Art For The Square-Eyed

Whether you play them or not, there is no denying that today’s video games are more cinematic than ever before, boasting visual effects and immersive experiences worthy of Hollywood itself. I have never owned any of the major consoles (save for a Nintendo Wii), but I know the strides that are being made nowadays and they are impossible not to admire. In being so impressive, they must be behind increased sales to some extent, but in my experience, “less is more” can be just as enticing when it comes to gaming as the snazzy and highly-advanced products we are now offered on a regular basis.

When I was 8, Mum bought me a Game Boy Advance for Christmas, with Lego Star Wars accompanying it as my first-ever game. She will tell you that Louis and I fought over it like cat and dog to begin with, but when we weren’t doing that, I was busy being utterly flabbergasted by the fact that so much scenery, storyline and playability had been packed into a tiny cartridge for use in the palm of my hand. Such a feat seemed like it should be pure fiction, impossible even in the 21st Century as something that transcended the laws of physics. And yet there we were, with other more complex systems such as the Nintendo DS and PSP catching up and expanding this compacted art form.

From the outset, then, I was very impressed – but the impact those early experiences with Lego Star Wars had on me was nothing compared to when I got MotoGP for the same console shortly afterwards. Bear in mind that this is a game based on a legendary real-world motorsport series, featuring real tracks and real motorcyclists I have admired on TV, so to my younger self it was always going to be a revelation regardless of its quality. When I got it, I owned no officially-licensed racing games of any kind; I saw those as being the reserve of the PS2-owning elite, of which I would never be a member. I was therefore eager to see what this new addition could offer, hoping that it wouldn’t disappoint by comparison to the big boys.

I should make very clear that the entire MotoGP game can pretty much be summed up by the word “simplicity”. Even the hardest difficulty is easy to conquer in any mode, since braking is virtually pointless on every circuit layout and the AI are hardly stiff competition. Race weekends are much shorter than their real-life counterparts, too – one lap is allocated for qualifying with a maximum of four for the Grand Prix. But trust me when I say that I would never slag this game off; we all have flaws, after all. Indeed, its charm lay in its pick-up-and-play suitability, its excellent replay value (even to this day, as it turns out), and the aforementioned ability to take to the track against actual racing heroes. Even more prominent than these qualities, however, were its visuals, which I would still describe as nothing less than stunning for the Advance.

16 different destinations feature in the game, perfectly replicating the 2001 MotoGP season calendar, and all are rendered so beautifully that they almost resemble oil paintings. From the mountains seen in the background at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit to the deep blue sky and sea at Phillip Island in Australia, they never fail to disappoint. The same applies to the sprites representing the riders and bikes, as well as the trackside scenery – billboards feature the names of real sponsors, there are distinguishable kerbs and cones, and excited spectators even appear to cheer you on at certain corners. The fact that all of these details are included in such an uncomplicated piece of software is what makes the game stand out above all the others I own, despite its age. If you want to take a look at it for yourself, you could search for some gameplay on YouTube, but I honestly don’t believe that this will do it justice. I now play it on my DS, which offers me an even more vibrant display thanks to its brighter screen, and this in turn only cements its reputation in my mind as a piece of modern gaming art. It won’t take you long to complete if you do pick up a copy, but I honestly believe this 16 year-old game is still worth buying. As a bonus, you won’t spend as much time being antisocial with something so easy!

Mason

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