When greeted with cheesy 'elevator music,' exceedingly colourful backgrounds, as well as cartoon-ish graphics, it leaves no doubt that Joy Ride was designed to appease to families everywhere as an alternative to a mere board game night.
In Joy Ride, you drive around in the car of your choice, attempting to clear zany levels, do crazy tricks in the air, and gain fans as you go. You can play on your own or with a friend or family member, with the extended ability of being able to connect to X-Box Live to join yet more drivers for the fun. As you clear stages you earn fans, unlock levels, and you even win trophies and medals which are proudly displayed on the main menu screen alongside your avatar(s) and their respective 'rides'.
To 'drive' you simply stick your arms out in front of you as though you're holding a steering wheel, and you're off to the races. The game automatically makes your car accelerate so you simply steer where you need to go.
To use the boost, which you earn as you drive and can be used to blast your car toward first place, you pull back your arms at shoulder-level so your elbows are behind you, and you hold that position to charge. When you're ready to use the charged boost you quickly 'punch' the air in front of you Superman style and zoom through the track at high speed. Unfortunately my efforts were wasted half the time: sometimes when I'd punch the boost would continue to charge as though I hadn't moved, or my car would simply refuse to speed up.
Drifting, which you do by turning the 'wheel' and tilting your upper body simultaneously in the hopes that your car will respond, was also somewhat difficult as well because you'd either drift too much or too little if you even drifted at all.
To complete air tricks you'd continue to have your arms out in front of you to drive and, as you're soaring through the air, you tilt your upper body either to your left, right, or backward. Sometimes I'd have to tilt further than I felt necessary for the game to realize it should be doing a trick and by then it'd be too late. Whenever I'd reach the end of a race the game would show a recap of photos taken as I played, and as I'd massage my sore back I'd see that I resembled a disgruntled Tetris piece more often than not. Luckily, when you're attempting tricks there is no worry of landing imperfectly as the game ensures you always land fine, so you can attempt as many tricks, whether successful or not, as you wish without a second thought.
There's no doubt the game would've been better off if you could play it using a regular controller, yet, despite these occasional issues the game's still fairly playable, albeit a bit frustrating when you're trying to be the best driver around.
Even with the sporadic control over your car you will always be a winner. Unlike most standard car-based games, Joy Ride allows the driver to advance in the game by earning a large fan-base. As you earn more fans you unlock more stages within the game, you get more car choices including an ice cream truck and, of course, a police car which is now a vied-for staple in just about every racing game. The number of fans earned per stage depends on how well you do. The better you drive, the more you will earn in one shot. Yet, even if you finish dead-last every time you will always earn some fans and will in turn be able to unlock things as well. This game clearly totes the message 'everyone's a winner' in that regard, which parents will appreciate as it will make any young wild-arm-swinger feel good about their efforts.
Not to say the game-play isn't somewhat competitive. For starters, chronic gamers who feel the need to complete everything will have to acquire thousands upon thousands of fans in order to unlock every level and every car style which will occupy quite a bit of time. Plus with the 6 choices of Pro-Race, Battle Race, Stunt, Dash, Smash, and Trick, there's always a first-place, gold medal, or high-score to strive for if you wished.
Pro-Race and Battle Race support up to 8 racers racing simultaneously, and they're the only two that can be played online as well. They're your standard race where you pick your track and aim for first place. As you go you can use shortcuts, boosts, and earn bonus points if you do flips and tricks while sailing in the air thanks to the various jumps throughout the race. Battle Race is the same as Pro-Race, but with the added bonus of using weapons Mario Kart style. As you drive through marked areas you can acquire a Boost, Hover Mine, Blast, Super Speed, Deep Freeze, and Teleport for future use. To use weapons you have to move your hand away from the 'steering wheel' motion as you're driving, which makes it easy to lose control of your car if you're not careful, and unfortunately sometimes the game doesn't end up deploying your weapon anyway which inevitably leaves you doing 'just a race' with the occasional lucky break of getting a weapon to deploy.
Stunt is exactly what it implies. You drive around half-pipes and loop-de-loops, flying through the air completing flips and turns, while collecting fruits reminiscent of Pac-man that give you extra points and hourglasses to earn extra time. The more crazy stunts you pull, the better you score. As you stunt your way to victory you have to be careful of bombs that are hovering in the air alongside the fruits as they can throw off your groove, although once you're in mid-air you can't really avoid them.
Dash consists of you being the sole driver (unless you're playing with a friend) trying to get to the end of the track as fast as possible, all the while dodging signs and earning coins. It's simple enough, but not much of a challenge since the game takes corners for you and you can only move between the lanes on the track one or two at a time.
Smash is pretty fun as you literally drive around an arena collecting tokens and smashing as many trees, tractors, and statues as you can within a certain time limit. Once you've smashed everything possible it triggers a ramp which leads to a 'boss statue' that you smash yourself into as the grand finale. The boss statue was a surprise and is kind of pointless considering it's literally a statue that you inevitably smash into unless time runs out, but it definitely finishes the round with a satisfying bang.
Trick takes a different approach than the rest of the options as your car becomes a plane as you drive, and suddenly you're in the air with your avatar standing on a wing. Then different pose suggestions, such as 'the thinker' and 'baseball player' are shown by your avatar's silhouette and you must mimic them as best and as you can within a certain amount of time, with bonus points awarded the faster you are. If you're not quite positioned right the game will prompt you to 'raise left arm higher' or 'bend right knee lower' to give you a chance to correct it. While fun at first it can get repetitive after a while once you've done the same pose several times over.
Other features of the game are the automatic camera shots the Kinect takes as you play which are reviewed on screen at the end of each race (you can turn off the camera if you wish in the options menu), tutorials you can access at anytime that go through everything step-by-step, and the downloadable content section which has a free download of a Chevrolet Volt right off the bat.
Overall the game is decent and fairly enjoyable, but considering how it doesn't really take advantage of what the system is capable of, it isn't much of a good game to have released alongside the new Kinect hardware. It is already available in stores, waiting for you to ride home with joy over your newfound family purchase.