If you press the Y button, you’ll send the hapless little man flying from the seat of his motorcycle. He’ll soar for a bit, then land ugly, a twitching, delirious polygonal mass, perhaps wrapped around some sticky chunk of geometry. Press the B button, and you can do it all again.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that people take the Trials franchise so seriously. Lodging a motorcycle adroitly on impossible ramps, wheels eating up eccentric ramps and pathways, tirelessly shaving microseconds off world record bids. The leaderboards demand respect, and the YouTube videos are hypnotically impressive, but still, there is a level in this videogame that scores you on how far you’re able to eject your body across a metered landscape. It’s safe to say Trials Fusion has its priorities straight.
If you’re unfamiliar with Trials, it’s essentially bike parkour. With a gas pedal and your shifting weight, you can take a virtual motorcycle to the ends of the earth. You will find yourself catapulting through the air, holding the wheels up, as you land on an almost unilaterally vertical piece of pavement. You will then slam the throttle, praying to the gods of inertia that you’ve calculating the physics correctly, and scrape across the next checkpoint. An average track can take less than a minute or more than an hour, depending on how capably you tackle the obstacles, but the checkpoints are frequent and generous. Trials Fusion assumes your incompetence, and it’s not wrong.
There’s a trick system, which doesn’t work. I do a front flip, and the game refuses to acknowledge my front flip. I tug the right stick to the side, causing my rider to detach himself from the bike, and do a headstand on his seat, all while flying through the air in dazzling circles. I land, and the game gives me a solemn shrug. I’d say my efforts were only verified about 50 percent of the time, which is strange, because there’s a whole section of tracks in Trials Fusion made exclusively for time-attack high-score stunt runs. It actually creates a little bit of hilarious meta-commentary of a man who continues to risk his life in foolishly provocative ways to the continuing indifference of an AI overlord, but mostly it makes the game feel a little bit unfurnished.
You can see it elsewhere too, from the crudely blended textures and dropouts that stretch beyond the (admittedly very pretty) foreground. You can find it in the currently greyed-out multiplayer option, which apparently won’t be introduced until “months after launch.” These sorts of things might be acceptable if we were talking about some remote indie development, but an Ubisoft-published experience that withholds features seems unnecessarily lazy. Trials Evolution was $15, Trials Fusion adds $5 digitally and $15 physically with part of the experience on layaway. Obviously with added popularity comes fiscal justification, but it still seems a little bit greedy.
Still, my girlfriend never plays games, but when she topples from over her bike, sending her avatar face-first into a docile blimp, she laughs as if it finally all makes sense. No amount of overseer exploitation can destroy the heart and soul of Trials, no matter how hard they try. You will crash and burn, you will land on your inverted front wheel, just barely keeping your head from scraping across the dirt, and you will taste some of the purest victories in all of videogames when you finally get over the literal and metaphorical hump. Even in its unfinished, slightly depressing form, Trials Fusion is defiantly fun.
Luke Winkie is a former pizza maker and writer from San Diego now living in Austin, TX.