Playing Giant Moto immediately invokes fond memories of Excitebite for the NES. While the similarities may be obvious, developer Rocket 5 Project has made some nice updates to this classic bike racing game, most notably of which are the graphics. It’s always a gamble taking a beloved classic and “rebooting” it for a new generation, but Rocket 5 Project has pulled this off expertly.
Giant Moto is a top-down, isometric view arcade motocross racing game which has you tearing your motorbike down one of the game’s 10 unique dirt or pavement tracks in a frantic single lap race. As you launch yourself off the many hills/ramps which make up the tracks, you can control the tilt angle of your bike to allow for the maximum amount of hang time and a successful landing on either the downslope of another hill or flat ground. Scattered about the track are mud puddles which will slow you down, and areas marked with arrows, which will give you a little boost when you ride over them. Throttling your your bike’s acceleration is accomplished via your bike’s boost and a gas. When you use the boost, you will see a temperature gage slowly increasing on the left side of the screen. Don’t hold down the boost for too long, give it time to cool off, otherwise your bike will overheat and you’ll waste precious time waiting for it to recover. Mastering jump angles and the proper balance between your gas and boost is critical to earning the best possible race times. One thing I’d like to see added is a running timer during the race so you always have an idea of how well you are racing and if you should lay on the boost a bit more.
Players have the option of racing solo to avoid the distraction of other bikes on the track, or against three AI racers (with a choice of three difficulty settings). While the AI players do put up a good fight, unfortunately the one big let down of the Giant Moto is the lack of the ability to compete against your friends. The game is a single-device experience, meaning that even the high scores are restricted to those earned on your device. A big part of the fun of racing games is being able to pwn your buddy. Therefore, I’d love to see some sort of wifi or bluetooth multiplayer support added to the game, as it would add a lot more replayability. If full-on realtime multiplayer is not a possibility, then how about OpenFeint integration with per-track global leaderboards and the ability to send a challenge (ie. ghost rider) to a friend so he can race against “you” even if it’s not happening in real-time. Let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, multiplayer support is crucial for the longevity of any game in this genre.
By now, you’ve probably guessed that Giant Moto controls pretty much like its inspiration, Excitebike. Your boost and gas buttons are located on the right side of the screen, while up/down arrows on the left side of the screen allow you to switch between the track’s 4 lanes. Instead of left and right arrows (or a NES-like full cross-shaped d-pad) tilting your airborne bike forward and backward is controlled via the iDevice’s accelerometer. Simply tilt your device to the right to lean the bike forward and to the left to lean the bike back. Being an avid Excitebike player in my youth, my natural instinct was to move my left thumb to a non-existent left/right d-pad, but after a few play throughs, I got used to the tilt controls. The latest update to the game has improved the responsiveness of the tilting and overall the controls seem fairly tight. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to see an option to use a full-on cross shaped d-pad for both lane shifting and in-air bike tilting for the complete retro feel, but by adding that, Rocket 5 Project may be pushing their luck with the Nintendo legal team.
As for the graphics…let’s just say Excitebike never looked this good! The visuals in this game are stunning, with beautifully rendered wood, pavement, mud and scenery. The roar of the bikes’ engines sound realistic and if you start your own music before launching the game, you can rock out to your own tunes while playing.
While Giant Moto is in no way an officially licensed port of Excitebike, I doubt that even if Nintendo had developed an official Excitebike game for the platform that they could have done a better job than this homage that Rocket 5 Project has produced. Despite its lack of Multiplayer support, I can easily recommend picking up Giant Moto at its bargain price of 99¢.