As a spoiled child who was gifted numerous consoles, I had my biggest demand in the spring of 2002: an Xbox. The black and green hues of the preceding “play more” marketing campaign convinced me I would pretty much die if I didn’t end up getting one. (Spoiler: I’d have survived either way.) So, one family trip to Comet and over an astonishing £400 later, the bundle we chose had an extra controller, Halo, Max Payne and this thing called Mad Dash Racing.
If you scroll through the Crystal Dynamics’ Wikipedia page, you’ll see the breadth and variety of stuff they used to make prior to a decade of focus on Tomb Raider. Mad Dash is arguably their strangest work and remains so much fun to play. Despite one of those mindless, Bond-style “evil genius taking over the world” plots, the whole thing involves on-foot racing through a range of tracks covering different outdoor seasons and indoor environments.
The wackiness of the game resides with the strange cast of characters. Notable ones include Betty the red-headed human, holding a tool similar to the eponymous Malice (yeah, remember THAT?), hog-like Chops, Big Blue, a blue monster that looks like a character straight from Monsters University or Afterparty, and Zero-G, a blatant dog-version rip-off of Buzz Lightyear. Seriously. There’s also Gex! Remember that thing?
These characters are all grouped separately as either bashers (yes, they can bash things), dashers (they…dash), gliders (I won’t even) and bosses (the all-rounders). Collectively, they’re super-annoying thanks to repetitive soundbites.
When Christian courageously backed me up on Mirror’s Edge Catalyst being amazing (it is now no longer up for debate), he said the game was like “Burnout for feet”. What’s interesting about revisiting Mad Dash, either through an original Xbox or the 360 (it NEEDS to be playable on a modern Xbox), is how fast it feels despite the absence of cars or other vehicles. It carries the joy of a Sonic, arcade-style kart racer and the performance is pretty good for a game released during a time of notoriously low-framerate console titles.
And not to completely digress into a paranoid defence of Mad Dash, although the game received mildly positive reviews at launch, it was easily eclipsed by the fact the Xbox itself was an entirely new thing, with Halo being the crowning achievement for all of 2002 and beyond.
To get a slightly more objective perspective, I loaded up the game for my young niece and nephew, who immediately found the characters interesting and refreshing, even if the on-foot style racing was a strange novelty. The thing that bugs me about today’s gaming environment is how Animal Crossing seems to have taken up the cutesy space for talking animals. Games like Blinx, Beyond Good & Evil and Mad Dash showed an alternative, and perhaps it’s this style and attitude I miss most. It doesn’t bother me too much though. I still load up Chops whenever I open my disc wallet of classic games.