports culture which dominated TV at the turn of the millennium. As a lens focused on the era the Dreamcast occupied, it’s pretty fun stuff. However, if you’re not into this brand of techno/chill electronica (and who can blame you), its charm may not hold.

Xtreme Sports looks almost on-par with any given first-party racing or sport game on the Dreamcast – almost. The character models aren’t incredibly complex, nor are the animations as fluid as its contemporaries like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

However, considering the multitude of vehicles and terrains Xtreme Sports tackles in any given stage, its flow is still a notable achievement. The background architecture has a bizarre melting effect in some stages as you progress, sometimes making the track hard to read. However, this strange loading effect can be forgiven thanks to what is arguably Xtreme Sports’ best feature: its scale.

While you can’t really get lost per-say, the sheer size of every track ensures no two runs are alike. There are very few roads or dotted lines to follow in Xtreme Sports. Navigation is up to the player, and this crisscross of paths makes racing feel open-ended and hectic in the best kind of way.

The vastness and character given to each of the eleven stages spread across five unique landscapes being all the more impressive considering how quickly they can be completed while maintaining the illusion of being seemingly infinite. While its mechanics may not entertain you outside a dozen or so runs, Xtreme Sports’ digital earth-porn never gets old.

Ground Rules

Although “Xtreme” in its own right, this is not the same Xtreme Sports.

Xtreme Sports taps into a bit of that Mario Kart mayhem in that no matter how well you are driving, you can lose your lead in the blink of an eye. Missing a rail grab, overshooting your target, or trying to punch someone when you should be focusing on the course is what makes Xtreme Sports’ competition so lively. None of Xtreme Sports’ individual parts could stand on their own, but their manic rotation keep the game lighthearted enough for friendly competition.

Playing through Xtreme Sports’ championship mode allows you to unlock new courses for play. There are three tiers: Easy, Hard, and Expert. The Easy route is just that, and most players should be able to complete the championship after a couple of tries.

In Hard, bungee-jumping is introduced, and the course and AI difficulty increase substantially. Though each course can be practiced on its own, players must gain enough points in a championship in order to place 1st overall and move to the next cup. This proves quite challenging in the Hard championship. Players willing to put in the effort, and patience, to perfect these runs will unlock the final set of Expert courses – with another five bonus courses unlocked after that via in-game collectables.

However, some may find the inconsistent nature of the game’s racing more frustrating than charming by this point, opting to quit instead of pushing to unlock the final slew of courses. While the base jumping mode introduced in the Expert courses is hardly worth the effort to unlock, the sheer upgrade in course length and challenge is, should players have the endurance to see the game through.

Xtreme Sports records each round of play, replaying it at the race’s conclusion. You can save these replays to your VMU for future viewing, which is a nice feature should you want to immortalize a particularly hilarious run.

Come on, Bra

Xtreme Sports, as its name suggests, is about getting from point A to point B in the most extremely impractical way possible. Long before free-running revolutionized urban travel for weirdos with too much time on their hands, extreme sports challenged athletes’ aptitude in a multitude of disciplines.

In any given Xtreme Sports course players may be mountain biking, snowboarding, speed-gliding, bungee jumping, parachuting, or quadding. There are no manual transmissions or vehicle specs to tweak. It’s just accelerate, brake, jump (depending on the vehicle), and turbo boost (a finite bar refilled by doing tricks or punching other people, like in real life).

Each mode has its own feel, but none really require a specific explanation outside of speed gliding and bungee jumping. Bungee jumping takes place automatically, avatars strapping themselves in and taking the leap on their own. All players have to do is press A at the cord’s full stretch, queuing their avatar to grab the base hand rail and unstrap themselves. It is the simplest, but also most frustrating, sport to play. Miss the hand rail and you’ll bob back upward, having to try again after a slow decent. It can – and likely will – move you from first to last place numerous times, with victory essentially hinging on a QTE. Computer controlled racers rarely miss the grab, making these segments all the more stressful if playing alone.

Speed gliding sees players towed behind a plane while gripping a hang-glider. Here, speed is gained by successfully weaving through balloon slaloms. It’s a bit unpredictable, and turbo-boost is still available for use even though it has no effect, but the track lines are easiest to follow here as the path is dictated by the pull of the plane. Dismounting from a speed glide requires players time their detachment and safely land within a target area. Glide too far or fall too short and it’s game over.

