There’s a good chance LocoCycle was meant to be bad. A lot of evidence suggests as much. I mean, Twisted Pixel’s pedigree is an impressive one—The Maw, Ms.’Splosion Man, and The Gunstringer were all very well-received games. An appearance by Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman in the game’s opening cutscene certainly corroborates the Intentionally Bad theory. Troma is an independent film company known for producing a lot of “so bad, they’re good” B-movies, a tone LocoCycle seems to strive for—but never gets beyond “so bad.”
That live-action opening cutscene—and others like it—starring James Gunn, Freddie Rodriguez, and Robert Patrick (in addition to the aforementioned Troma director) all point toward LocoCycle being a project for which presentation was prioritized way above gameplay. It certainly seems to be where all the money went. There’s a strong case to be made about the intentionality of its badness, but that doesn’t change the fact that LocoCycle is an awkward, unenjoyable game plagued by imagery that, these days, is largely associated with racial insensitivity. Twisted Pixel attempts to channel a brand of humor that might have been acceptable some 20 years ago, but doesn’t really appeal to modern tastes. I don’t think Twisted Pixel set out to be offensive. Lococycle never feels malicious, just misguided.
The first wave of skin-crawling awkwardness comes from the game’s first 15 minutes, during a live-action cutscene in which James Gunn halfheartedly plays the role of douchey CEO (or some similar business position) of Big Arms, a villainous arms manufacturer within LocoCycle’s lore. In some undisclosed location within Nicaragua, Gunn entertains a drunken Russian general (played by Kaufman), a female North Korean supreme leader, and a rotund African king decked out in gold plastic jewelry, complete with gold plastic crown, who is spoken to in clicks at one point. Every shot in the cutscene lingers for several seconds too long, adding to the increasing levels of excruciating discomfort.
All of this serves to set up the game’s premise. James Gunn is selling a cutting-edge motorcycle to these stereotypical tyrants: I.R.I.S., a sentient motorcycle that can speak 50 languages, travel a mile in 20 seconds, is armed to the figurative teeth, and hold its own in closed-quarters combat. When a rainstorm interrupts Gunn’s gathering, I.R.I.S. is rolled into the garage for safekeeping—but not before she is struck by lightning, which grants her full independence from Big Arms’ programming. For reasons lost to me, I.R.I.S. becomes fascinated with getting to a freedom rally in Scottsburg, Indiana. During all this, her mechanic, Pablo (Rodriguez), winds up getting his pant leg magically attached to one of I.R.I.S.’ mufflers, so when she takes off for the rally, Pablo is dragged unwittingly along for the ride.
And so the game begins, with players controlling I.R.I.S’ side-to-side movement and attacks. Meanwhile, Pablo trails behind I.R.I.S., his cries of anguish and pain and horror unheard, since the lightning strike that made the sentient motorcycle independent also managed to fry her language circuits.
At its core, LocoCycle is an on-rails shooter in the same vein as its Xbox One downloadable counterpart, Crimson Dragon. Players can maneuver I.R.I.S. left and right on the road, but her forward momentum and overall direction is predetermined. There’s also a fair amount of melee combat to offset the on-rails shooting. When enemies are in proximity, you press one button to engage combat, then mash another button repeatedly to beat I.R.I.S.’ front wheel in the faces of all the Big Arms grunts sent to stop her. Complementing this is a ranged melee attack that sees IR.I.S. hurling Pablo like a hapless, helpless human glaive. Sometimes you’ll boost to move faster and reach a predetermined point quicker before a timer runs out. Two or three times, as Pablo, you’ll be thrust into a quicktime-event minigame as he desperately tries to repair his tormentor before meeting a worse fate by being crushed by a Big Arms 18-wheeler. Abilities can be upgraded through a skill tree that, by the end of the game, pretty much makes playing LocoCycle completely effortless.
Then again, no aspect of LocoCycle’s gameplay requires any sort of skill beyond staying awake and paying attention. It asks only that you pay attention, which I suppose is the challenge, since it’s always so exhaustingly dull that you can’t help but be lured away by any distraction that might present itself. Melee amounts to little more than button mashing. Firefights are won maintaining a decent bead on enemy targets. Oddly enough, this is one of the aspects of LocoCycle that convinces me it’s an elaborate, very deliberate joke. I’ve played some bad games in my time, but none have ever been so thoroughly devoid of immersion that I was left utterly aware of how I was spending my time: sitting in a chair, pressing buttons on a plastic toy. In any other context, this avant-garde approach to holding a mirror up to gamers might be interesting. But in LocoCycle, it feels like desperate justification for its own existence.
Of course, LocoCycle sorely needs all the justification it can get, and an excuse for the use of dated racial and ethnic caricatures—not to mention exploitation of obese women—for the sake of humor that scans as tasteless and cheap and never once managed to elicit even the faintest “heh” from my throat. LocoCycle needs a reason for its existence, because honestly, I failed to see any value in my time spent playing it.
|Developer: Twisted Pixel Games • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.22.13|
LocoCycle is a next-gen debut that’s uncomfortable to watch and boring to play from a developer I honestly expect better of. That it isn’t outright broken or unplayable from a technical perspective is just about the only accolade I can muster for what has otherwise been a miserable first experience on the Xbox One.
|The Good||Whatever new project Twisted Pixel is teasing in the unlockable concept art and behind-the-scenes photo.|
|The Bad||How not one aspect of this Xbox One exclusive is indicative or representative of a “next-gen” experience.|
|The Ugly||Uncomfortable racial representations, intentional or not, are just problematic, alienating, tiresome, and just undeniably unwelcome.|
|LocoCycle is an Xbox One exclusive.|