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10 November 2017

Retro racing game review: Microsoft's 'Monster Truck Madness'

By Matthew PritchardMatthew Pritchard
"THIS IS OVERSTEER! ARE YOU READYYYY FOR '90s NOSTALGIAAAAAAAAA!"

Have you ever had one of those moments of 'surprise nostalgia?'

They're those little flashes of rose-coloured memory that EVERY listicle about old cartoons and discontinued snackfood want to induce. Every so often you'll stumble on something that reminds you of something from your childhood and before you can say "how good was 'Animaniacs'?" you're already eight city blocks deep on memory lane.

I had one of those moments the other day when, while searching through images for another story I stumbled on a picture of a monster truck shaped like a triceratops. Suddenly there was a flash in my brain, a voice in the back of my head, a booming voice that grew louder and louder until all I could hear was:

"I'M ARMY ARMSTRONG, ARE YOU READY FOR MICROSOFT MONSTER TRUCK MADNESS!"

Yes Mr. Armstrong. Yes I am.

'Monster Truck Madness' was released in 1996 and was developed by Terminal Reality, that also developed other games for windows like 'Hellbender' and 'CART Precision Racing'. It ran on Windows 95, the operating system that was probably installed on that colossal hulk of a computer that lived in that one SUPER '90s desk setup. You remember the one:

Chances are if you didn't have this exact setup you knew somebody who did... (from: Wiki Commons - Al Lemos) Chances are if you didn't have this exact setup you knew somebody who did... (from: Wiki Commons - Al Lemos)

There's not a lot to explain about how 'Monster Truck Madess' (MTM) worked. There was no story, no deep customisation engine (although you could tweak some of the basic performance aspects of your truck for each level), it was just a simple, straight-up racing game. You booted it up, twiddled with the menus if you felt like it, picked one of twelve trucks and took to the track.

One of the exciting things about 'MTM', as pointed out by a 1996 Gamestop review, was that regular monster truck events were kind of restricted to colliseum venues and drag races over crushed cars. MTM had those events, sure, but the real fun came from the citcuit racing.

A range of maps were provided and you'd take your truck through the course, with the only track restriction being a series of checkpoints that you had to run through. Outside of that, you were free to drive wherever the hell you wanted, and, as you were in a goddamn monster truck, they left this pretty open.

The game actively encouraged you to look for detours. One section of "a crazy eight", one of the first tracks you have access to, tries to direct you away from a section of collapsed bridge. It does so by way of orange traffic cones.

Now look, as a kid my first instinct was to follow the cones. It wasn't until a few attempts at the track that I realised "wait... this is a monster truck. I don't have to listen to these stupid cones" and found a suspension crunching jump waiting for me.

And it was in the sweet, sweet jumps where MTM really shone.

The trucks were bouncy, indestructible beasts that you could ramp off anything that looked even vaguely raised. They'd power through the mud and water which would spray up behind the other trucks in all of its limited 1996 computer graphics glory.

So... much... '90s... (Microsoft Monster Truck Madness, 1996) So... much... '90s... (Microsoft Monster Truck Madness, 1996)

Sure, by comparison to modern race gaming it's going to feel rudimentary and unpolished, but at the same time, isn't that just part of the charm?

The ability to race actual, real-world monster trucks was another nice addition. Though most of them handled in pretty much the same way, you'd still end up with one or two favourites (even though Grave Digger and Snakebite were CLEARLY the best ones).

Grave Digger in action (not from the game. The graphics were good for the time, but not THAT good) (image: Wiki Commons - Jot Powers) Grave Digger in action (not from the game. The graphics were good for the time, but not THAT good) (image: Wiki Commons - Jot Powers)

And all of this was capped off with commentary from 'Army' Armstrong. Armstrong is a monster truck commentator from way back when the 'sport' began in the 1980s, which, whether you were into monster trucks enough to notice or not, is a nice feature.

But when you pair a professional commentator with pre-canned soundbites for sections of the game, things can get a little funny. Ask anyone who played the game about Army Armstrong and you'll likely get an impression along the lines of:

"BIGFOOT. IS DOING IT. IN THE AIR!"

or even:

"MONSTER PATROL. IS LOOKING FOR A DETOUR!"

or the dreaded:

"SNAKEBITE. HAS MISSED A CHECKPOINT! Turn around buddy!"

That's the last thing you hear before you rage quit MTM.

As you've probably noticed from a bunch of these clips it hasn't aged too well, and now thanks to the joys of modern gaming there are enough racing sims to suit any taste. You want realistic, you got it, have a 'Gran Turismo'. You want a Hollywood action movie, here's a new "Need for Speed'. You want to race monster trucks on crazy tracks, meet 'Motorstorm'.

Still... nostalgia's a hell of a thing.

Monster Patrol in action (Microsoft Monster Truck Madness, 1996) Monster Patrol in action (Microsoft Monster Truck Madness, 1996)

If you can find a copy of it, an emulator or even that old PC your grandparents bought and just NEVER updated or threw away, maybe check it out. It could be a fun little time sink.

Or you could miss a checkpoint and throw your computer out a window.

Whatever works for you.

What racing sim gets your rose coloured glasses shining? Tell us what you think in the comments below.