The Great Dreamcast BMX Off: Mirra Vs Hoffman

Recently I collated all the games I’ve never played for even a second, Dreamcast and non-Dreamcast alike, into a massive crate of shame. A shameful pile of things I had impulsively purchased and had then shown zero willingness to play. My goal and desire for this project was to spur myself on to begin playing at least two of them a week. For a minimum of 27 minutes and giving a sort of commentary on those first 27 minutes. A quick-fire thoughts and feelings if you will. The idea being to not only alleviate my sinful hoarding ways, but to also begin forcing my favourite pastime back into my weekly calendar.
Having collated all the Dreamcast games into one separate pile, I was confused as to why I owned Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX twice - one copy fully boxed, and one disc only. I then wondered where my copy of Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX was. Anyone who has ever seen my games room will know I possess the organisational skills of your average Womble, and so I quickly decided I must have misplaced it and resolved to look up the cover to assist finding it in my junk shop of a games room.

The reason it appears I couldn’t find it seems to be that unlike the US we never received the game, so I don’t actually own a genuine copy of it. Research (or one Google search to be exact) didn’t bring me a concrete reason for its lack of a blue edged version, although it did lead to a sort of breakthrough in that it is Mat Hoffman, not Matt. The fact that the dude can’t even spell his own name is sadly not a mystery I can solve for you, but what I can bring you is Mat Hoffman vs Dave Mirra. The battle of the Dreamcast BMX-ers! Gnarly! - just what 2018 was crying out for I hear you say…
Getting the chance to shred up some BMX arenas, without putting my actual aging body at harm, seemed ideal. And would give me a chance to test Dave Mirra’s box marketing claim that it is ‘The number 1 Dreamcast BMX game.’ So without further hesitation: riders ready, watch the gate. Go!

If you look in the dictionary for the word 'gnarly,' this is what you'll find
Introductory sequences

Mat (not Matt) Hoffman's Pro BMX
I do love a good late '90s to early '00s game introduction, and the Hoff opens up in a way that anyone who has played Tony Hawk’s will already be able to picture. Grainy real life video montage revealing the riders via snippets of them in frenetic action, accompanied by their name in text superimposed over the top. The riders are frequently pictured without any type of safety equipment, the maniacs. All this is delivered via fast paced edits and jaunty angled hand held shots. It is straight out the MTV textbook of edgy video production, except MTV are obviously too youth alternative for anything as un-edgy as an actual textbook. Did I mention it was grainy!?
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
Dave Mirra replicates the formula almost exactly. To the extent I could copy and paste the above information and jokes and it still fit in the same factual, and largely unfunny way. The video is slightly less grainy and most of the riders seem to have listened to their mums as most are wearing helmets and padding at least. Does that count as comparison? Probably not, but it’s immediately clear the games were following the same AskJeeves answer for ‘how to do an edgy game intro?'

Options and modes

Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX
The single player mode is where I imagine the vast majority of people would have spent their time. As was the classic formula at the time, this consists of completing challenges against a two minute countdown timer. Some of the challenges, or ‘covers’ as the game has decided to call them, are a straight ‘reach a target score’ type, whilst others such as the first level ‘Hoffman Park’ require you to smash five lights around the arena and this formula carries on throughout. Additionally there is a secret cover on each level. This typically seems to comprise grinding along what look initially like impossible to reach sections of the levels on first play. This encourages you to experiment within the levels to uncover what the secret task is and then how to reach it.
Yes I missed this over and over
There is also the stock ‘collect TRICK’ which is a straight swap of the 'collect SKATE' found in Tony Hawk, and similar to that game this does a good job of showing you a line or route around an environment. Particularly useful on your later attempts to set higher scores, although equally useful as a form of signposting initially where to go, and how to chain tricks and jumps together.
Away from the single player, you have the interesting looking create a park feature. A little play around with this and I had a few ramps, rails and jumps connected and was in the test mode riding around my creation. I can forgive the loading time as this felt novel and well enough implemented that I know that 2000 Dreamcast era me would have been dedicated enough to have tinkered and built something in this. Especially as 2000 era me was a poor student, that didn’t have hundreds of pounds worth of unplayed games clogging up his sad, pathetic, Super Noodle-on-toast eating life.

