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LocoCycle review: Ay, caramba

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LocoCycle begins with a 10-minute live-action movie featuring hyperbolic world leaders in cheap costumes, surrounded by bad lighting and women in cocktail dresses, all attending a showcase from Big Arms, a fictional military manufacturer. The host of the event, a man drawing style inspiration from 'N Sync's Joey Fatone circa 1997, introduces IRIS and SPIKE, the game's two AI super-bikes, in a drawn-out, poorly acted melodrama that incites a mantra to repeat in my mind: "Oh my God, stop. Please, stop."

As I watch the B-movie introduction to Lococyle, I wish the game would just start already. And then the game starts, and I take that last part back.

Since its announcement, LocoCycle's ridiculous premise was destined for one of two possible outcomes: It could have been hilarious or it could have been painfully tragic. LocoCycle stars a malfunctioning IRIS, one of Big Arms' smart motorcycles, as she drags Pablo the mechanic across miles of highway, desert and snowy mountaintops, on a quest to join the Freedom Rally in a small town in Indiana. IRIS is obsessed with the Freedom Rally, a motorcycle rider meet-up in the middle of a field, because it's the first thing she sees in Pablo's bike magazine after she wakes up from a coma induced by a lightning strike to her motherboard.

Yes, IRIS the motorcycle can see, but mostly she talks. So much. Too much throughout the whole game.

It turns out that LocoCycle is tragic, but not only because of its absurd premise. The mechanics (not referring to Pablo) are simplistic and repetitive (actually, that also applies to Pablo). The game throws the same enemies, attacks and counters at IRIS multiple times over in each of the five chapters, with the most significant change being the scenery.

As IRIS, players have a set number of moves: a turbo boost, a machine gun, a light melee and a powerful melee that swings Pablo – somehow attached by his ankle to IRIS' back tire – into enemies. IRIS can also unleash a counter attack when enemies are encircled by an obvious, lingering reticle.

LocoCycle isn't a racing game, though the main character is a motorcycle and gameplay involves driving at high speeds on various roadways across the country. IRIS drives herself at a constant rate down each path, and though she doesn't automatically turn with the twisting highways, there's no repercussion for steering her directly into another vehicle or into the sides of the road, potentially off the edge of a cliff or into a rushing body of water. IRIS simply hits an invisible wall lining the edges of any road, where she can bounce like a toddler's bowling ball down a padded, gutter-free alley.

The goal of LocoCycle involves more than merely driving – Big Arms wants IRIS back under its control, and agents from the company constantly, predictably attempt to thwart her and Pablo's road trip. Some enemies drive in front of IRIS, shooting backward at her from black cars, while others fly above her in robot suits, and still others throw little people with afros at her from the back of a white van.

There is a finite number of enemies and a finite number of ways to combat them, and the gameplay, even when it does get frantic, offers no strategy or challenge. A repeated scenario in LocoCycle has IRIS jump into the air to attack a group of flying enemies, and while these battles are busy, I play most of them without looking at the screen at all. I'm mashing X and Y, and sometimes throwing in B to counter – but honestly, hitting Y to throw Pablo at enemies nullifies incoming attacks anyway. During these fights, I can hold conversations, read a text or pet one of my dogs. There's no need to watch or even to play with two hands. One finger would suffice.

When LocoCycle does introduce new gameplay mechanics, it's strangely barren of any direction, leaving me to waste time pressing every button on the controller until I figure out what the game wants me to do.

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One of these moments occurs twice, when IRIS breaks down and Pablo must fix her before a large vehicle crashes into them both. The screen switches to a vertical split: On the right, Pablo's back, sitting next to IRIS, and on the left, a readout of the incoming vehicle's distance and a scan of IRIS with injured areas highlighted and four red squares beneath that. I press A and nothing happens. I press all of the other buttons I've been using and nothing happens. I move the left analog stick and Pablo shifts from side to side, but nothing happens. When the incoming truck is more than half way to my position, I finally hold Pablo in the right position for long enough that the game reacts, prompting me to press A.

I do, and LocoCycle initiates a mini-game, requiring Pablo to repair parts of the bike by tracing specific, easy patterns with a welding gun. There are four fixing mini-games total, and I get to do three of them twice because during my first, confused attempt, the big truck hits Pablo before he can finish fixing the bike.

The insane premise of LocoCycle could have been redeemed, at least in theory, with quality writing. Unfortunately, Twisted Pixel's humor falls flat. Pablo, for example, speaks only in Spanish the whole time, meaning IRIS and he can't understand each other, and also meaning there's a constant stream of subtitles running along the bottom of the screen. The forced miscommunication is supposed to be funny, but even the awful full-motion-video story pieces strewn between chapters don't make Pablo a fully formed, relatable character. His interaction with IRIS is awkward at best. Why is Pablo there? How is he stuck to IRIS, even after she flings him off for special moves? By the end of the game, Pablo gives up talking completely, dehumanizing him to the point of a dog tilting its head.

Twisted Pixel also tries to give shout-outs to franchises it clearly enjoys, but its efforts to reach out come off as cheap. IRIS is a talkative, dumb rip-off of Portal's GLaDOS; she says lines from Crocodile Dundee and Taken (I bet you can guess which ones), and one of the game's major fights pulls sounds and moves straight from Street Fighter and a Fatality mechanic from Mortal Kombat. These moments don't make me feel included or special for recognizing their roots. They make me cringe. I feel bad for the franchises being referenced, for their bastardizations.

LocoCycle falls into a trap common in crappy films: Every in-your-face section drags on for too long. In the famously awful horror movie, Troll 2, a character holds his "Oh my Goooooooood" for a second too long, turning a cry for help into a hilariously fake moment. LocoCycle's live-acted scenes do the same, but so do its game mechanics, offering one too many swarms of enemies we've seen multiple times before, over and over again.

Maybe one day hordes of fans will gather in local arcades to play LocoCycle ironically and quote some of its notoriously terrible lines – Mi espalda! – but until that day, it's just a bad game, and there's nothing funny about that.

This review is based on a download of the Xbox One version of LocoCycle, provided by Microsoft. An Xbox 360 version is also planned.

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