‘Trials of the Blood Dragon’ Review

Platforms PS4/Xbox One/PC

Developer RedLynx  Publisher Ubisoft

Genre Racing  Platform Played Xbox One

Following the sheer ridiculousness of the Awesome Level Max DLC for Trials Fusion, it was hard to imagine how RedLynx might infuse their franchise with more absurd content. Announced at E3 during the Ubisoft press conference and released the same day, Trials of the Blood Dragon manages to take inspiration from the 1980’s and ’90’s to create a ludicrous title with a science fiction plot.

The game puts the player in control of two 12 year old children named Slayter and Roxanne. These twins are the children of Rex Colt from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and must fight their way through Vietnam War 4 against communists, insectoids, and an unidentified commander to ensure Blood Dragons are not used for evil. Finding some semblance of plot within a Trials title is admittedly odd, as we have never been assigned a purpose for riding tracks previously, but it is delivered in a relatively noninvasive manner. The majority of story elements are explained via dialogue between the various protagonists throughout the game’s levels. Sadly, unless you turn the dialogue down or off entirely in the menu, the same lines are repeated every time you replay a track, making for a very tiresome playthrough after you have completed a track for the first time. The fact that the option exists is a positive, although unless you go searching for it, you will have no idea the option to quiet the characters even exists. Occasionally there will be plot-focused cinematics between levels, but more often than not the brief videos are completely unrelated to anything and designed to poke fun at decades past. These nonsensical clips are initially charming and endearing, but by the end of a playthrough, you will likely finding yourself tired of them as they do not serve a real purpose and simply waste time between tracks. The side effect of these videos is the sudden appreciation you find for the animated cut scenes which progress the plot in any way.

The environments you race your way through are just as varied as the ones you will find in any other Trials game, with Vietnam, space, Miami, and Hell being just a few of the locales. The scenery and attention to detail found in each track is phenomenal, although unless you happen to be a spectator, you likely will not be able to appreciate all of it. One level in particular, titled Final Reckoning, has an incredibly active background, with missiles launching, aircraft crashing into the landscape, and even a train chugging along throughout most of the track. It is nearly impossible to take note of everything that is happening over the course of that level, particularly if you are looking for a no-fault run. For this reason, watching someone play Trials of the Blood Dragon can be almost as interesting as playing it, which is a huge advantage for the title considering the complete lack of multiplayer in any form. It is a little disappointing to see that multiplayer from Trials Fusion was not carried over as an option in Trials of the Blood Dragon, as it would have added infinitely more replay value to the title. Just to complete the game, any player is looking at a minimum or three or four hours, and obtaining “A” or “A+” ranks on each track will increase that time significantly, but the inclusion of multiplayer is something which can easily double or triple the amount of time any player will put into the game.

In an attempt to encourage players to replay levels for the sake of high rankings, an “Inner Beast” is selected by the player at the very start of the game, and will evolve as scores are accumulated. This creature acts as an avatar when your friends race against your ghost on a track or look at your standing on a leaderboard. The higher your total Trials of the Blood Dragon score, the more ferocious your avatar looks. Having chosen a shark as my Inner Beast, my avatar looked like one of the Street Sharks from the 90’s cartoon of the same name by the time I had completed the game. The beastly avatars are not the only feature implemented to reward high scores, as you are given a sticker pack each time you obtain an “A” ranking on a track. Serving as a flashback to the days of collectible stickers and the books which held specific spots for each stick, these are a charming addition to the game, even when the sticker itself is a ventriloquist dummy with a shotgun in its mouth or a cell phone which has sprouted tentacles. Every illustration fits the theme of the game perfectly, and if nothing else, sheer curiosity will lead to many players attempting to unlock every sticker.

One key feature of Trials of the Blood Dragon which many fans will have noticed at the E3 press conference is the fact that the protagonists can walk around on foot and wield a gun. Obviously these are huge deviations from the traditional Trials formula, particularly when the sections which force the player to go on foot can fall victim to less than stellar platforming mechanics. The movement mechanics for pedestrian levels are simple and intuitive, but you can tell that RedLynx is not the most experienced when it comes to individual characters jumping gaps. Occasionally you will fail to jump onto a ledge or crate when you very clearly should have been able to make it or you will find a slight delay between trying to jump and watching Roxanne or Slayter actually follow through with the action. Over time and after numerous failures, you will become accustomed to the specific way the game makes you navigate levels on foot, but it can be frustrating the first few times, particularly as you race the clock or attempt a flawless run.

