Like many 90’s kids, I grew up around games. Whilst at home it was all about Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario, at school the best we could get hold of in IT lessons when the teacher wasn’t looking was a variety of Newsground and Flash games. My favourites were always the truck games, where you had to complete a physics-based course by moving and tilting your vehicle, earning points for effective landings. Later in life I encountered the Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games. There was an immense feeling of achievement to be gained from completing skill challenges and pulling off massive tricks.
The reason I mention these is because, whilst reviewing Urban Trials: Playground, I was reminded of them and the reasons I liked them. But can the latest instalment of the second-best-well-know bike trials game live up to the hype?
At it’s heart, Urban Trials has a simple premise; ride you bike through the course, earn points, and reach the end. Whilst there is a single-player campaign mode, there isn’t a story per-say; It’s all about the gameplay.
This game challenges you to travel trough California completing time trials and stunt challenges in an alternating fashion, across around 55 levels; though I would guess that only half are actually unique. Time trial levels require you to reach the end of the level in the quickest time possible, giving you a ghost to compete against and up to five stars dependant on your performance. Stunt levels reward you for doing flips, wheelies, stoppies, and speed tricks with points, and several stars depending on how many points you can earn. These two modes allow the best of both worlds, and it’s refreshing that they alternate to break up the game, but I would have liked to have seen another mode added, as towards the end of the game it begins to feel a little monotonous. The bikes control incredibly well, with nicely-realised physics contributing to the slick feel of the game and simple, responsive controls. You move forward and backwards. You can tilt your bike. You can engage the front or back brakes. You can jump. That’s it! Whilst a cliché, it’s easy to learn but difficult to master, as your runs can be subtly improved in a myriad of ways to improve both your times and scores through simple additions, such as braking with your front wheel whilst jumping as you go off a ramp to start forward momentum for a front-flip. Finding each of these elements can be incredibly satisfying and the feeling of pulling off a tight trick is immense. One missing feature in my eyes is the ability to do more advanced tricks which require additional timing considerations, such as Supermans, Barspins and Tailslips, though I can understand why they focused on the basics.
The levels themselves are incredibly well designed, with many requiring quick thinking for certain sections. I would have liked to see more of an emphasis on hazards, as although it clearly teaches you to duck in the tutorial I only remember using it on one track. The visual design in levels is excellent, with the Californian theme fitting well with the feel of the game. You’ll find yourself weaving through both residential areas and more secluded beach spots, though I would have liked them to have been a little more dynamic in the background. Whilst deserted streets are all well and good, some background characters and more animals; maybe watching the trial; would have been appreciated.
In addition to earning stars; which unlock new levels and bikes; you can also earn chips for completing challenges. Some require you to beat the maker’s time, whilst others ask for certain tricks and combos to be completed, but regardless of your method of earning them they can be exchanged for bike upgrades and cosmetic changes. The challenges add an extra level to Urban Trials, lending additional replayability to the formula and encouraging the player to attempt different playstyles. Additional chips are also hidden throughout the levels, tempting plays to explore the environments.
I am a little disappointed with the amount of customisation on offer. The upgrades you can buy for your bike are progressively linear, and there’s nothing stopping you from buying the top level of each part straight away once you have enough chips. They’re vital for success and I never saw the point in buying them incrementally. There’s also a limited ability to change the colour of your bike and add a sticker, but I found it to be very basic and once I’d chosen a sticker I had no desire to change it again. You can play as either the generic white male or the generic white female character (Tommy or Riley), but they follow a generic, if colourful mould. Both have around 5 set hat options, 5 torso options, 5 leg options and 5 foot options, but none are particularly exciting or varied. I would have preferred to have either had more initial character options or more varied customisation, but as it stands I found little desire to continue customising after I had bought the functional upgrades.
Multiplayer options are a welcome addition, though I was disappointed that the only options were time-trial based. Where are the stunt faceoffs?! Regardless, both in single and multiplayer the framerate is high and constant, giving the game a smooth feel across the board; an obvious benefit of this game’s Switch exclusivity. Sound is also well designed, with some great music which fits the Cali-groove aesthetic. I wasn’t a fan of Riley’s 90s catchphrases, but he’s easy to ignore.
Overall Urban Trials: Playground is an excellent addition to the Switch’s library, providing a different style of gameplay. It functionally emulates the feeling of it’s forbearers, and whilst there are many areas for improvement I can’t deny I had a blast taking this on the move. The levels are relatively short, and as such fit with the idea of a handheld. If you’re a fan of Trials games and own a Switch, this is definitely worth taking a look at despite the missing features.
For more info on Urban Trail Playground head on over here http://urbantrialplayground.com/en/