You also have single session and free ride modes. The aim of these is obviously practise orientated. Free ride is useful for practising sections to fine tune what is needed to reach the seemingly impossible to reach areas without the stress of the timer looming over you. Although single session feels slightly pointless as whilst it tracks your best score, it offers no real difference to the career mode.

Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
Dave Mirra has ‘Proquest’ as its main draw. This is single player in all but name, but has the added nicety that all the levels are set within cycling distance of Dave Mirra’s actual house it seems. The first is outside his house, which seems to be a low budget corn field horror shack that you wouldn’t knock on the door of if your car had broken down. Completing this, you are whisked off across town to the glamorous location of a factory car park - no, really - before progressing on to other levels. The level design is mostly decent and all have a sort of ‘Dog Town and Z Boys’ feel to them. Realistic locations you can imagine real riders practising in, as opposed to the more zany styles of its competitors' offerings.
The game information leads me to believe this is Dave's actual house
The mode actually has a nice progression system as each level has four to five beginner goals, that then progress up in difficulty right up to some I will admit I never managed to actually achieve whilst playing for this write up. It features the standard two minutes to ride around and set your own goals and it highlights the areas that challenges relate to, which personally I like.

Anyway, from Proquest you have generic ‘session’ and ‘freeride’ modes. The game's only wildcard from Hoffman was the initially enticing ‘cool stuff’ menu option. This sadly is just a list of each levels challenges, high scores and opening movies and credits, flagrant misuse of the word cool if you ask me.

Mockingly there is also another multiplayer mode I won’t be discussing (see below). If you have played these, good for you to be so damn popular.

Multiplayer (both games)
If you had a friend as gnarly as you on the box (apparently, that means ramps of any and all kinds to BMX types) then you could play two player, this is sadly a mode that I have neglected to play, due to crushing mid-life gamer loneliness. Perhaps I’ll update this when my own player two is old enough to be interested in playing the games, rather than simply moving them randomly around the room.


Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX
I always thought it was testament to the sound designers for the Tony Hawk games that a game designed for such short repeated play, had such an excellent and enjoyable soundtrack. It seemed both prevalent enough that you noticed it, but also blended seamlessly into the background behind the actual gameplay so as not to grate or wear thin. As a big Tony Hawk 3 fan there are certain songs that I just intrinsically associate with the game if I ever hear them these days, similar to the way you do Crazy Taxi and Offspring.

And whilst I appreciate it’s a subjective matter what type of music you relate to, I feel that the music in Hoffman is actually my favourite of any of the Activision extreme ‘dude’ based games. It loses some of the punk/ska flavouring from the skateboard titles, but in its place has a stronger focus on hip hop. Additionally; and something that makes the no-PAL version seem all the more odd though, was that it actually features one of the tracks from The Stone Roses remixes album. Quite how such an iconic British band made it into such an American hip hop dominated music roster is not hinted at in any way. Other than there being the inclusion of a lone British rider, who happens to be an actual northerner (like me).

Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
I did mention it was subjective but Mirra goes for that ska/punk guitar stuff, you can probably tell I don’t really like that. It isn’t terrible, and they do get kudos for shoe horning Cypress Hill into the lineup at least. Although even this feels a tad tarnished as it is sadly one of their slightly ill advised ‘metal’ style tracks, that makes you want to fall on the floor shouting “you maniacs, this sounds nothing like ‘Insane in the Brain'”. Other than them there are pretty much no other songs or bands I had personally heard of. And even now I am struggling to think of any that stand out for either good or bad reasons. Which I suppose is neither good nor bad considering the repeated playthroughs I put in.

Gameplay comparison

Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX
At the time of release, the consensus seemed to be that it hadn’t quite reached the heights of the Tony Hawk games. This is true, but also unfair I feel. I can’t help but wonder if many of the reviewers actually took the time to not just learn the systems and mechanics of Hoffman but to forget Tony Hawk. For me, there is a distinctly different feel to the not only the stunts, but the moving and linking and chain building and just the motion in general between the games.

