Sunday 26 September 2021

Bike or Die! (Tapwave Zodiac review)

Developer: Toyspring Games
Publisher: Toyspring Games
Released: 2004

Bike or Die! is a biking simulator that takes inspiration from Elasto Mania (2000, Microsoft Windows).

There's 25 levels and the objective in each is to collect a set number of flags as quickly as possible. The R trigger accelerates, L brakes, the left and right face buttons rotate your bike, while Function changes direction. The controls are incredibly twitchy and when coupled with the floaty ragdoll physics you'll initially find yourself cursing at why the opening levels pose so much of a challenge. The tutorial hints that pop-up are also displayed at the worst possible time, as the action doesn't pause and you only have a split-second to read the instructions while trying to avoid upcoming hazards. And then there's the checkpoints that often place you in the opposite direction and it's aggravating to always have to press the Function button after yet another failed attempt. However, the hatred quickly switches to immense satisfaction once you do successfully beat a level and start to become more comfortable with the controls; in fact, it often feels like the game is mocking you (each crash is complimented with SFX jeers!) which weirdly brings out a competitive fire that compels you to keep trying until you're victorious. It's then that you start to think of it more as a puzzle game, as learning a particular order to obtain the required flags will benefit you with less harsh restart points for the rest of the level. The stage design is fiendishly clever with no wasted spaces, and from perilous logs, loop-the-loops and huge ramps there's always something new to challenge your improving skills. While there's only 25 levels here, a huge amount of fan-made level packs are available, and I like how you can view statistics on all your attempts, record / replay your best runs and play custom MP3 files during gameplay.

Bike or Die! is a game that will agitate and delight in equal measure, and while some players might be turned off after an onslaught of early failures it's worth sticking through the initial rough patch. In turn, you'll be rewarded with terrific level design and the vindication of finally beating a tough stage that previously tormented you!

Random trivia: An upgraded version called Bike or Die! 2 was released for iOS devices in 2008, but has since been removed from the App Store.

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