Riding Spirits from BAM! Entertainment is the newest Gran Turismo 3 wanna-be to come down the ol’ PS2 pipeline. On paper this game seems like a great idea: do everything GT3 did but for motorcycles. Sadly, and perhaps not surprisingly, it misses the mark by a considerable margin. It’s not a bad game by any means and the hardware customization component is like nothing you’ve ever seen in a PS2 cycle-racing game, as far as things go in that regard it basically gets everything right and is rivaled only by GT3, but this title could have benefited greatly from some substantial retooling. The gameplay is more than a little unforgiving, there are a handful of speed-decreasing roadblocks in the game’s physics, and Riding Spirits won’t be winning any awards in the graphics department either. But if you can get past the shortcomings of RS, you’ll find a decent racing experience with a slew of interesting customization options.
Upon starting a new game in Riding Spirits, you’ll be able to choose from a list of bikes, suits, and helmets. You’ll also be given 100,000 points to tool around with for upgrades. One hundred thousand points might seem like a lot but it’s actually only enough to get the bare basics. In order to get more points, you’ll need to compete in various races and win. Bonus goodies can be unlocked by completing GT3-style tests that help you to refine your skills on two wheels. As you purchase new rides and unlock new stuff, they will all be stored in the garage; this is where you’ll want to go before every race in order to pick the best combination of equipment for the job.
Competing in races is fairly straightforward. You need simply to select “Race” and then choose the circuit you wish to participate in. Each circuit is composed of a few different tracks and some have certain hardware requirements that will restrict the type of bike, engine size, or manufacturer that’s allowed to be used. First time players might want to peep the Training mode before going on to races though, since the mechanics of the game require absolute precision to master. In training, you follow a racing line around a course without crashing or driving outside the road. During these exercises you’ll be timed, so while precise maneuvering is key you’ll also need to keep an eye on the clock to make sure you finish within the time limit. There are two categories of training: Safety Riding, which helps to learn the basics of the controls like sharp turning and braking, and Circuit Racing, which tests your metal in actual laps around a course.
The last option available in a career is the crowning jewel of this otherwise run-of-the-mill racing game: the Shop. This is where motorcycle buffs will really feel at home. Nearly every facet of your bike can be customized to your heart’s content. Everything from tweaking the gear ratios to upgrading the drive system can be done from here. Aside from the barrage of parts that you can purchase, you’ll also be able to buy entire motorcycles outright, new helmets, and racing suits. All these items are based closely on their real-world counterparts and even feature a slew of actual manufacturers.
While the single-player experience in Riding Spirits is fairly fleshed out on its own, you can also bust a little two-player action if things become too tedious. The two-player mode is your obligatory split-screen racing; chose your bike and course that you wanna race on and you’re ready to go. Another mode called “Duel” pits you against a computer-controlled opponent. This is basically like the two-player mode except you can’t take a fall. Time Attack is all about beating the course’s record without crashing and burning. All in all, pretty ho-hum bonus modes, but they are appreciated nonetheless. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?
Visually, Riding Spirits looks good but not anywhere near impressive. The bike and character models are all very realistically depicted but with little attention to detail. For instance, you’ll never actually see any exhaust coming out of the bike ahead of you, there are no substantial weather effects, and the three available perspectives barely get the job done. But Spike did a pretty good job with the basics like environmental shadowing, real-time-esque reflections and what not. Sound-wise this game is great though. The music is a little bland and the roar of engines at high-speed is a little weak but other than that, RS boasts an excellent audio presentation.
For a game that tries so hard to be the Gran Turismo 3 of motorcycle racing, Riding Spirits sure does space on a lot of important aspects of sport. The lack of being able to brake between front and rear wheels is an obvious oversight that in this day and age of other moto-racing games like Moto GP is just not excusable. But RS is an odd-duck. The customization options are incredible but the gameplay isn’t. The sound is up to par yet the graphics look like something from two years ago. It is a complete hit-and-miss with this one. Nevertheless, I’m sure many folks will have a great time with Riding Spirits if only for its customization-heavy options. I’d say give this one a look-see but definitely rent before you buy.