Quad courses vary wildly in their elevations and composition, regularly switching between paved and dirt roads. Players will need to learn how and when to best jump the courses’ numerous bumps and hills and when to stay down, accelerating through the slaloms.

Mountain biking takes place on primarily downhill tracks, though elevation is unpredictable here too. The main differences between biking and “quadding” is the stamina bar. Should players wish to accelerate, their avatar will become fatigued from peddling. Again, it becomes a balancing act of when to ride the hill and when to make that extra push. The mountain bike is also more unstable than the quad, being more sensitive to impact.

Snowboarding, while lacking the trick depth of say, Riper Riders, still manages to be surprisingly deep; the physics, track design, and handling being stable enough to make its short-lived segments enjoyable. Gaining speed for a jump, slaloming through the woods, and grinding rails make this mode feel like a full game of its own. It’s easily the best of the sports Xtreme Sports emulates.

Base jumping asks players deploy their parachute, landing in a predetermined zone. It’s exhilarating the first few times, seeing the landscapes take shape below you, though controls in these segments can be touchy, often resulting in players landing in an off-limits zone and ending the game prematurely.

Excellent!

It should be noted that Xtreme Sports touts a 2-player split-screen mode, though I could not find it. The option doesn’t appear in-game, and no drop-in play seems available once a race has started (the instruction booklet simply states two-player is available in the Single Race mode). Perhaps it has to be unlocked by completing the Expert championship (which I have yet to do).

If that’s the case, it’s a disappointing design choice seeing as Xtreme Sports with a friend would be a ton of fun. If it’s a misprint, and there is no multiplayer mode, I think the statute of limitations may have come to pass, so I won’t be able to take Infograms to court for false advertising (darn!).

Summary

Xtreme Sports is the “just OK” sum of several “just OK” racing systems. With a plethora of excellent racing and sports games on the Dreamcast, there isn’t much to sell Xtreme Sports on besides novelty. Those looking for a more brainless experience may find some value is this smorgasbord of a racing game. It’s not the party game Dreamcast fans need, nor the racing game they deserve, but it is extreme without and ‘E’, and that’s something.

Side column: Xtreme Ways

It was at the turn of the millennium when the alternative sports genre really took flight. While snowboarding games had proven popular for years, it was during the Dreamcast’s era that skateboarding, BMXing, surfing, and even scooter…ing, jumped from the sidewalk to our TV screens with mainstream recognition. Both casual and hardcore gamers couldn’t seem to get enough of this new breed of arcade extreme sports.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is perhaps the best known of this genre, and for good reason. With a killer soundtrack, intuitive controls, and skate parks that ranged in scale from real world to pure fantasy, it was pretty hard to get bored with Treyarch’s wicked cool digital playgrounds. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its sequel set the standard for this budding genre, and its imitators came in all sports and sizes.

There was MTV Skateboarding, a less playable but still passible skateboarding game. Dave Mira’s BMX almost captured the speed and thrill of BMX trick riding to the same degree Tony Hawk’s Pro  

Skater did of skateboarding, but fell just short of the same mainstream recognition. Razor touted its own brand in Razor: Freestyle Scooter, and proved to be a pretty fun despite scooters being so, well, lame. Championship Surfer failed to impress, but the fact that one could skateboard, scooter (ick), BMX, and surf all on the Dreamcast was pretty cool.

Sega also made a few of its own alternative sports games for the Dreamcast. Ripin Riders, a snowboarding game, held its own against the big boys of the genre like SSX. Jet Set Radio spiced the genre with a dash of urban mayhem, blending trick riding with platforming action, yielding incredible results.

One of the more interesting alternative sports titles for the console was Trickstyle. Utilizing hoverboards, this cyberpunk racing game essentially made up its own rules and physics in a crazy cross between snowboarding and skateboarding. The art and sound direction really steal the show here, though Criterion’s blend of racing and tricks were distinct from Tony Hawk and its clones.

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VirtuaDrew

I like my martinis dry and my shooters on-rails.
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