In days gone by, you could count the number of games successfully converted from console to PC on one hand.
With Sega's Dreamcast now with us, we are told that that situation should dramatically change. With a PowerVR Series2 chip at its heart and running Windows CE, it is supposed to be a doddle to convert DC to PC and vice versa.
The first game to cross the divide is Trickstyle from Acclaim. Having enjoyed massive success by being one of the few titles available at launch for Dreamcast, can developers Criterion Studios look forward to similar success on the PC? Let's see ...
The game is set "sometime in the future" where the latest sporting craze is hoverboarding. If you ignore the token storyline, the game promises loads of fast-paced thrill'n'spills, huge air and impossible tricks as you zoom around like Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future Part II".
Fire up the menu, and first impressions are of disappointment and annoyance. Trickstyle really shows its console roots merely from the way you have to navigate the menu.
For starters, if you accidentally select the wrong option, you can't just push the "Escape" key - you have to move down to the menu option "End". A small point maybe, but then salt is added to injury when you go to type in your Player name - you have to select it letter by letter from a large alphabet grid.
This is fine for console controllers with only four buttons, but us PC gamers have keyboards is it too much to expect some new program code to allow us to type in our names?
With the annoying formalities out of the way, the first game screen loaded. WOW! Trickstyle might have a dodgy console menu system, but damn it is good looking. Choose one of nine characters, each with various strengths and weakness in the different skill categories, and head on out to the main arena.
Thankfully sparing us from more atrocious menus, Criterion have taken the novel approach of a 3D menu - you can fly around practising some stunts, talk to your trainer to get some advice and take one of his 16 skill challenges, or head towards one of the themed race zones for some action.
What's Behind Door Number 2?
The 15 "tracks" are divided into 3 regions: UK, USA and Japan. Each has 5 races and a Boss level, and you must win your way through the early stages to unlock the latter ones.
Unfortunately, each zone is really just one huge level, and the 5 tracks are just different routes, with areas blocked off, or similar layouts but in reverse. This spoils any surprises on later levels, as you can usually remember the obstacles from previous races.
While the graphics are good, each zone is your typical stock futuristic city, but with a few characteristic features. For example, the UK is the same as USA, except the former has a couple of London buses, a token Big Ben, and something vaguely resembling Tower Bridge, while the latter has a subway and a harbour tunnel.
On the plus side, the arenas are well laid out, and there is usually two or more different directions you can take to reach the same destination, even within the restrictions of the barriers. A lot of fun can be had by exploring the rooftop routes, or the hair-raising rides to be had by riding a Magnorail.
So What Is It Like To Play?
The racing is a bit of a mystery - take a big spill and no matter how far behind you get, you always seem to magically catch up to the pack. And despite leading the whole race, the dash for the finish line is usually hectic and winning margins are fractions of a second.
I decided to test this by giving everyone a 45 second head start. I was last by a mile! Within another 45 seconds I was into 2nd place, but finished 5th despite not making a single error. Very strange, I'm sure you'll agree.
Once you learn the general layout of the track and take note where the handful of crucial obstacles are, winning most of the races is a mere formality - I had won 10 out of 15 in just 3 hours.
The long-term playability of Trickstyle is seriously questionable. Once you have completed all the races, there are 16 skill challenges to complete, and that's it. I can't see many people playing the races over and over just to improve their winning time.
The multiplayer options again suffer from the console conversion, being limited to a two player split screen mode. Not only is this fairly pointless, but it again shows how little thought has been put in to conversion process to make the game more PC friendly.
Why should we miss out on multiplayer on a network or over the Internet just because this is a console game? (Note - this should change once Dreamcast Online launches in the Spring)
Control is via keyboard or joypad - the latter is infinitely preferable, not only to mimic the console-playing experience, but because most keyboards only recognise two or three simultaneous key presses, sometimes leaving you in a pickle.
All in all, Trickstyle is a good bit of fun in the short term - some mindless action free from the complexity of Unreal Tournament or Tiberian Sun.
It may be perfect for a quick blast on a console, but PC gamers expect a little more from their games, and so the lack of variety and the "too-easy" difficulty settings mean that you won't be playing Trickstyle into the wee small hours.
In fact, if you did, you would probably complete the game in one sitting. Well, almost - it took me a day and a half on and off.
Ultimately, gameplay loses out to stunning visuals - once the sheen wears off, there is very little left to make you come back for more. Let's hope conversions of other top Dreamcast games are not merely direct ports, and tailor the experience for PC gamers' tastes... Release Date - available now
Download The Demo
Try before you buy! Check out the Trickstyle demo.