How come nobody bikes on the moon anymore? Back in the day, you used to see people riding bikes on the moon all the time, you know, just free-wheelin' it in space. Somersaulting over outcrops and popping wheelies over crates and generally just being awesome, until they decided to head back to the fire pits to jump over those. Mmm, those were the days. Makes a person all nostalgic for a better time, a bike-ier time. Sort of makes a person want to race across 26 tracks on 6 different worlds with 20 different unlockable characters, doesn't it? Well, then, I guess you'd best start playing CycloManiacs, the newest game of racing mayhem from robotJAM and LongAnimals.
The controls are easy to learn but hard to master, with the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to control the bike, and tapping [X] or [space] to bunny hop when you can. If you get launched into the air, you can hold down the directional keys to somersault. Perform tricks in mid-air or pop wheelies to build up your stunt bar, which, when strong enough, can temporarily unlock a huge boost to your speed. Just make sure you're facing up before you hit the ground. Crashing in CycloManiacs will set you back to the last checkpoint you passed, represented here by a checkered flag. It may not sound like much given how frequent checkpoints appear, but even seconds here can set you back to last place when the other bicyclists are hot on your pedals.
You'll initially only have access to a single track, but completing certain challenges on it will unlock even more. Each track you unlock comes with a new set of challenges, and range from the modest, such as finishing a track in a certain amount of time, to the insane, like getting fifteen total seconds riding a rear-wheelie on a mostly uphill course. These tricks get easier, however, as winning races and completing challenges earns you money you can use to upgrade your bike's various aspects. Since these upgrades are applied to all characters, you can swap back and forth between your favourites without missing a beat.
Analysis: The length of your love affair with CycloManiacs will largely depend on how patient you are with feeling out the fiddly controls. I found myself having to repeatedly tap the [left] and [right] keys to maintain my balance both in air and on the ground. It eventually became like second nature, just something I compensated for automatically, but it can still be frustrating to people just expecting to leap right into things. The physics still seem a little off, even after you get used to the controls. Why your bike behaves like you're trying to ride it over a wildly undulating bowl of Jell-O is beyond me. There's also the fact that your opponents aren't subject to the same set-backs you are, and aren't penalized for their crashes.
But once you've found your rhythm, you will discover that the game is just like riding a bike. (Yes, I know I'm witty.) The controls will feel more and more natural to you the longer you play, and you'll be able to worry less about face-planting and more about pulling off eight consecutive somersaults. While the tricks you can perform are limited, the variances in tracks and terrain add a new level of skill each time, and keep it from feeling stale.
Surprisingly, for me, at least, CycloManiacs' let-down wasn't the hard-to-master control scheme. It was the lack of a multiplayer function. With such a huge cast of characters, the game is practically begging for it. This is the type of game you can easily lose hours at a time in, and it would be so much better if you were competing against a friend for high scores and fast times. Pulling off a complicated series of spins and wheelies by a hair isn't nearly as satisfying as it would be if I were rubbing it in a dear friend's face. We can only hope that they have plans for it somewhere down the road, since it seems like the next logical course.
While it may take some practice and patience to perfect, CycloManiacs is still a surprisingly fun little racing game with loads of personality. The sheer mass of achievements available and the "skillz" required to unlock them will keep completionists busy for a long time. The rest of us will just revel in being six years old all over again, barelling down a hill at top speed and shrieking our joy into the wind. Until we skid facefirst across the pavement and want our mothers. But until then? Ride the wind, baby. Ride the wind.