MTV Sports' latest extreme sports title, T.J. Lavin's Ultimate BMX, has all the pieces that you'd expect to find in a post-Tony Hawk sports title: real-world riders, nonlinear level design, multiple level goals, and an aggressive punk/rap-rock soundtrack. The difference between Tony Hawk's popular franchise and T.J. Lavin is that where the Hawkman innovates, Lavin imitates. To make matters worse, Ultimate BMX is not a very good imitator.
Ultimate BMX keeps things uncomplicated and predictable when it comes to game modes. There's the practice session, which lets you free-ride on any level for an unlimited amount of time. The two-player mode lets you go head-to-head against a friend in a variety of challenges, from your basic high-score competition to turf war, which plays identically to the graffiti mode in Tony Hawk. In the pro circuit mode, you go from level to level, unlocking them one at a time by completing a certain number of challenges on the previous level. Some of the challenges are consistent throughout the game, such as reaching a minimum point score or finding the MTV logo. Others are level specific, like setting off all the car alarms or smashing a set number of lamps.
The game's controls are as identical to those in Tony Hawk as is possible for a BMX game. The X button jumps, the triangle grinds, the square plus a direction does a bike trick, the circle plus a direction does a body trick, and the whole mess can be rotated in the air using the L1 and R1 buttons. You can chain together tricks using grinds or by doing them in succession while in the air. There is also a special meter of sorts, which is activated after you complete a string of high-scoring tricks, so you can do more-difficult and thus higher-scoring tricks. But unlike the special signature moves in other extreme sports games, these more-difficult tricks are performed using the same button combos as regular tricks, which takes most of the novelty out of this mechanic.
The levels are broken up into three groups: dirt, vert, and street. The different design types force you to use different kinds of tricks to finish the level. The commonality among the three types is that they are all poorly realized, with plenty of unnecessarily jagged edges, and they lack a certain level of fluidity, which makes it cumbersome to get from one area in a level to another. The frustration of the game's truncated level design is augmented by the game's haphazard physics engine. Landing vert tricks and pulling off long grinds can be a chore, because the game has a seemingly random system of determining whether or not your bike is straight enough to land. A coin toss would be more predictable. The D-pad control has the worst of both worlds: It's too touchy to accurately line up jumps and too soft to pull a tight U-turn.
T.J. Lavin's Ultimate BMX exhibits several of the graphical problems found in other PlayStation games. While the frame rate is relatively consistent, and seaming shows up only occasionally, the game is filled with bland, washed-out textures, ugly, low-poly models, and shoddy character animations. Overall, this is not a pleasant game to look at.
The game's sound effects are your average set of uninspired grind and bail sounds. The soundtrack is populated by second-tier rap-rock and punk acts such as SR-71, Kottonmouth Kings, P.O.D., and Frenzal Rhomb. Fans of these bands may get a kick out of hearing them in the game, but those who are not fans will find the music to be generally grinding and repetitious, which fits in with the theme of the entire game.
In short, T.J. Lavin's Ultimate BMX is a second-rate interpretation of the extreme sports genre, and it rigidly follows the conventions set out by games before it, rather than offering any innovations. With other games available, such as Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, that do exactly what T.J. Lavin's Ultimate BMX does only better, there is no conceivable reason to pick up this substandard game.