Trials of the Blood Dragon: catchup review

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Almost everything about this game is somewhat to the left of the norm. Even its release was unorthodox; during this year’s E3, it was announced and made available for sale simultaneously. While we greatly appreciate its neon-soaked eighties vibe, everything it’s put into the mix has resulted less in an analogous cake, more in an analogous trifle with those dodgy bits at the bottom that… look, the point is it doesn’t quite work.

The overall concept (if you missed the announcement, and it’s somehow not obvious from the title) is a game that squishes Trials and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon together into some sort of videogame sausage machine to produce a brand new, er, videogame sausage. Trials largely wins in terms of gameplay, so dispel any thoughts you may have had of first-person motorbike stunts and combat. Sorry about that. Although the story follows on directly from Blood Dragon, you don’t really need to have played it in order to understand what’s going on here. It’s hardly a deep story, anyway. The narration has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek throughout, an ironic celebration of American exceptionalism and the residual fear of “commies” that still lingered in the eighties. It’s a far cry (ha!) from the biting satire of GTA, but it trundles along pleasantly enough.

It’s worth lingering on the eighties theme because it flows through the entire experience, and makes up a big chunk of the appeal. The story is told in the style of a very cheap retro cartoon, with VHS-style static effects and snatches of fake FMV adverts scattered between stages too. Bright and garish colours are everywhere – pink and purple being a recurring theme during gameplay – and it’s all backed up by a superb faux-eighties soundtrack courtesy of Power Glove.

Do not adjust your set. There are a few trippy sequences to make things even harder.

You don’t need to have played Blood Dragon for the story, but you also don’t need to have played Trials for gameplay (and not only because it at times deviates from that template). Most of the time you’ll be on a motorbike or a BMX, with one key gimmick: the distribution of your character’s weight is key to every moment. Gentle inclines, big jumps and falls, and sudden increases (or reductions) in gradient that would be little more than decoration in comparable games offer a constant challenge here. Not only is the position of your bike when approaching, leaving, or landing from a jump of vital importance, so is whether you’re leaning forwards or backwards – or, indeed, if you’re not leaning at all. Even how hard you’re pushing the accelerator can have an effect, and it’s easy for the careless to crash when doing something as simple as riding over a small bump.

Clearly keen to avoid this being labelled as a reskinned Trials game, the developers have occasionally gone off track, as it were. Firstly, there are two other vehicles you’ll take control of now and again. First is the remote controlled car which is essentially impossible to crash, and then there’s the giant tank thing which is still crashable but distinctly less fiddly than the bikes. And the bikes are fiddly. Challenging controls are fine and dandy, but it can on occasion feel like that last crash or fall wasn’t entirely your fault.

Some stages give you a gun while you’re riding your bike. Trying to aim and keep your bike straight makes things predictably tougher, but most of the time it’s perfectly fair. More controversial will be the on-foot platform/shooter sections scattered throughout the game, which will doubtless irk existing Trials fans. They’re actually done quite well, but some people may feel that they break the flow of the game. We won’t argue with anybody who says that the jetpacks were a bad idea, though. Okay, so making this game without jetpacks would almost have been a crime, but their implementation here is terrible. Though their use is mercifully rare, the controls feel more imprecise than ever while trying to account for inertia and moving hazards. Predictably perhaps, you’re handed a jetpack in one section of what is undeniably the worst stage in the game, where you need to drag a gigantic and overly sensitive bomb behind you all the way to the exit.

In the background that is, indeed, a blood dragon.

Even looking at the bigger picture, mistakes are made. A lot of the time it’s hard but fair, with regular checkpoints and an ability to keep you coming back for more. However, this is clearly a game designed to encourage replays and speedruns, made for those who ache to see their name high on the leaderboards. As a result, there are some parts that it’s almost impossible to cruise through without knowing exactly what’s coming. Fine if you love repetition in the name of score chasing, not fine if you don’t. And even speedruns will be potentially frustrated by the chopping and changing of gameplay styles, not to mention the fact that some sections almost seem to punish speed. A prime example of this is the stage featuring the Power Ranger style “Sinjas”, including giant pinball machine flippers that can cause all sorts of problems if you aren’t launched off them exactly right.

To top it all off, it’s only going to take you a couple of hours to get through all the story stages once. Only a minority of people are going to want to go back through the game, much less decipher the vague clues about five hidden collectibles (or even Google the locations and go straight to them) for the small amount of extra content. For one quick blast through, it’s fine – but overpriced.

critical score 6

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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