Early on my opinion was veering towards Hoffman having some mechanical issues with control and balance. However that actually turned out to simply be my own self struggling to not try and play it like a skateboard game. Once I embraced the system, it was easier to make one big trick off a particular feature or area, than simply use the speed of the bike to quickly ride to another area or set up and complete a set piece there, I begin to get better scores and ultimately enjoy the game a lot more. This contrasts to the Tony Hawk style of constantly trying to build one almighty linked combo of tricks, jumps and grinds.

As a result the game feels much more technical, I found myself having to more strictly remember what moves work on particular ramps, and discard others that I don’t feel you have enough time to execute or pull off before face planting. A bit like the way you would memorise speed running a platformer.
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
Initially Mirra can be quite confusing to move to if you’ve only ever gorged on Activision's nipple of succulent game style. It has a very low down camera angle as default. An almost on the shoulder of your rider, Gears of War style camera. You can change this and most did it appears as if you look at any gameplay videos virtually no one seems to use the default camera setting. In addition to the camera the game has some very different controls and handling you may not first expect. You need to use forward to move and build up speed and priming a jump by pressing A causes you to significantly begin to lose speed. So triggering it too early will result in slowing to an almost stop being falling off your bike.

The upside of the control system is you can boost around the tightly packed levels and cover them corner to corner several times within one two-minute run. Nothing ever feels out of reach as a result. Grinding also feels very different and particularly so with the starting bikes you have at your disposal. It is lacking the zip and flow that you may have been accustomed to elsewhere. It almost has what I presume is a slightly more real world feel to it, as unless you are grinding on a down slope you will again quickly run of our speed and have to cancel out or risk face plant.

The final immediately noticeable trait is something that can be jarring at first. Namely, that there is deliberate slow down and camera zooming when you make certain jumps or hit certain ramps. This allows you to control the type of trick you are pulling off and allows you to fine tune the spin and rotation a bit more than Hofman. The cost however, is that this affects the overall pace of the game and stops you getting into the flow of your run at times.
Consider that the two frames above have no cropping and were captured within 3 seconds of each other
Something that I did really like that it hands down wins, is it has a much more in-depth stat tracking system. In addition to the expected high scores and best trick, each level has a leaderboard that tracks longest grind, biggest skid, longest jump, big air etc., allowing you to vie for supremacy with your friends, or yourself in 2018, in a multitude of ways.

As a downside though, the game does however seem to have more glitching and times when you get caught on textures or edges, or just flat out seem to fall partly into the floor when you crash.
My overall thoughts are that whilst Mirra may be the best selling game, and is certainly worth spending some time with to get used to the feel, even if like me, you initially struggle with it. I can’t help but feel that PAL gamers actually missed out on the system's best BMX game though. Hoffman has much less of a PlayStation port feel to it compared to Mirra, which has the numerous collision issues I mentioned above and a significant amount of pop in at times.
Probably safe to say this VMU loading background was not on the other consoles

It's worth noting something rather odd about Dave Mirra's Freestyle BMX, in that it features a character called Tim Mirra. Tim Mirra is (or was, after Dave Mirra's tragic suicide in 2016) Dave's brother, but any attempts to find any details on his BMX career draws a blank. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Tim Mirra was probably only included in the game because he was related to Dave...but that's just a conspiracy theory created by me based on nothing.

Are you a fan of either of these games? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or in our Facebook group here.

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Blondejon said...

Fantastic review, im a vig fan of Dave mirra

Daniel Turner said...

nice one Kev. i’ve yet to play either of these yet but may give them a try

Damon Fillman said...

I have to disagree with you, Kev. I found Mirra vastly superior. Hoffman always seemed clunky and awkward to me. Hoffman's sequel on PS2 introduced ground-level tricks that were really interesting but it too was plagued by awkward controls. Mirra 2 on PS2 is also superior to Hoffman's counterpart. Look, kev, we all make mistakes :)

Unknown said...