I remember way back in 2009 when the term “frustration” earned its place as a symbiotic partner of the term “fun”. I’ve been frustrated by games prior to this event, but I never learned to love frustration quite as much as I did when Trials HD hit Xbox Live. The intrinsic sadism of the game fed that part of my brain that needed to succeed while simultaneously slapping it away every time I was close to victory. It made me realize players are masochistic and games that bring such agony can actually be something that brings far greater accomplishment to those able to overcome the hurdles.
To the uninitiated, the Trials series (or as I called them: Dark Souls Kart) combine physics-style racing with outrageous level designs that mimic punishingly difficult platformers – only instead of jumping you’re riding a motorbike. They’re ridiculous, over-the-top, and very difficult. But what makes them stand out most is developer RedLynx’s passion for making the ridiculous stand on its own – and keep you coming back for more.
Some weren’t keen on 2014’s Trials Fusion, but Trials Rising manages to right the ship with a return-to-form racer that’s somehow more inclusive – yet still faithful – to what made the series so memorable in the first place. Also, some truly great design choices could make it the best Trials experience yet.
The first truly noticeable thing about Rising is there’s a much stronger focus on letting players actually become comfortable with the game. I realize how that sounds, but it’s true. While there were plenty of tutorials in previous games, Rising ups the ante by including a University section to help guide newbies through all the advanced moves. Some might only play by banging on the gas button but it’s a lot more physics-based and requires a ton more attention than just flooring it from one side of the screen to the other.
The courses highlight all the ideas and theories behind why it’s important to take your time to succeed. It’s also a smart way to coaching people through those rough patches in the learning process, which only becomes more amplified by the difficulty spikes in the levels themselves.
The levels ramp up much slower and much more evenly than in past games. No longer will you hit a punishingly brutal level early on and have to skip. Instead, you’ll notice that much of the early game offers up easier levels that don’t require fancy maneuvers to pull off insane and asinine stunts. Keep in mind I have a ton of hours clocked in Trials, so maybe my view of what “easy” may be a little skewed. But even still the tricks to pull off aren’t necessarily challenging or pure, rotten-to-the-core evil as some stuff we’ve seen in the past.
There are tracks where the very first jump requires some fairly nefarious maneuvers to land just right. in Rising, but the build up is much more methodical, giving you enough time to hone your skills before the inevitable crash.
Helping ease the challenge are the addition of ghosts around all the time. For those who don’t know, ghosts are either predetermined AI representations of the medal ratings or, more commonly, the ghosts of random real-life people and friends. They start at the beginning of the track and race alongside you to give a better indication of where you are in the time. They’re a great way to see if you’re closer to bronze or gold…or far enough back to feel that much more embarrassed about your (lack of) skill.
In terms of progression, Trials Rising incorporates loot boxes. I know, that’s hardly shocking in this day and age. With each level you earn boxes that unlock a new things like stickers, poses, gear and bike parts as customizations. It’s all fairly inoffensive but expected in a modern game, though I would’ve preferred they’d gone with a more traditional unlockable system. Instead, I’m just getting lots of sellable duplicates that I can sell back for in-game money that can be spent on stuff in the online gear store.
While I never created anything myself, I did spend a lot of time browsing through the many studio and fan made helmets, clothes and accessories. The pricing for anything is very much all over the place and inconsistent, but it offers a neat system where buying things gives in-game money back to the creator. It’s a nice way to incentivize the process to give the whole store a lot more content.
A game like this is only as good as its ability to restart the level as lightning fast as possible and Rising does that just like the other Trials. You’ll fail – a lot – but it’s nice to know you can quickly zoom right back to the beginning without missing a beat. Most levels refreshed quickly, though I did notice (on the PS4 version mostly) they could take up to a minute. This isn’t terrible, but even a few extra seconds can feel interminable when you’re anxious to get back into the action again. I kept reloading difficult levels instead of backing out to new ones just to avoid even this minor inconvenience.
Everything about Trials Rising is very much on brand. Tracks are nonsensical roller coasters (and sometimes take place on actual roller coasters) that keep on giving even after you’ve got the high score and everything seems completed. Like the best in the series Rising has that same quirky nature that both welcomes and repels newcomers alike, though which side you fall in will likely change depending on how invested you become. And that’s the game’s real magic – letting you enjoy the sweet taste of victory it so effortlessly tries to deny you. Over and over again.