Can performing a trick on a bike be described as cunning? We have our doubts. In fact, we suspect that the title of this BMX game is a dirty spoonerism (stolen from the title of Metallica’s 1998 concert video, no less). But does this clever wordplay herald a superior extreme sports game, or is this a one-trick pony that falls flat on its face?
Unfortunately, the answer is the latter. The meat of the game is the “Pro Challenge Mode,” where you complete timed challenges to unlock new courses, bikers, and tricks. The challenges require you to perform a trick or a combo within a certain time limit. Fail to do so, and you can retry as many times as necessary. Succeed, and you’re one step closer to unlocking a new stage.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…
That would be great if the stages were more interesting, but each one is just an arena peppered with wooden ramps. The backgrounds and size of the playable area varies from stage to stage, but it’s always just an open space with ramps. We think fondly of the Tony Hawk series, which has you pulling off tricks as you ramp off rooftops, ollie from overhangs, and grind on guardrails. BMX Cunning Stunts, on the other hand, doesn’t use its environments at all. It offers four types of ramps, only two of which give you enough air to complete most of the combos asked of you in the challenges.
The tricks themselves are strictly tests of whether or not you initiate them with enough time before you land. Once you unlock them all, you have eight tricks at your disposal, each of them activated by the press of a button. If you tap the button while you have enough air, you succeed. Because that’s all it takes, there’s no sense of having pulled off something special. It would have been nice if they had assigned tricks to various swipes or accelerometer-based motions.
The controls are sufficient, though somewhat spotty. The height of your jumps depend on which section of the ramp you’re riding over when you tap the screen. Tapping at the last second launches you highest, but oftentimes when you tap at the top of a ramp you’ll end up not jumping at all. Turning and accelerating fare better. Instead of a D-pad, tapping or holding down on the left side of the screen turns you left, tapping the right side turns you right, and the tapping the middle pushes you forward.
Another issue is that once you learn a new trick, it’s represented onscreen as an icon rather than by name. But the challenges call for tricks by name, and it’s difficult to remember which icon represents which trick. Completing tricks successfully earns you cheesy accolades that pop up onscreen, like “Slick Trick!”, “Monster!”, and “Word!”
Welcome to the land of ramps.
Frustratingly, the courses are timed, so the game boots you back to the menu screen after several minutes. The reason for this is that there are high-score challenges in each course, achieved by racking up a set number of points before time’s up. But if you’re not trying for those challenges, being ejected is annoying.
Another play mode is “Free Play,” which you might think would let you play a course without a time limit. You would be wrong. It has a timer too; all that differentiates it from “Pro Challenge Mode” is that it lacks challenges. There are no online leaderboards either– just local high scores.
The music is composed of the worst kind of generic rock riffs. Each level features a different tune, but they’re uniformly bad and they loop after about thirty seconds. Worse, you can’t listen to your iTunes library while you play.
The game’s not a total garbage heap. The 3D graphics are decent, and we never ran into choppy gameplay or slowdown. Piecing combos together offers some satisfaction. The real problem is that there’s not enough here to justify the five dollar price tag.