There hasn't been many motorbike games of note for fans of the bike lately. Other than Namco and Climax's attempt at Moto GP games, there hasn't been anything which replicated real world motorbikes and street racing on two wheel beasts. Riding Spirits II aims to change this with a huge selection of real world motorcycles, some fictional and authentic tracks and some of the most brutal physics seen in a motorcycle racing game yet, but it still has a few problems that drag the game down somewhat.
Riding Spirits II is made up of three primary game modes; Riding Spirits, Battle 100 and Arcade. At first you have to create an on screen persona and this mimics other character creation sequences in games but doesn't feature as much detail. Basically you choose the sex of the rider, what helmet they will wear and what clothing brand to associate them with. There's no editing for individual features such as the face or arms etc which makes creating a replica of yourself pretty much impossible.
Once you've created the character, all three game modes are available. While arcade is exactly that, it still contains the brutal physics engine but is a great starting point for those not only new to the Riding Spirits games but also new to the physics of how a motorbike works in general. This is because you can turn falls off, so rather then clipping something and hitting the pavement hard at high speeds, you can focus on perfecting your riding skills before upping the ante in the other game modes available. In arcade you select from either time trial or a race against numerous opponents in a one off burn around a track. There is also a non-interactive tutorial to teach you the basics of how to control the bikes, and also the reasons riders fall in the game such as braking around corners.
Battle 100 is an interesting game mode and in many ways is more enjoyable than Riding Spirits, especially if you're not a huge fan of motorbikes. You challenge one hundred riders in various challenges and as you defeat each one you move up in rank. There are some controlled conditions employed in Battle 100 with the track and selection of bikes chosen by the scenario itself and not the user. You don't have to keep an eye on how much power your bike has or whether its time to upgrade so this mode completely revolves around the gameplay and the skill of the user rather then their knowledge of motorcycle parts. Battle 100 also has some different game types such as hunter where you either have to escape another rider or catch up to them.
The primary game mode is the Riding Spirits mode and this is where most of your time will be spent. You start off with a fairly low powered bike and have to win races and challenges to buy new parts to upgrade the bike, buy new bikes or trade in old bikes for new ones. The ultimate aim is to own the best bikes in the game. Depending on where you place in races and duels you win money to buy new parts and bikes. It is not the only way to unlock new bikes, and sometimes you will unlock a bike from results obtained in tournaments. It is highly unlikely you will pass tracks the first time so to have any real chance, time must be spent learning the track which means at least a few restarts before you complete the goal, however this doesn't apply to all tracks.
The physics in this mode are the most brutal seen and you have to ride extremely well to keep the rider safely on the bike through the course. It is these physics that expose some problems with the game.
Riding Spirits II contains 330 real world bikes from a variety of manufacturers such as Kawasaki, Yamaha, BMW and other famous names in the motorcycle world. Each bike is unique and modeled on the real world version. One interesting thing we noticed with the game was the warning given at the start which basically says that the bikes may have been improved in overall specifications in comparison to their real world counterparts. Given this game is going for the utmost realism, we found that bemusing. The game provides all the specification information a motorbike fan would ever need with detailed information on parts such as the engine, the dimensions of the bike and its overall power. Spike has gone to great lengths to make this the premiere motorcycle simulation. The parts you can buy for the bikes are not only for performance either, you can buy new parts for the aesthetic side of the bike such as new lights or even removing them altogether.
This is most definitely the one of the most hardcore bike simulations ever. Although by default it is disabled spike has given the opportunity to control how the rider leans into corners and also independent brakes for rear and front. This gives the highest level of control to the player but increases the difficulty of the game ten fold. Not only are you trying to keep your rider on the bike, but also having to judge just how much lean is required to take the corner at the optimum speed. Even when not using the manual lean feature, this is hard to do. You will perfect the physics of one bike, only to hop onto a new one and have to begin the process all over again. The first hour of gameplay should be used to learn the physics engine, the game becomes a more enjoyable experience and once you do so, you will be riding like a professional.
While Riding Spirits in terms of numbers is an impressive game, 330 bikes, over 12 tracks etc it's not without its problems. The first is the mixed AI featured in the game. Sometimes they offer a great challenge but other times they can seem like robots. They don't crash of their own accord which can reduce the realism factor of the game somewhat but if you manage to crash in front of them, rather then taking evasive action they will ride into the wreck and crash themselves. Also sometimes the game will reposition you in front of a wrecked bike, making you crash instantaneously again which can be frustrating and push you right to the back of the pack. There is also no restart race option, but quitting and restarting is allowed so it wouldn't have detracted from the gameplay to include the option and given the amount of restarts you may be forced to do, it is a questionable decision made by the developers.
Even though the game does contain two real world tracks (Motegi and Suzuka) and numerous fictional tracks, the visuals are definitely not the highlight of the game. This is a game where gameplay far outshines the graphics and when you compare it to other racing games on the PS2, especially Gran Turismo, it shows how disappointing they are. On the plus side, the game doesn't suffer frame rate loss and the sense of speed feels reasonably authentic. Two cameras are available, one behind the bike and a bumper mode which isn't recommended to players who suffer motion sickness.
The bikes sound great and all have a unique engine sound and the soundtrack is a fairly typical score which you expect to find in games like this. Multiplayer is only offered on the same console via split screen with Spike ignoring the network adapter for online play which is another down side to the game.
Riding Spirits II is a decent motorcycle game with some flaws. Most fans of bikes will be able to look past these and enjoy the game, but more casual fans just looking for a racing game with a difference may find them hard to swallow, especially the mixed AI. It's a unique game and offers a lot of gameplay and decent replay value, it's just a shame it has a few flaws.