Trials Rising is the latest in Ubisoft’s Trials series of motorbike games. One might assume this title is strictly about racing and stunts, but Trials Rising features additional depth with its dynamic obstacle course tracks, transforming it into a puzzle platformer. The challenge lies not just in placing first but also surviving. It’s essentially extreme Excitebike.
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In each of the game’s 100+ tracks, the goal is to take your motorbike to the finish line in the fastest possible time. What makes the gameplay special is its focus on physics. Leaning to shift weight, adjusting speed to achieve proper momentum, and controlling well-timed jumps are all factors for success.
Consequently, the game’s difficulty curve is as steep as its slopes. A first-time rider will likely struggle handling the bike’s sensitive movements. It’s easy to lose control and flip over. Even if you spend extensive time learning advanced techniques that are mandatory to succeed, it’s still tough to execute them, especially in a heated race. Frequent checkpoints help, but I often spent several minutes just trying to get past a single obstacle. It’s a rewarding challenge but not necessarily one that everyone can appreciate. Expect to fail often. On the plus side, mistakes only result in a five-second penalty, plus it’s hilarious to watch your rider crash and burn, complete with loud wails, exaggerated flailing, and explosive deaths. It’s clear the developers are in on it too, as every race ends with your character whizzing past the finish line to their doom.
Every track is a death-defying obstacle course. More so than racing to the finish line, I had a blast trying to solve how to maneuver through each section. Trials Rising is like a 2.5D puzzle platformer. Instead of block puzzles and enemies, there are tricky traps and jumps, all while racing against the clock. The tracks are well designed from both gameplay and aesthetic perspectives, inspired by real world locations incorporating cultural landmarks. Many of them are super engaging, thanks to dynamic elements such as moving logs, windmills, and swinging platforms. One of the most creative is a stage based on shifting Hollywood movie sets.
In Trials Rising, you progress through various continental leagues. To win a league, you must place first in the corresponding finals. However, each finals is gated off based on your player level. You gain levels by playing new tracks or completing sponsor challenges, which require you to fulfill specific conditions, such as performing a certain number of flips or minimizing mistakes. Early on, this is a quick and enjoyable process. However, as the level requirement and track difficulty increase, the game grinds to a halt. It’s an arbitrary wall that kept me from experiencing new stages unless I played through the same courses repeatedly, attempting extraordinarily difficult tasks. At least you can gain some extra experience through absurdly funny minigame diversions, such as bomb-propelled long jump and motorbike basketball.
You can also level up by competing against others online, which I was able to try out through the open beta. You race up to seven other players through a set of three tracks. I experienced no issues with matchmaking or server lag, but mileage may vary. Since you only see ghost images of your competitors superimposed on the same track, it’s not as satisfying as directly interacting with other players, but it’s entertaining to witness everyone crash at the same spot. It’s worth noting that there are online leaderboards, both for multiplayer during seasonal divisions, and also for the solo campaign to show off your best times.
Local multiplayer has its share of fun moments. Up to four players can race together on select stadium-style courses in party mode. As a nice touch, you can set modifiers, such as invisible riders or flaming bikes. Even more compelling was the co-op mode, where two players ride together on a tandem bike, a bicycle built for two. Both players exert some control over the bike and have to coordinate their rider physics. As you might expect, this mode led to some spectacular death sequences that kept my partner and me in tears laughing.
The tandem bike is one of six usable motorcycles, each with their own unique characteristics. You unlock some by leveling up and others by spending in-game currency. On that note, you can also use the coins earned through racing to buy a multitude of cosmetic items used to customize your bike and avatar, which are cool to see online. Alternatively, you can open up gear crates for a random set of rewards. Again, they’re all cosmetic items, so I wasn’t too offended. That being said, I rarely got excited over my gear crates’ contents; I tended to get duplicates or decorative stickers. You can also use real money to purchase Acorns, an additional in-game currency for buying gear. Or you can earn Acorns the fun way: finding squirrel trophy collectibles cleverly hidden on the tracks.
Last but not least is a track editor. You can create your own courses using a large collection of assets, some from previous Trials titles, then share them online. I personally found it difficult to manage the editor, with its confusing camera and object placement controls. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting prospect to have this creative freedom, provided you have the patience. A mode like this is dependent entirely on the fanbase, and I hope to see it flourish.
Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch edition of Trials Rising has a weaker presentation than other versions. The track backgrounds aren’t as detailed, and some areas have a distracting fog that engulfs everything. I didn’t mind the visuals, but I took issue with the occasional framerate slowdown. I was even more frustrated by the frequent game crashes, which occurred at least ten times. The controls aren’t ideal either, as the Switch controllers lack analog triggers. Thus, the only way to manually control the engine throttle for precise movement is to awkwardly tilt the right analog stick or plug in a GameCube controller – which relies on you having the Super Smash Bros. controller adapter.
Trials Rising is an enjoyable blend of adrenaline motorbike racing and physics-based puzzle platforming. Although leveling up is a grind, there is plenty of content with numerous tracks to complete, challenges to achieve, and items to collect. This is in addition to online multiplayer and custom-made tracks that indefinitely increase replay value. The Switch version’s shortcomings limit its potential, but the ability to play quick tracks on the go may be enough incentive for new racers to take on the game’s trials.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was posted on DarkStation.