Version tested: Wii
You imagine that when RedLynx first came up with the idea for MotoHeroz, a bouncy buggy-juggling racer with cartoon visuals, the Wii seemed like the perfect platform. Accelerate into 2011 and it looks like a bad move: not just for the RedLynx accountants but for the game's players, too. MotoHeroz is good, but there are gaps here that look very deliberate.
You drive as Gene McQuick, a Joe Danger without the charm, in a four-wheel buggy with two-wheel drive. The handling is a gentler, though instantly familiar, variant on the physics model from RedLynx's motocross fan favourite, Trials. The major changes are that it's impossible to crash (the buggy can land on its roof, but a quick shake of the Wii remote rights it again and sets you off) and reversing is almost as quick as moving forwards, allowing many of MotoHeroz' levels to be built around speedy transitions between the two.
The level design is where MotoHeroz excels, a precision-engineered mix of huge ramps, loops, cogs and precipitous drops that form both slow-burning platform challenges and breakneck races. Your first attempt at many of the later worlds simply involves working out what to do before restarting and going for a 'proper' run, with the obstacles and their uses constantly changing.
This mix of platforming and racing works well with MotoHeroz' power-ups, which are more liberally distributed as the single-player rolls on. Springs boing you over other racers or obstacles, ghosts let you drive right through opponents, jetpacks fly you over massive gaps and gorgeously gooey sticky wheels are used to drive vertically, if you can keep balance. The most fun is the parachute, which pulls you out of screaming dives and leaves the buggy swinging like a pendulum, from which you can launch back onto solid ground with a correctly timed release.
The parachute swing is one of several minor parts of MotoHeroz' physics where the effects are exaggerated. Hit the release just right and your buggy launches like it's been fired from a cannon. There are a few ramps and loops where this 'boost' also seems to be silently applied, but it's a localised phenomenon that works well in these situations and is entirely in keeping with a more rough-and-tumble approach to racing.
The 'Story Adventure' has more than 100 levels to conquer, though if that sounds like a lot, it's best to know you'll beat the whole thing in an afternoon and acquire almost all of the other buggies, too. Most stages are solo races where all you have to do is beat a relatively sluggish ghost, though on every stage there are coins and 'ancestors' to be collected as well as a gold medal time. There are difficulty spikes, to be sure, which often seem to come in the levels where McQuick's equally imaginative rival Spider McRally is chasing you.
Ancestors form a family tree kind of arrangement on the main menu where, when the blue blobs in stages are collected, various Heroz (urgh, that horrible 'z') can be viewed. A line of text and a picture may not seem like much reward, but hey ho. These characters are shared with RedLynx's iOS game 1000 Heroz, a cute but hit-and-miss running game, which also shares several music tracks with MotoHeroz. Everyone's tightening their belts these days.
The main attraction here is local multiplayer for 1-4 players which, thanks to the buggies being able to bump into one another, is a lot of messy fun. If MotoHeroz is a precision game in single-player, here it's much more about being a clumsy bully. The sheer quantity of power-ups on the track means straight-up racing goes out of the window in favour of smacking your mates around and hoping to peel away near the finish.