The character selection is very basic, but it’s cute: you simply enter the player’s name and then pick from a group of stock photos that aren’t really photos, but polygonal imitations of thumbnail snapshots. No complex background information, no celebrity riders, just you and up to seven other people.
Once you sign in there’s a nice selection of settings to choose from for optimizing the game on your system. The developers were even thoughtful enough to include some preconfigured settings for getting the best frame rates or for the highest visual quality. The Help screens throughout the game are simple to access and well designed, too.
Extreme Bullrider’s music was of the cozy, undistracting sort — all twangy and fiddley. I felt the same way about Don Gay’s jokey-voiced, southern-drawled announcing. His kidding around and his input about each of the bulls, combined with the sound effects (the bull bucking in the stall, the creaky gate being thrown open, the whistle every time your rodeo clown runs through a cowpie) really add to the ambience and serve well to pull you into the game. Another nice touch was the record keeping. Again, very simplistic, just names and scores, and the bulls/clowns these scores were obtained with, but well done and clearly laid out.
The last secondary aspect of the game worth commenting on are the arenas. Six are provided, ranging from Butler, New Mexico to Junction, Montana, and while there’s nothing specifically unique to them to indicate that they’re representations of real-life arenas, they do add a nice variety of setting to the game. Ultimately, however, when you’re playing you don’t have much time to focus on anything other than the bulls/clowns.
For the bull-riding part of the game, you can choose from ten different bulls to ride on, all ranked in difficulty from one to three diamonds. The control design for staying on the bulls is an original one: you use your joystick, keyboard or mouse to keep a blue cone in the center of a target above your rider’s head, as the bull’s gyrations pull the cone toward the outer circles.
Despite the original design, this target system actually takes you one step out of the ambience, and, considering your rider gets thrown if you let the cone go beyond the middle circle, only one circle was needed, and not the multiple concentric circles of the target, which tend to pull the eye away and blur the actual location of the cone.
Fortunately, once you’re comfortable enough riding the bulls, you can turn this visual aid system off and try to stay on the bucking bulls by moving your controller in the opposite direction of the one your rider is sliding in. Be forewarned, though: staying on bulls rated two or three diamonds for the requisite eight seconds without visual aids is darn near impossible. To make it easier for you, the game includes multiple camera angles from which to view the action, including a first-person view.
I found the default view, a third-person, three-quarter view to be the best. After you’ve either ridden for eight seconds or been thrown, your score pops up and an instant replay runs. I didn’t like that you had to press a key to keep turning the instant replay off after every ride; it slowed the action down. Also, I didn’t feel there were enough control features to make sense of the scoring.
You can press a button to spur the bull, which then supposedly bucks more wildly, theoretically gaining you a higher score if you can keep your rider on the bull, but I spurred one of the easier bulls constantly from the start and it didn’t seem to make it much more difficult to stay on, nor did it increase my score.
Extreme Bullrider’s bullfighting portion would make most game critics cringe primarily because the rodeo clown you control (again, you can pick from ten different clowns, with one-, two- or three-diamond difficulty) runs like he (or she — there’s one female clown) is on a track. Arms are swinging feet are flopping, but the clowns’ backs are stiff and they can only run in straight lines, which makes them look somewhat robotic.
The saving grace to this portion of the game is the variety of things you can pick up in order to score points, from lassos to boots to harmonicas. As for the bulls, they wander around a little stupidly and slowly, but every now and then they’ll charge you. Unfortunately, the clown and bull footprints are a little off, so it’s hard to time jumps, and the bulls don’t have to actually hit you in order to knock you down.
Despite the simplicity of both the bull riding and the bullfighting, I found Extreme Bullrider to be an addictive game. I played much longer than I needed to to complete this review, which, beyond all words, says to what degree I liked this game. Whereas in most cases I would’ve liked more features and options, I was happy to head back into these arenas only for the sake of trying to get a higher score.
Thumbs up on the simple design and layout of the game, the bright colors, and the creative snapshots and clown outfits. But the graphics engine is darn awful: the bulls are nowhere near as intimidating or speedy as in real life, though they’re each uniquely colored and still somewhat fun to watch.
Well selected and implemented, Extreme Bullrider’s music and sound effects did a lot to pull me into the game. The crowds cheered, the bulls mooed, each of the items that the rodeo clowns picked up made different sounds, and sounds were used to indicate different things in the game, such as when time is running out or when your score takes a hit because your clown has run through a cowpie.
Overall, the game is cute. Sure it’s a bit simple, but it’s an original idea and the developers managed to make a sport that’s probably more complex than it looks, fun and easy to play. There were no noticeable bugs and no major annoyances.
I do have to admit that the replay value is limited, but not as much as some might expect. Like I mentioned earlier, I was happy to head back into the arenas to take a shot breaking the records and seeing my name in lights. The game is easy enough to move around in, and provides ample variety in terms of locales, bulls and clowns that the average player would probably want to play through each option at least once. Once you get that far, however, there’s not much left to do in the game.
Here was a case where there wasn’t that much documentation provided, but not much was needed, so it was okay. Working off the jewel-case insert and the in-game instructions, I was fine. I like it when, knowing there’s not much to a game, it’s developers put in some real effort to make what is there easy to use and fun to play.