RedLynx have had a nigh on impossible conundrum to try and solve for well over a decade: how do you improve a game that’s already been perfected? They’re the masters of Trials, in which you ride a motorcycle through increasingly ridiculous assault courses, battling to master the physics of bike and rider positioning to climb up hills, arc through death defying jumps, and more. It’s a series that was arguably at its zenith back on the Xbox 360, bringing its excellently challenging gameplay to the new generation of consoles with Trials Fusion in 2014. But where could it go from there? Trials of the Blood Dragon clearly wasn’t the answer, and from what I’ve seen and played of Trials Rising, it largely dodges the question.
To be honest, that doesn’t really matter to me and I’m not entirely sure it’s RedLynx’s main concern. The core gameplay is still unmistakably Trials, it’s still this blend of challenging physics-based platforming that’s so satisfying one moment and borders on the utterly infuriating the next. The key for RedLynx isn’t necessarily to overhaul the game, but rather to try and further round off the edges of the difficulty curve and make it more accessible and appealing for more people. As much as I loved Trials Fusion, I got stuck halfway through the game and simply never really went back afterwards. It’s me, the kind of player that stopped at the mid-high difficulty stages that Rising is designed to try and keep playing.
The key to that is in teaching the player how to better themselves, and it’s something where Trials has stumbled in the past. The games have had tutorials previously, but those in Fusion were as cold as the robotic voice that introduced them and did little to actually ease you into a new technique. Here there’s a friendlier face leant to proceedings by Professor FatShady (yup, I know), and his tutoring in the University of Trials. It starts with a simple bumpy trail that is designed to teach throttle control, before the humps get larger and larger to show how positioning the rider up hill and rotating the bike affect your progress. They’re simple, but effective. I, for example, sucked at the simplest looking tutorial, but already had a grasp of the fundamentals for the later ones, which surprised me.
The campaign is now spread out across a world map, with the earliest trials to take on over in the US, before heading out across the Atlantic to Europe and beyond for more challenging escapades. It’s a fair bit more grounded in reality than Fusion or Blood Dragon, as shown by the head to head knockout stadium races that break things up, but there’s still a penchant for the ridiculous. One of the harder levels that I tried featured hoops that, if you jumped through them, would give you a temporary rocket boost. Learning to manage the boost with the positioning of the bike was a sudden but fun surprise to try and overcome.
Some of the most fun in Trials comes from trying to beat other players. On regular tracks, other people’s records are represented by ghosts as opposed to simple markers, and the same is true online. It’s a small but great change so you can better see how someone else is tackling the course and learn from them.
But Trials wouldn’t be Trials without a certain flamboyancy and flair to it all. The player customisation options go deeper than ever, from ridiculous disco trousers and shiny tracksuits to being able to wear a tiny hat on top of another hat. For the sake of safety, you must always have some form of headgear. There’s also plenty of bike customisation, and while the built in track editor is essentially the same as can be found in Fusion, it now has three distinct eras of assets for you to draw upon.
One great new addition is that of the tandem bike, which can be used on most, but not all courses and trials in the career. It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a bike for two people, and a fun way to introduce co-op into the game. Now, you’re both contributing to the physics of the bike and balancing your individual riders, as well as having your own throttles. Talking to your co-op partner is key to coordinate what you’re doing, but if you feel like it, you can always eject and leave them struggling with half the power.
With the game coming to Nintendo Switch, this feels like a pretty obvious play to how you can hand a Joy-Con to a friend, but then there’s the head to head local play as well. It’s pretty much as you’d expect, with the winner determined by resets and time across a few rounds, but there’s the fun little twist of being able to put down a wager. These, as suggested by the game, include things like getting to draw a moustache on the loser, deciding who has to walk the dog, do the dishes, and dozens of other examples, alongside being able to determine your own bet.
Trials Rising is… well, it’s more of Trials. Half a decade on from the last game – let’s just pretend Blood Dragon didn’t really happen, OK? – this game doesn’t really need to reinvent the wheel. A new entry in the series that continues to polish and refine that core gameplay is more than welcome.