No experience (or skill) required
Hey there everyone, do you like monster trucks!? For those of you who said yes, that’s great; a lot of people do! Still there are others out there who don’t quite share the same amount of enthusiasm over these hulking, hardcore automobiles – I myself being one such person. Don’t get me wrong, I can see their appeal easily enough. Driving a behemoth of a vehicle around, performing stunts, and crushing everything in your wake could definitely be a thrilling and adrenaline-pumping experience for a lot of people – just not for me. So, not surprisingly, I was initially a bit skeptical when I was given Monster Jam: Crush it! to review. After a bit of thought however, I realized that I wasn’t being fair. Just because I didn’t like monster trucks didn’t mean that I wouldn’t like this game. My opinion on games have changed after playing them before and it could happen again. I was pretty wary the first time that I reviewed a game in the Senran Kagura series and ended up liking it, so maybe it could be like… Okay actually that’s not a good game to use as a comparison for several reasons, so let’s just go to the part where we see what Monster Jam: Crush It! is all about.
For those unaware, Monster Jam: Crush It! is based on the real-life Monster Jam, a traveling motorsport show that performs throughout the United States and Canada. Many of the Monster Jam shows vary in format, but the main attractions always consist of freestyle and racing events by popular monster truck drivers and their iconic monster trucks. The idea of monster truck fans being able to drive their favorite trucks around is exciting enough and, with the abundance of monster truck games that have already come out, one would assume that Monster Jam Crush It! would have the monster truck game formula down pretty well – but hey, you know what they say about those who assume!
Monster Jam: Crush It! is an arcade-like game that is divided into three different modes, the first being “Stadium Races”. The Stadium Races mode allows players to pick their favorite monster truck and go head-to-head with a CPU-controlled rival in order to make it to the finish. Upon initially seeing that there was a racing mode I was surprised – I didn’t know that monster truck races were a thing (is my ignorance showing?), and it sounded like it could be fun. Well, it wasn’t. The longest race in the Stadium Races mode was literally under 30 seconds – most of them were under 10 – and there were only six levels. The levels themselves were based on real-world stadiums, which was cool, but none of them amounted to more than “big dirt circle with ramps randomly strewn about and the same small green car copy/pasted everywhere”. On top of that (oh yes, there’s more!) the controls were pretty darn bad. Now, I’m going to say it once again: I don’t know a whole lot about monster trucks. Maybe they’re really difficult to steer; with those wheels I would imagine that driving one skillfully isn’t easy. Regardless, that shouldn’t be the case with a video game. I understand if you want to add some realism to the steering by making sure that the monster trucks don’t turn on a dime, but I felt as though I was never completely in control. Even when I attempted to turn lightly, my truck would end up going in the wrong direction or spinning out. Ironically, obtaining the highest ranking possible within each race was easy despite the number of aforementioned problems.
The second gameplay mode in Monster Jam: Crush It! is “Stadium Freestyle”. Stadium Freestyle challenges players to score as many points as possible within the allotted time limit. From what I understand this is a pretty big event in the real-life Monster Jam so it should have at least a decent amount of depth to it… but it doesn’t. Like with Stadium Races, Stadium Freestyle has players driving around in one of six real-life stadiums (which once again would be a neat feature if they weren’t all so boring). While I’d love to talk about the many ways players can rack up points, there’s only one; by staying in the air. Longer airtime may potentially lead to a bigger score increase, but I honestly didn’t notice any fluctuation. Unlike with the races I actually had a hard time obtaining high rankings in this mode, but that was due to a combination of frustrating controls and questionable physics as opposed to actual gameplay challenge. Fortunately I found a way around all of that, though it was purely by accident. By driving straight into any stadium’s walls, you can literally drive up the invisible wall and fall off, scoring massive points. Normally I would let small bugs slide; programming is really hard, I get it. This is not a small bug. Considering how easy it was to obtain the highest ranking on every level after discovering this bug, I would definitely consider this to be under the “bugs that the programmers should have never let slip” category. I would also like to point out that I generally am against utilizing exploits such as this; I feel that doing so ends up taking away the fun and sense of accomplishment. This was boring enough to make me not care; I just wanted to be done with it.
Finally there’s Monster Jam: Crush It!‘s “Hill Climb” mode. Hill Climb is considerably more detailed than Stadium Races and Stadium Freestyle, consisting of four different locales – Forest, Desert, Polar, and Factory – which are broken down further into seven levels each that can be played in three different modes – “Time Attack”, “Stunt”, and “Survival” – for a nice total of 84 levels. Remember however that quantity does not necessarily mean quality. The levels themselves are actually set up nicely, with players driving on a 2D plane to the finish as they make jumps, avoid obstacles, and, in the case of Stunt, perform tricks to score points. Unfortunately, almost every single Time Attack and Survival level can be beaten by holding down the ignition button with no additional player input required; no joke. At first I couldn’t believe that; I figured that it was just a fluke or maybe I had been controlling my monster truck without even realizing it. After completing several levels of varying “difficulties” with my eyes closed, I realized that that was not the case. As nicely as Hill Climb Mode is set up, there is little to no actual gameplay in two of the three sub-modes aside from holding down a button and doing something else while your monster truck does all of the work itself. There were a few levels here and there that required a bit more from the player than just holding down the “go” button – such as needing to adjust the truck’s speed – but the sheer number of levels not requiring any sort of skill was pretty embarrassing.
Hill Climb Mode’s Score Attack had a bit more player interaction, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it “good” player interaction. Along with holding down the ignition button, Score Attack also has boost their score by performing tricks. There are two tricks in Score Attack; one is performed by holding either up or down, and the other by holding either left or right. Not surprisingly, Monster Jam: Crush It!’s awkward physics reared its head once again in this mode quite frequently. Unless your monster truck lands perfectly after performing a “trick”, your vehicle ends up susceptible to a number of odd things such as becoming stuck, bouncing, or turning around unintentionally (the latter of which will get you disqualified).
Despite doing most things wrong, Monster Jam: Crush It! did manage to redeem itself a little bit thanks to its graphics. From the stadiums to Hill Climb mode’s four locales, each area within Crush It! featured a nice amount of detail while staying true to the realism of the location which it was based on. The trucks featured within the game were especially impressive, boasting accurate depictions of their real-world Monster Jam counterparts and working quite well with the lighting featured within the game in most areas.
The game’s audio is a different story. While I assume the trucks featured within the game featured realistic sound effects, I found the music to be quite lacking. I know that most people buying a game about monster trucks aren’t going to be buying it for the OST but, come on, it could have used at least a little bit of love.
I wasn’t a fan of monster trucks before playing Monster Jam: Crush It!, and I am most definitely not any closer to becoming one after playing it. While this might be a decent title for Monster Jam‘s younger fans, it ultimately didn’t add up to much. Between its bad controls, wonky physics, and general lack of actual gameplay, the only thing that Monster Jam: Crush It! will actually be crushing is any hopefulness that you may have had about this game being fun before playing it.
FINAL VERDICT: 2/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One ; Publisher: GameMill Entertainment ; Developer: GameMill Entertaiment ; Players: 1; Released: October 25, 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a PS4 review copy of Monster Jam; Crush It! provided by GameMill Entertainment