Are you ready to dance? It's not a question, it's the message that booms from the TV when you turn on your PS2 and insert SBK 07. What follows is a bastard blend of Limp Bizkit and 2 Unlimited music accompanied by a pop-up montage of size zero girls who are all exclusively blond, fit and smiling like they've just earned enough to go on another Marc Jacobs shopping spree. It all comes as a bit of a shock, given that this is a bike game and not the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest entry.
Bike games are never, ever like this. Moto GP from Namco, for example, is distinctly nerdy in its treatment of vehicles which, if you're honest, you've never used, owned or intend to buy unless you hit that tricky mid-life crisis. The first hour of most super bike games are usually a dismal experience. You spend approximately 23 seconds trying to get out of the gravel pit you hit on the first corner, spend 6 minutes getting near the middle of the pack and then crash into someone's protruding knee. It's too late to qualify so you end up pretending that you're in Grand Theft Auto, doing wheelies, endos and crashing in the most hideous ways to spice up the replays. SBK 07 is different. So different that competing against the colossal 21 on-screen riders feels achievable in the first ten minutes and doesn't require hours of practice just to qualify.
Perhaps it's because the official licence is tied in to something different than the ever-so-anoraky Moto GP licence that SBK 07 plays like a fun arcade racer that hasn't ever been seen on PS2. The official licence, as far as we can tell, means lots of girls and lots of sponsored leather items. We couldn't give a chuff about that, though fans obviously will, but we do care that SBK 07 makes a conscious effort to appeal to every single man and child that might own a PS2. There are official tracks, riders and bikes to be tinkered with but the fact that SBK 07 has the forgiving handling and excitement of an arcade game is key here. SBK 07 is simple and addictive. Think SEGA's aged Super Hang-On rather than the super realism of Moto GP. Everything is exaggerated to make an event of the sport. Accelerate and the sound of a ragged anorak being dragged through a supersonic wind tunnel can be heard, all bass slap and flapping fart sounds. Bizarrely, there's some excited shouting from a distant (and possibly foreign) commentator when you complete each lap. It all adds to the atmosphere, along with the wobble-cam kicking in when the speedo hits a suicidal speed.
The handling isn't arcade enough to put bike fans off, however. The boring physics are correct, they're just more forgiving. A realistic bike game would involve navigating a pack of six rivals on a bend at 80MPH. Forgive us if that sounds a bit difficult, but we'd rather the odds were in our favour. When the inevitable crash does occur, the game manages to get you back on track and in the thick of it in seconds or at least before you see 42 cherry-red Xerox-branded buttocks float over the horizon, never to be seen again. Even the spectacular crashes are balanced in your favour. Wipe out on a bend and you can gleefully take out at least six riders in the process, and make spectators believe that the effects of gravity have been momentarily suspended. The scenes of carnage aren't one offs either - bikes can slide forever but they'll also cartwheel above the heads of rivals and then decapitate someone. Okay, we'll maybe not decapitate, but at least knock them off their bike. This is the reason we occasionally watch 10 minutes of bike racing on TV. The only excitement is the danger and no crashes equals no fun in the sick and twisted mind of casual Eurosport viewers like us.
The fact that SBK 07 is on PS2 brings its own unique problems. We're aware that the PS2 can still kick it thanks to the recent arrival of PS2 pin-up God of War 2 but SBK 07 doesn't offer a stunning degree of visual trickery. Last year's Moto GP looks better and although this is really unfair, the tarmac just doesn't look as nice as the sexy concrete we've seen in Forza 2 on Xbox 360. Sexy concrete, there, we said it. But we can't take aim at a piece of hardware that is seven years old, it just wouldn't be fair. And Ken Kataragi would come at us with the big Sony stick. Much better to criticise the strange Eurovision-style presentation and clumsy menus, slow loading times and the overly complex qualifying and race structure.
There's little sheen or glossy presentation. You can unlock pictures of the pit girls which adds further seedy, low-rent properties to SBK 07. But then we are talking about a game aimed at bikers. You know, the type who spend weekends going to 'meets' dressed in leather jumpsuits tighter than Darth Vader's codpiece and ponce about drinking lemonade before they die of dehydration on the way back to Milton Keynes. The presentation is flawed and even though SBK 07 looks rough in parts, we can't recall actually enjoying a bike game on PlayStation 2 this much since, well, since PlayStation 2 began.