Monster Minis Extreme Off-Road
Monster Minis Extreme Off-Road is a 3D “RC Car” racing simulation like no other. The only game in recent memory it reminds me of would be RE-Volt by Acclaim, a game which holds a particular place in my heart as a game I very much enjoyed. You take control of a remote control monster truck racing against five opponents by default, which can be changed in the settings. Five is the highest, one is the lowest. The difficulty is set when you set up your driver profile and cannot be changed without setting up a new one.
The UI is easy to navigate and everything is where you’d expect it to be. However, it doesn’t seem to scale at higher resolutions, so at 1280*1024 on my 19” Square monitor, the UI has a very thick black border around it. The only way I could see this having a serious impact would be if the game was being played at an absurdly high resolution. This does not affect the gameplay, the game fills the screen beautifully at any resolution I tried it on. The in-game HUD is unobtrusive but clear and can be adjusted with the “F3” key to change its size. The text is bright and a friendly arrow at the top of the screen helps keep you on track.
Gameplay takes place across two modes “Arcade” and “Challenge”. In Arcade Mode you play each of the 90 tracks in order, there is no cumulative score, the goal is just to get as good a time as possible on each track. In Challenge Mode the idea is to win each of the ten “Series” by getting as high a position as possible in each of the nine races. You can go back and play the tracks again to better your score, but after you cross the finish line your score is changed, for better, or worse. As you progress through the mode of your choice you slowly unlock new Minis (eventually “Limos”), parts and paint schemes. The parts are either for aesthetics or have a serious effect on the handling of your vehicle. Parts from later series can’t be used in the earlier ones. The winning conditions are determined by the difficulty setting on your profile.
In “Easy” you only need to complete the race to progress to the next track. The trucks also perform poorer to make them easier to handle, and believe me, you’ll need that when you are just starting out. In “Normal” you have to position third or better to complete each track. The trucks are a little better tuned and are harder to control, the AI is also considerably smarter. Finally, “Hard” mode. The AI is seriously relentless, if you mess up once you might as well restart the track. You must position first in each race to proceed to the next track. The trucks are much faster and a lot harder to control. Your truck also has a lot less “punch” when it comes to collisions and the AI will recover fast from being put off the track.
The game is a fantastic challenge though and when you pick up on the controls it can be a lot of fun. Default controls are Mouse and Keyboard, and I’d say stick with that (unless you are using a touch-pad on a laptop). Left Mouse Button accelerates and Right Mouse Button applies the brakes, whilst moving the mouse left and right controls your steering. The steering feels very fluid, however it can be quite floaty/unresponsive considering how your mouse is set up and even what kind of mouse you are using, but once it’s set up right, the controls feel very natural. However, you cannot be rough on these controls! A sharp twitch will send your Mini flying off the track and into some scenery or an explosive. Subtle movements are a required art for this game, over compensation for a mistake is a bigger mistake, sometimes it’s better to take a hit than to flip the Mini entirely by thrashing the mouse back and forth trying to correct for an earlier error. Speaking of flipping your Mini, be prepared for that to happen, a lot. The physics is a little finicky, and bumping into anything at any kind of speed will send you flying. Hitting a bomb at maximum speed and going sailing off the map is common. Physics seems to stop working once you hit the level boundary and your Mini will perform some pretty impressive aerobatics before being eventually returned to the track.
Nitro is activated when it’s charged by using the “N” key on the keyboard for a great burst of speed, the game is good at providing hints on when it’s not a good idea to do this, so, for the most part just activate it as soon as it’s charged. Spacebar activates your handbrake allowing for some advanced skid turns and complex manoeuvres. “B” switches to a rear camera to check on your opponents, however I would not recommend this as it’s the easiest way to drive into a wall. If you go off track you have 5 seconds to return to it, otherwise you get “marshalled” and returned to the point on the track where you left. If you feel the need you can press “X” and after 3 seconds you “Self Marshal” and get returned to the last checkpoint you passed. If you totally mess it up and want to try again, tapping “R” restarts the race from the beginning, a rather useful button when you are starting off in my experience.
The levels are varied and are a challenge to learn, this game does not get boring. Each time you advance up a series you get a variation of the tracks to race on and a whole new set of truck configurations to learn and adapt to. It’s quite easy to be thrown the first time through a new track when you expect it to turn one way and it suddenly goes another way. In terms of truck configuration, there are three levels of nitro, tyre tread and suspension. The rest is all cosmetic, but never feels “tacked-on”, the add-ons always fit with the theme. Higher Nitro levels make your Nitro last longer and apply more power. Tyre tread doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, so race the same track a few times with different configurations and pick your favourite. Suspension settings do make a fair difference though, on the higher level tracks the soft suspension is killer. The tight turns and large jumps cause your truck to list and bounce around, but, if you want a challenge it does add a certain level of fun.
Overall the graphics are very pleasing. A wide variety of colours and very nicely rounded edges. The whole game has a very glossy feel to it, with the exception of the menus, but ideally you won’t be spending much time in there. There are eighteen “Themes” of track and each of them is very diverse, with its own hazards and fantastic scenery. However, some of the level design on certain tracks can cause major confusion when taking corners. In particular the Golf-course springs to mind. The track is green, on a green background. The only obvious track markers are the exploding white golf-balls, and when trying to land a high speed jump it’s not uncommon to hit one and be sent flying off the track. But once you know your way around the tracks you’ll be coasting around them with ease! On “sandy” tracks yours and the other Minis kick up a rather pleasing pixelated dust cloud behind each wheel. They don’t leave tread tracks on the ground though unless skidding, which leaves a uniform black line from each wheel, would have been nice to see some track-marks.
The sound-track is fantastic. Each track “Theme” has its own unique soundtrack that fits the theme beautifully and never tires on you. Ranging from heavy metal to metal inspired bluegrass, the themes are very heavy and pound you with base. My only complaint would be the Main Menu theme not looping very well, however you shouldn’t be sitting on the menu that long to notice. The sound effects such as the engine and impact noises are well suited and don’t sound forced. In most racing games the “drone” of the engine starts to wear on you, however, the audio is well balanced and the engine noise is soft so it doesn’t give you a headache.
I would entirely recommend this game, it’s hours of fun and will not wear out quick. Each twist and turn, every near-miss, you’ll be clinging onto your mouse for dear life!
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