In a crowded field of toys, games, and video games, once in a while, something comes along that stands out as an unexpected surprise straight across the board. Monster Truck Championship falls into that category as a new video game that slides in for the holidays a bit under-the-radar as it comes from a smaller publisher (Nacom) and developer (Teyon) in a sub-niche (monster trucks) of an already niche (motorsports) category that won’t be backed by the marketing machine of a Call of DutyAnimal Crossing, or NASCAR Heat.

Billed as “the world’s first monster truck simulator,” Monster Truck Championship leans into the simulation element — which is something that other titles in the genre, such as last year’s Monster Jam: Steel Titans, did not. It’s also unique in that it’s not a licensed title, which means that kids won’t see familiar trucks and drivers from the Monster Jam or Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live tour, but in playing this I have to wonder if the developers weren’t at least thinking of bringing on some bigger names because it plays well enough to warrant it but the lack of a license probably also saves parents about $10-20 right out of the starting gate.

In Monster Truck Championship, players start with a basic truck that they can customize and tune in the garage as they build their skills. There are 16 different trucks in the base pack with more than 50 customizable elements. Additional body styles and paint schemes can be acquired through DLC and different preorder packs including the Rebel Hunter and Patriot themes.

Related: Crush the Competition with New Bright’s R/C Monster Trucks

Once players are ready for action, they hit the dirt in 25 different arenas across the U.S. in three different leagues: National, Professional, and Major. The events will be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a monster truck event or seen one on TV — including freestyle, drag racing, and more — with some additional elements added such as traditional racing, which Monster Trucks typically don’t do.

Similar to career modes in other motorsports games, players can build out their trucks and teams as they progress through various levels and events. Players can visit the management area to hire crew members or to accept or deny sponsorship offers that will open up during the season. Back in the garage, players can swap their earnings for new parts and performance upgrades that will amp up the high-flying action.

Playing the freestyle events reminds me a lot of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with a truck instead of a skateboard. Points are scored by pulling off tricks such as backflips, donuts, wheelies, long jumps, sidewalls, and more with greater points accrued by rolling those into combos. In certain arenas, the announcer will take shots and say things like, “We’re still waiting to see something mindblowing,” if you’re not racking up the points. One particular aspect to note is that if you’ve ever noticed in real life (and even on some toys), steering on many monster trucks is achieved by controlling the tires on the front and back axles independently. In Monster Truck Championship, players use the left and right control sticks to do the same and it makes for some fun tricks that get these trucks spinning and bouncing!

In a year when a lot of things have been canceled, Monster Truck Championship is a welcome reminder of the high-octane, high-decibel, crowd-packed gatherings that many families have been missing. And, if you want to bring a little bit of that community aspect home, up to seven drivers can compete together in events online.

The game is out now for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Steam. A Nintendo Switch version will be released on Nov. 19.

Reviewed on Xbox One from a digital code provided by Nacon.

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is editor-in-chief of The Toy Book, a senior editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and editor of the Toy Report, the Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a senior editor and moved up the ranks to deputy editor and editor-in-chief.