In Trials of the Blood Dragon, we have a sort of fashion-industry crossover between two individually reputable brands: Blood Dragon (the infamous Far Cry 3 expansion) and Trials (the infamously difficult dirt bike racing platformer). Both of these franchises are deserving of new attention, but we’re dealing with two fairly different formulas here. And while Trials of the Blood Dragon has some moments of excellence, it’s really just a lesson in sticking to what you know.
The developers, RedLynx, did well in keeping all the highlights from Blood Dragon. The ridiculous humour is intact, and the absurd Cyber-Commando/Blood Dragon storyline continues. Once you work out that the game is almost always taking the proverbial piss, these elements make for an enticing game. While Slayer and Roxanne don’t have the same appeal as Rex Colt, their light-hearted, childishness does suit the less intense tone of this game – perhaps better than Rex’s crass personality would have. Overall, the flavour of the game is a good one, and the psychedelic 80s aesthetic lends itself perfectly to the Trials formula, making for some insane and addictive gameplay in the dirt bike levels.
However, the Blood Dragon brand of humour is quite distinct; it functions upon random outbursts and unpredictable moments of slapstick. Therefore, it doesn’t have any semblance of longevity. And in a game like Trials, where levels require repeated attempts, the narration quickly becomes tedious. Belonging to the addictive-yet-difficult platformer sub-genre, Trials really pushes you to strive for A-grade level rankings. This feat is difficult enough unto itself, without hearing the same jokes repeated every time you die. If the developers were trying to raise pulses, the death and repetition do the job just fine – they didn’t need to subject us to the repeated recital of a worn-out joke.
But this is just nit picking. The major issue with Trials of the Blood Dragon comes from the levels where it wasn’t being Trials. In what I assume to be a bid to ‘spice’ things up a little – or perhaps some ill-advised collateral of the crossover between these games – Trials of the Blood Dragon features a number of platformer levels. Some of these revolve around on-foot shooting and dodging mechanics, others substitute the motorcycle for a terribly designed Jetpack; all fall short. Historically, Trials’ success has hinged upon its highly polished mechanics. Sadly, these factors are missing from these new levels. The jumping mechanic is clunky and its accompanying physics are poor. And despite the environments in the on-foot levels being quite well designed, the lacklustre controls detract from the experience.
This criticism extends further to the jetpack levels, which are almost unplayable. I think we’re returning to that whole conundrum about the balance between difficulty/fun. At their absolute best, the Jetpack controls are frustratingly touchy. But with the additional challenges that appear later in the campaign, the vehicle actually becomes burdensome. I was actually quite excited at the jetpack’s debut but after my first few deaths, its latter appearances filled me, instead, with dread. These levels were the low-points of Trials Blood Dragon, and it needs to be said that this very nearly wrecked the game. However, Trials of the Blood Dragon’s high points were fantastic, so much so that they managed to counteract – but not quite redeem – these shortcomings.
As I’d mentioned before, the Trials brand has existed for some time now, its successful debut occurring in 2000. Since then, the series has gained a myriad of ardent follows, and for good reason: the motorbike platformer does its job incredibly. And the bike-centred levels in the latest instalment follow suit. The whole 80’s action homage/parody provides a perfect setting for the gravity defying stunts and impossible feats of virtual bravery that are series trademarks. It’s a shame that these levels were interrupted by the ill thought-out aforementioned additions. Where the jetpack and on-foot levels failed, the Miami and Japan campaigns were infallible. The introduction of the grappling hook and shooting mechanics in these levels diversified the Trials formula without destroying its best assets.
The soundtrack is also exceptional, and the mission-hub is well managed. Slay and Rox demonstrate actual personality in this setting; they change their activities throughout the campaign and it’s always interesting to see what they’re up to. Of course there are a few features of the mission hub that seem somewhat unnecessary: the mascot and the computer displaying an ad for Trials Fusion. This isn’t so much a criticism, as these don’t interfere with gameplay, however, they would have been best excluded as they come across, obviously, as filler features.
The story leaves something to be desired. It’s essentially just an amalgamation of the most ridiculous ideas the studio could muster and it’s not as fresh or unexpected as the Far Cry 3 expansion – and we’ve already established that these were integral elements of the game’s humour. The ‘Vietnam War 4’ premise is amusing for a time, as is the to-and-fro banter between the characters. The novelty does eventually fade. And again, it’s the brief ventures into Miami and Japan – and their pop-culture references – that carry the game.
It’s difficult to formulate an actual verdict on Trials of the Blood Dragon when it’s comprised of equal parts excellent and horrible. In theory, this balances out to somewhere in the 3 star range. However, I do want to emphasise how good the ‘good parts’ were. And I also want to emphasise that the ‘bad parts’ were so bad that they almost spoiled the game. It’s worth playing, if only for the exceptional standard of the archetypal Trials levels and for a chance to revisit the lunatic world of Blood Dragon.