I can’t help but get excited whenever an E3 announcement concludes with “And it will be available...RIGHT NOW!” It’s not even just E3, basically any video game press conference. I remember after the Playstation Experience in December, I bought Final Fantasy 7, The Bit Trip and Fat Princess Adventures purely because I got sucked up in the excitement that games were coming out moments after they were presented. I haven’t even fired up Fat Princess to this day so I certainly can’t stand behind the decision. It turns out I haven’t learned my lesson though because the moment Trials of the Blood Dragon was announced as being available RIGHT NOW, I was on the Playstation store grabbing it. This one is a little more justified in my eyes because I loved Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and love the Trials series. This felt like an easy win. Turns out, maybe I would have been smart to hold out.
In Trials of the Blood Dragon, you play as the son and daughter of Rex Colt, the protagonist from the previous Blood Dragon. I don’t remember their names. His might be Edward? That seems right. Anyway they go on an adventure to free a blood dragon or save their dad or find their mom or stop terrorists or maybe all of the above. I largely tuned the story out as a result of the consistently atrocious voice acting, especially from the son. I realize that the game is going for a jokey, tongue in cheek tone, but the voice acting doesn’t quality as “so bad it’s good”. It’s just flat and lifeless, making the parade of unfunny dialogue even more painful. This may be one of the most consistently unfunny, funny games I have ever played. The 80’s videotape aesthetic has its charm, but the weird interstitials between levels that show random commercial clips are largely pointless, serving up no purpose beyond “Hey remember the 80’s you guys?! It looked kinda like this! Nostalgia right?!”
The first few levels of the game make a solid first impression as they are focused completely on driving your motorcycle through the various courses. It feels like pure, classic Trials, with a pretty cool neon aesthetic (I will say I quite liked the visuals in this game). If you’ve played a Trials game before, you will feel immediately at home. The controls feel as spot-on as ever and it still feels immensely satisfying when you do a flawless run through a course. I’ve always loved the feel of the Trials games, largely due to their tight controls that never leave me in doubt as to whether a death is my fault. The lack of load times has always been a huge plus, allowing you to revert back to the previous checkpoint, or begin the track from the start, instantaneously with the click of a single button. It made it easier to chase perfect runs and I definitely spent a lot of time with the previous games going back to earlier levels and trying to master them. I won’t be doing that here.
You see these early levels deliver what you would expect, though naturally these stages are very simple. Then Trials of the Blood Dragon reveals its new gameplay addition, and the element that completely sinks the whole thing – on foot sections. Yes every now and then you get off the bike and run around on foot, jumping on platforms and shooting people. It is the polar opposite of the on bike segments in that not one part of it feels good to play. The jumps are floaty, the gun (fired by pointing the right thumbstick in the direction you want to shoot) doesn’t feel precise and the levels themselves are a cakewalk. They have the same generous checkpoint system the bike levels do, so you get a new one usually after you kill each bad guy. The only challenge comes from fighting against the controls, but the generous time limits mean you’ll have plenty of time to do so.
The gun is eventually worked into the bike sequences and this does fare a little better. Shooting enemies never becomes fun, but there is satisfaction to be had in shooting these bubble things to make platforms fall into place. There’s a solid flow to these moments and the best example of quality track design in a game that feels like a series of subpar user created levels.
They also introduce a grappling hook which is occasionally used to increase your forward momentum and launch yourself across huge pits. The grappling hook does feel satisfying to use, but it feels like an afterthought as it’s hardly ever used. There’s a late game sequence where you have to grapple your way along a platform on the ceiling while avoiding vertically shooting fireballs and it feels like the absolute worst way to execute on that mechanic. There’s potential there, but as it stands the grappling hook feels more like a bullet point on a list of new features than an actual critical gameplay component.
In addition to the on foot segments, they do introduce a few other vehicles along the way such a mine cart and this big tank/land rover thing. Both are fine, though I would have preferred to be back on the bike in each instance. Then however, they introduce a level that is so infuriating I almost bailed on this game completely. There’s a stage, Extermination I believe is the name of it, where you are carrying a big bomb on a trailer behind your bike and it can’t be jostled too heavily (or at all really) or it will explode. I haaaaaated this level. It takes nearly nothing for the bomb to explode and the core game doesn’t lend itself to this type of stage. Then it gets even worse when you spend the latter half of the level carrying the bomb around while flying with a jet pack, trying desperately to keep the bomb from crashing against any surfaces. Making your way through the narrow corridors requires a level of precision that these controls just don’t allow for. There is no way for me to describe how poor these controls are in a way that do them justice. I never got a handle on them and the aforementioned lengthy time limit is the only thing that got me through this level as I was dying at least once every couple of checkpoints. Thankfully this is the only stage requiring bomb transportation, otherwise I can’t imagine I would have seen this game through until the end.
These are the major sticking points, but believe me there are a lot of smaller critiques I could throw this game’s way as well. The main menu is a complete mess to navigate, you don’t actually get to pick what bike you bring into a level, and the core campaign is quite short. I really like the idea of Trials leaning fully into the goofiness it has been working towards, but this crashes and burns on just about every level. If you are dying for a handful of new Trials bike levels then you can get a few here, though not nearly enough that I could ever in good conscious recommend buying it. However, if you are in the market for a bad run and gun then have I got the game for you