The gun mechanic is used both while on a bike and on foot, primarily to eliminate enemy guards before they shoot you or to open up passageways. It can be a bit tricky during the later levels to accurately shoot enemies as you speed through levels and jump across gaps on your bike, but with enough practice it becomes second nature. The enemies will begin shooting at you almost immediately after noticing you, and if you get hit once or twice, you die and have to reload the last checkpoint. The fact that everyone is in possession of automatic guns is a large part of what makes the enemies so dangerous, particularly as it is very rare you only encounter a single enemy at a time. Foot soldiers will walk through previously closed doors, stand guard on opposite sides of a room, or even be standing behind a crate which offers them protection from your own bullets. On occasion, boss battles are also encountered and require players to shoot weak points while avoiding various attacks from the behemoths. None of them are terribly difficult (as the game still emphasizes completing levels quickly), but these battles are a welcome addition and vary the gameplay enough to help Trials of the Blood Dragon feel fresh.

In addition to occasionally completing levels or segments of tracks on foot, other levels will require the use of a jetpack, minecart, remote-controlled toy car, or a monstrous lunar rover. Each of these has an incredibly unique feel, but present their own challenges. The rover will smash through almost any obstacle or portion of the track it comes in contact with, but jumping gaps in it can be difficult as it requires much more time to build up sufficient speed. The RC car is nimble, and is capable of moving while upside down, but the control scheme relies strictly on moving left or right, which is not always represented as left or right on the screen when moving vertically or across the ceiling. Generally in these levels, the platforms are colour-coded to help ease any confusion, although not every track has these aids. The minecart is incredibly bulky, requiring far more space to stop or slow down and also has a tendency to get caught on random pieces of the environment. While riding a minecart through Hell, I frequently found the cart getting stuck on light fixtures, leaving poor Roxanne hanging there helplessly. Lastly, the jetpack presents most of its challenges from one particular level in which you deliver a bomb to a specific point. On its own, the jetpack is relatively easy to use, although there were numerous instances of my character being somehow stuck inside of a wall or getting their head stuck in a grate you must fly into in order to progress. Once the bomb is tethered to the jetpack, navigating through the tunnels is easily the most infuriating thing experienced in any Trials game or DLC made prior to this. The bomb has its own physics, as does the jetpack, and the two combine for a thoroughly unpleasant level. Stating that the bomb level is more irritating than any of the “Extreme” levels unlocked by finding five secret keys is incredibly bold, yet sadly true.

The final new addition found in Trials of the Blood Dragon is a grappling hook used to swing from specific points in levels. Operated in the same twin-stick manner as the gun, it can take a bit of practice to perfect your trajectory from one of these grapple points, but it is easily the most natural addition found in the game. The ability to latch onto glowing green tubes and swing across large gaps introduces far more opportunity for creative level design but also provides new ways for Trials pros to decrease their times by precious seconds. If done correctly, you can propel yourself past several time-consuming obstacles such as hills and the developers know this. Shortcuts are generally spotted around these grapple points, although reaching them requires plenty of practice and patience. For this reason alone the grappling hook should be a returning feature in future Trials games.

Trials of the Blood Dragon succeeds in combining the ridiculous nature of their Blood Dragon spin-offs with the traditional Trials formula of physics-based racing. This stand alone title is easily the best opportunity to test out new mechanics such as guns or grappling hooks when looking to the future of the Trials franchise, but inevitably when doing this, some experiments will fall flat. The grappling hook mechanic is the best new feature and opens up many more doors for the series, but the platforming sections should remain solely within this one game. The inclusion of a plot does not do much for the game other than offer a reason for traveling to some of the most ridiculous locations the franchise has visited. Hiding the Extreme tracks in an unlockable section of the game means that only those who wish to find that challenge will have to endure them, whereas previous titles had included them in the main list of levels. A minor change such as this might be less discouraging to players who are not as skilled at the game and it may feel like a more welcoming experience to them. Fans of the Trials franchise will love the fact that there is another full game to play, although its length makes it feel more like DLC than a full release. The lack of multiplayer certainly hurts the length of time many will spend with the game, but overall it is still an enjoyable, albeit brief venture.

The Good

  • Grappling hook mechanic feels like a natural evolution of the franchise
  • Many of the nods to 80’s and 90’s pop culture are thoroughly entertaining
  • Inner Beast and sticker album help motivate players to better their scores

The Bad

  • Nonsensical video clips with no connection to the plot become tiresome quickly
  • No multiplayer game modes at all
  • Platforming segments are not as smooth as vehicle-based sections

The Score: 7.0