It is with great pleasure, a brimming heart and the jittery edge of someone whose adrenaline has been depleted over the course of several late night sessions that I can report this: Trials is back.
Maybe you hadn’t noticed it’s been away. There have been two entries this generation, after all, but both of them lacked that spark the all-important spark that made RedLynx’s series so beloved; Fusion’s aesthetic proved anaemic and felt more of a regression than meaningful progress, and let’s just pretend the risible Trials of the Blood Dragon never happened.
Trials Rising finds that flame and then some; this is a rekindling of the series that lavishes the formula with love, attention and production values the like of which the series hasn’t seen before (and also introduces a thin veneer of bullshit that’s thankfully fairly easy to ignore – but we can get to that later). Most importantly, it doubles down on what makes Trials special.
What is that, exactly? It depends on where you’re coming from, but Trials Rising has pretty much every base covered. There’s the exacting challenge, those beautifully analogue bikes that feel like bits of buzzing putty in your hands. There’s that delicious sense of pure control as you balance your rider’s weight alongside the throttle and brake. That hasn’t been dulled – indeed, going back to older Trials games as a point of comparison, it seems there’s more fidelity here than there was before. There are those challenges themselves, levels that slowly move from exercises in pure flow to punishing gauntlets that demand seemingly impossible feats – and Trials Rising has an abundance of both across it’s more than 100 offerings.
For me, what makes Trials sing is that it’s one of the few genuinely funny video games out there, and Trials Rising is the funniest yet. I’m not talking the fresher’s week humour of Blood dragon – all unicorn rides and ‘do you remember the 80s’ nonsense – but something deeper, more profound and harder to nail. Trials, at its best, is about the peerless art of slapstick; it’s Buster Keaton’s bike ride in Sherlock Jr. brought to life, all perfectly timed pratfalls and improbable feats with you placed as the starring stuntman.
That’s more explicit than ever in Trials Rising, whether that’s in the all-new tandem which brings a little Laurel and Hardy into the mix or in the levels which bring a new layer intricacy to the design. There are sprints through Hollywood film sets – complete with a beautiful reference to the falling house prank in Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. – runs through snowy peaks that have you balancing your bike on colossal snowballs, a jaunt through the crumbling ruins of Pripyat that has you riding through buildings as they fall in on themselves. They’re set-pieces that have been brought to life with verve and imagination, and it’s quite staggering how many there are on offer, and how rich they feel.
This is Trials reimagined as a big budget game, which at times can make it all feel far removed from the series’ more humble beginnings – a trait which rubs both ways. On the one hand this is the richest, most fully-featured Trials yet. There’s a fully-fledged tutorial that slowly locks over the course of your adventures, schooling you in the darker arts and deeper nuances of high-level Trials play, while Contracts offer the perfect excuse to return to older levels, layering on new challenges that net big rewards upon completion. A world map ties every level together, and thematically there’s a coherence that’s never been there in Trials before.
But if that coherence provides a nice throughline for Trials’ many levels, you’ve got to wonder how welcome some of the other new baggage is. Did Trials really need an XP system, loot boxes and multiple currencies that also introduce the grim spectre of microtransactions? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because in each instance the answer is a resounding no. It’s a layer of nonsense that Trials could really do without, so perhaps it’s for the best that it’s almost entirely redundant; loot boxes are limited to a pool of cosmetics so slim they’re best ignored, while the levelling does introduces only a small amount of grinding to progress at certain points. That does mean returning to levels to complete Contracts, though so well-crafted are they all that it never really feels like a chore.
And that’s the thing about Rising; you can push all that to one side and enjoy one of the purest Trials games there’s been in some time, where it’s all about nothing more than guiding your bike from one end of a devilishly designed level to the other. Rinse, repeat, then get absolutely rinsed as the difficulty level spikes just as it always has. Trials Rising can be a bit all over the place, and in trying to impart some structure and modern traits over it all it can come off a bit awkward – a bit like seeing a scruffy old friend suited and booted in an ill-fitting three piece. What’s important, though, is that that old friend is back, and has learnt a few neat tricks along the way. What a delight it is to have a great Trials game with us again.