There’s a very odd sort of genius at play in Bravo Game Studios’ newest release Xtreme Wheels ($4), an impressive 3-D update to Nintendo’s classic motocross title Excitebike. Most of the time, gamers aren’t supposed to enjoy repeatedly failing at a task, particularly when the consequence is the injury of a human on-screen avatar. But somehow, with a combination of gentle camera closeups, slow motion, 3-D ragdoll physics and groaning sound effects, Bravo turns every one of your motorcycler’s many crashes into an amusingly brutal display — enough to make for almost sick, repeated enjoyment no matter how many times they happen.
Even after mangling that would make Jackass fans wince, you’ll want to keep coming back to try and solve each of the game’s puzzle-like levels.
Putting its 1990’s-styled “extreme!” name aside, Xtreme Wheels is as up to date as App Store games get—a fully universal app with iPod touch and iPhone 4 Retina Display support, plus even better graphics on the iPad 2, where there’s even more screen real estate to let the detailed 3-D models and textures really shine. The game runs at a fine frame rate on the small devices, including menus that look too detailed to be realtime 3-D but are, and becomes nearly silky on the iPad 2, where you get to really enjoy objects, environments, and lighting effects that would have been unimaginable on portable devices 10 years ago. A fitting instrumental rock soundtrack plays in the background, well-matched with sufficiently punchy sound effects and the growling bike engine.
You take control of a BMX-style motorcycle that rides through a series of 20 different courses spread across five gritty environments, using acceleration and brake buttons with a very simple slider that adjusts the bike’s forward or backward tilt.
Over time, you’ll learn that you’re not just tilting the bike, but also interacting with the rider, whose body position actually influences everything from obstacle climbing to jumping.
At first, Xtreme Wheels seems pretty simple, merely challenging you to race and jump across a bumpy, vaguely dangerous course without smashing your bike or head into high or low obstacles. But with each new level, Bravo seems to take perverse delight in adding one or more challenges that will lead to a small splash of blood and a low, slo-mo “ugggggghh” from the on-screen racer: loop-de-loops, backwards ramps, explosive barrels, and velocity-dependent jumps all force you to reconsider how you’re supposed to control your biker, and how to switch from one style of biking—fast and relaxed, slow and easy, or twitch- and tilt-conscious—to another as the challenges mount.
For the $4 asking price, Xtreme Wheels is nearly a no-brainer purchase for iOS fans. In our view, the mark of a truly great game is its ability to thrill people who normally wouldn’t be interested in the genre, and Bravo has done that here: between the aesthetics, the controls, and the challenging levels, it offers action, motorsport and puzzle fans an excellent overall package for the price, and wound up becoming one of our most played games over the last couple of weeks.