I went into Mad Riders expecting it to be a third-person ATV version of Trials based on some previews, but wound up being pleasantly surprised that it was far more like Pure than anything else. While there have been many off-road racers this gen, many have been underwhelming outside of Pure, and Mad Riders is about on par with that outstanding game.
The core gameplay is very similar, but with some differences. There's more of an emphasis on racing than tricks, which are there but not in great quantity. They're also much easier to pull off than in Pure, and you also don't earn boost by only doing tricks, but by going through red gates and building it up. There's also a bit of Split/Second in here in the form of last-second shortcuts, unlocked here by going through blue gates, and usually netting you enough turbo to completely fill up your boost meter.
The racing aspect of things has a lot of polish to it, although there are some rough edges to things. This is the first racing game I can ever recall with the term “brake” spelled as “break”, which brought some minor LULZ, and the help bubbles that pop-up during some early races are just jarring. You'll go for a turn or aim for a ramp and then BOOM, the action just stops cold, you read, and try to regain some of the momentum lost by the sudden stop. It's incredibly annoying, and I hope an option is added later to turn them off.
Outside of that though, I love the racing. Outside of regular ones against opponents, you've also got time trials, and an exciting stunt race mode where the flashiest racer wins. I love the neat Arena racing mode that turns the game into a point-to-point racer, with an open track which reminds me a bit of Midnight Club, only on a smaller scale since your environments aren't nearly as big and your path is usually much easier to figure out, but not quite linear either. Online play is outstanding, with every offline mode available for online play, and for the most part, the game is lag-free.
Visually, Mad Riders looks really good - especially for an XBLA release. The environments are relatively varied and have a lot of background details, including some impressive sky colors. Character models look good and are animated reasonably well, although like Pure, they do tend to look a bit weak when they're not covered in clothing. Mad Riders does mix up the visual variety a lot compared to other off-road racers by including more outlandish costumes - like a gorilla outfit, a mummy outfit and a skeleton suit that reminds me a lot of the original luchador La Parka's outfit. As the title might imply, the soundtrack is full of rock, and even has a bit of dubstep thrown in. It's not the most diverse soundtrack you'll hear, but it's pretty good and doesn't get old. The engine sound effects are very good, and crashes have a pretty satisfying thud to them.
Mad Riders has a few faults, but none of them are major. The core racing game is outstanding, and one of the best off-road racers on the market. It's worlds better than the MX vs. ATV games, and about as good as Pure. It's one of the few XBLA releases that is easily worth its full asking price, and is an easy recommendation as long as you liked Pure. If you did, then you'll adore this, if you didn't, then give the trial game a shot and see if it wins you over.
This review is based on a digital copy of Mad Riders for Xbox Live Arcade provided by Ubisoft.