The Mad Skills series from Turborilla has risen to prominence in the mobile gaming space over the last few years, with motocross and BMXs getting the arcade racing treatment. Blending easy controls with online competition, and even offering up big prizes in special events, it’s proved to be pretty popular with a staggering 55 million downloads. The devs have now launched Mad Skills Motocross 3 which promises to expand on the last entry and be the best incarnation yet. It is free to play though, and no matter how technically good a game can be, the business model demands a level of intrusion on the player so they can be profitable. Have they managed to make it more about the game than the monetisation, or does that throw boulders on to the track?
On the surface Mad Skills Motocross 3 is a side scrolling arcade racer with simple, yet intuitive controls. Your rider starts in the blocks on the left, and you race at full pelt to the right aiming to come in first place. Accelerate, brake and weight shift buttons are visible on the screen (and can have their positions customised), and you use these to keep your rider upright and hopefully going forward as fast as possible. The key is keeping your orientation over jumps so that when you land you don’t wipe out, and maintaining a smooth and fault free run is how to gain the podium positions. Success rewards with XP and cash to spend on the bike and customisation, failure means a restart. Bonuses come from completing objectives like flips and wheelies, but are only awarded if you end up on the podium. The races are short and fast, and instant restarting is only a button press away if it all goes wrong.
With tracks based in 8 regions, and around 20 available to race on in each one, that’s a lot of riding needing doing. Every course is unique too, with sections made up of bumpy technical bits as well as big air opportunities. This isn’t like the Trials series where realistic environments take a holiday, there’s a grounded style to the circuits and a tangible feel to the way the bikes handle and how they all perform. That’s an impressive feat to pull off with something that’s being displayed and controlled on a small glass screen. Flips and whips are easy to pull off for a bit of showboating during air time, though really this is all about keeping the momentum going and nailing the landings. Prizes come in the form of silver coins and experience, and completing achievements (like all bike upgrades or a championship series) nets gold coins. The currencies are used to improve what you’re riding and make you look good doing it.
Every few races you’ll find that the competition ups its game, and Mad Skills Motocross 3 gives you the tools to follow suit. Upgrading the various parts of your ride is done with the coins collected, and there’s a choice to use the silver or gold depending on what you want to do. You can spend more of the readily earned silver coins and the parts will unlock over a time period, or you can choose the rarer gold coins and spend lower amounts and unlock instantly. The catch is that you’ll be checking your bank balance regularly to see which is the best way to go and more often that not finding yourself lacking in funds. The strange thing with this is why there’s even a choice in the first place. It’s not like the delayed opening of the part is due to researching or any hidden mechanic, it just takes a few seconds to unlock. Why complicate matters with two currencies when one would do? Well that’s where the free to play monetisation kicks in.
You’ll have guessed it – you can buy silver and gold coin packs for real world money. Whilst this isn’t essential to progress as silver is won in the races, it’s going to take a very long time for you to get the amounts you’ll need. That’s especially true if you’re looking at buying a new bike. Totting up the cost of the 7 bikes in the game, or at least 5 of them as the first 2 are free, and the gold coins required to buy them all and compete in all races in all regions, there’s a real world price tag of over £200 if you were buying the currency… and that’s not including the upgrades. You don’t need to buy gold coins, you can earn them by watching ads, and at 5 coins per advert you’ll be looking at around 2,500 to get all the hardware (that clocks in at about 14 hours if you’re seriously thinking of it). That’s on top of the promos that pop up typically every two races, and those you don’t get any rewards for. They’ve also got a very small close button that frequently means you end up loading the Play store for the advertised game instead of cancelling and returning to racing.
Mad Skills Motocross 3 does have a VIP version without the ads which runs on subscription at around £5 a week, which next to the price of coin packs doesn’t seem like that bad a deal, though bear in mind there are very few benefits to the subscription other than no ads. You’ll still have to buy and upgrade everything to be competitive against the AI. You’ll notice this quite early on as it only takes a few races and there’s a sudden boost in your opponents stats listed in the race screen. This particular loop is there to force the upgrades and funnel you into spending money otherwise you can’t progress. It doesn’t matter how mad your skills are if your bike is underpowered. To a degree there’s an enjoyment in the increase in performance as you then have to master a new throttle and weight shift response, and if you’ve done it with credits earned in game it’s all the sweeter. However, it’ll be quick to remind you to spend, spend, spend as banners fill the screen for purchasing new exclusive bikes and customisation options.
I suppose we really should expect to have these types of games remind us that we can spend money if we want, and when they’re ad supported it’s obvious there’ll be something to watch every now and then. There’s just something so blatant and forced in Mad Skills Motocross 3 that it pissed me off. It’s probably because there’s a really good game buried under the pile of freemium waste. Sure, they’re not going to pull in the same level of revenue if they charged a flat fee for just buying the game, not being free would limit the mobile audience, but after a while it feels like it’s playing you for all your hard earned cash. It makes it tricky to rate or recommend because there’s clearly a lot of hard work gone in to making this so playable and that deserves credit, but the cash grab antics are bordering on being as dirty as the bikes at the end of a race.
An Android review copy of Mad Skills Motocross 3 was provided by Turborilla’s PR team, and the game is out now on Android and iOS for free… but it wants you to spend a lot more than that.