The problem with most party games is that they think simplicity and depth are mutually exclusive. So you get a bunch of people sitting around frantically shaking Wiimotes for no good reason. Moto Heroz — lordy, I hate that name — knows better.

After the jump, you liked Trials HD, didn’t you?

Moto Heroz — I’m sorry to have to say those words again — is the latest game from Red Lynx, the folks who made the Trials games, which many of us know best from Trials HD on the Xbox 360. The premise was simple: drive from the left side of the screen to the right side of the screen, in a strictly 2D sidescroller. You never had to turn left or right. Instead, you had to deal with the physics of leaning back or leaning forward on your motorcyle, finessing it through crazy physics-based puzzles. It was like Excitebike meets Gran Turismo meets The Incredible Machine.

But in Moto Heroz — ugh, there I go again — the formula is applied to a colorful and varied world navigated with buggies. On the Nintendo Wii, I should warn you. And there are crazy power-ups. That damn butterfly, for instance. You get all the serious physics-based finesse of Trials, but also all the whimsy of a Nintendo game. What makes Moto Heroz arguably better than Trials is all this colorful diversity. Red Lynx has been honing the basic concept for a long time. Now it’s it’s time for some generously whimsical treatment.

Trails HD was partly great because of its online multiplayer, which was a matter of pitting your drive times against your friends’ drive times, constantly displayed in the game world. But the online multiplayer in Moto Heroz — I’m sorry to have to keep saying those words — is strictly a matter of getting your name on leaderboards. Then, when an event closes, you earn league points based on your placement on the leaderboard. At any given time, it seems like four events are available, two for unlimited play and two for one-shot play. These one-shot races can be practiced freely, but you can only log your time once. It’s a great way to add tension to the leaderboards.

But without the community features that made Trials such a white-knuckle experience on Xbox Live, Moto Heroz online feels lacking. You can form buddy leagues, which store separate scoreboards. Feel free to join the league Qt3 (password: tomchick) to see where you stand.

In the story mode, you earn coins as you play through the sequence of challenges, most of them requiring that you beat a ghost car racing alongside you. The coins then buy upgraded buggies, but as near as I can tell, these are only available for the party mode.

Which is where MotoHeroz really comes into its own. Up to four players race along the course, with players who fall off the screen being zapped forward with a score penalty. It all comes down to the finish line, where points are doled out based on first place getting ten points and everyone else getting a point docked for every additional second it takes him to reach the finish line. It’s one of the best multiplayer games you can play on the Wii, and that’s saying something. Like BoomBlox, anyone can pick it up and play it. And like BoomBlox, there’s a surprising amount of depth and finesse amid all the giggling and jostling for position. If only it had a name that wasn’t so embarrassing when you’re trying to get your friends to play.

3 stars
Nintendo Wii