“When in doubt, throttle it out.”
“The following is a guest post by The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage.”
The video game market works in mysterious ways. Game trends come and go, the player base can fall in love with a concept, yet weeks or months later completely move on to something different.
Occasionally, a game is released that transcends genre, and gives us something the likes of which we’ve never seen, or at least never seen done well. Additionally, sometimes a game is released that creates a major buzz in the market, yet no one can really figure out why.
Once in a blue moon, the planets align, and you experience both of those happenings simultaneously. Almost as if a new type of game that no one has ever seen sprouts from the video game tree, ripens, and is picked and hand delivered to your local video game dispensary. The Trials series of games is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
What made motorcycle trials so popular out of seemingly nowhere? While BMX and motorcycle trials games have been around for years, starting in the early 2000’s in the form of Flash games on the likes of Miniclip.com and eBaumsWorld, the recent resurgence of the genre has certainly proven one thing: people like playing them!
Now, I’ve mentioned “motorcycle trials” several times now, and if you’re not familiar with the sport, you may be asking yourself: what the heck are “motorcycle trials?” Simply put, motorcycle trials is an action sport in which a rider on a motorcycle attempts to negotiate obstacles without crashing or touching their feet to the ground. This particular sport is done on a dirt bike that has been modified not for high speed, but for improved control at low speeds, allowing riders to absorb the large hits and negotiate obstacles, while still maintaining control of the vehicle. As the rider is always standing, there is no seat on the motorcycle, and very little air is pumped into the tires to maximize traction and increase the “squishy” feeling.
Mark your calendar, for today is the day you became an expert about trials!
While trials games centered around bicycles in the earlier 2000’s in the form of Flash games, the eventual creation of complex physics engines to handle suspension and throttle and brake control has allowed motorcycle trials games to take over their BMX counterpart in popularity.
Without going into too much detail about the earlier trials games, the resurgence of the genre arguably began in 2007 with the release of browser and Windows PC game Trials 2 by a company called RedLynx. While RedLynx would eventually be acquired by Ubisoft in 2011, they put out a steady stream of trials games before and after this acquisition, including Trials 2: Second Edition, Trials HD, Trials Evolution, and the most recent mainline game in the series, Trials Fusion. Chances are, you’ve heard of at least one of these games, and most likely seen it in action.
Simply put, you control a rider on a motorcycle in a 2.5D environment, negotiating obstacles, controlling the throttle and shifting your body weight, attempting to reach the end of the level in the fastest time possible. Simple gameplay is key to the formula. It’s no wonder it tends to give players that “one more try” mindset.
Of course, we’re not here today to talk about RedLynx’s trials games. While they breathed oxygen into the digital equivalent of the sport itself, we’ll be discussing a recent attempt to capture the same essence with Urban Trial Freestyle 2, released on the Nintendo 3DS earlier this year.
Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is the second in the Urban Trial Freestyle series, a 3DS-exclusive follow up to 2013’s initial release across platforms including iOS, Steam, and Xbox One. It performed well and received critical praise – while not reinventing the wheel, it put on a new set of tires, so to speak. Teyon did a great job doing so, resulting in a game that looks great and runs like a dream.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this game, and as it’s a relatively low-budget entry into the 3DS eShop scene, I wanted to offer my perspective and give it the attention it deserves. Now I’m no stranger to trials games, and further more, no stranger to riding dirt bike. Given both my dirt biking experience and knowledge, as well as my love for the Trials series put out by RedLynx, I hope to share with you a critical view on this game and what I like and dislike about it, while trying to convince you why it’s a solid attempt at the genre of motorcycle trials. Hey, maybe I’ll even attempt to drop some riding knowledge on the subject!
It’s worth noting beforehand that developer Teyon does not have a lot of big titles on their rap sheet. This comes in stark contrast to the last game I reviewed, Ever Oasis, which had an incredible resumé of names attached to it.
How I even found the game to begin with was a bit odd. I’m amazed to say it was a banner advertisement on a Nintendo blog that got me to check out the game in the first place. The company evidently spent a bundle on their marketing budget, because during the release period, I could not stop seeing these advertisements. And the campaign worked!
A quick visit over to Teyon’s Wikipedia page shows that while they have put out their respectable share of software dating back to the Wii days, most of it can probably be considered shovelware. I also found it quite strange that Urban Trial Freestyle 2 was not even listed on their Wikipedia page. Nor was the first game in the series. It was that combination of reasons that made me hesitate before pulling the trigger on Urban Trial Freestyle 2. Who even were these people?
Then I saw that there was a demo available, and this demo sold me on the game within minutes of playing, especially when I saw that the sticker price was a mere $6.99. And for that price, I’ve already got my money’s worth. So let’s talk about the game already!
Like the Trials games before it, Urban Trial Freestyle 2 puts the player atop a trials motorcycle in various urban environments, where they must get to the end of the level while avoiding landing their head as much as possible.
Each level can be played in one of two game modes: time or stunt. They are both unique in that they require the player to engage the level differently. Timed mode requires speed and control, while stunt mode is centered on focus and precision.
You are rated between 0 – 5 stars for each level attempt, in both time and stunt mode, depending on your performance. A high star rating in time mode, as you may imagine, is dependent on getting from start to finish in the shortest amount of time possible. You are allowed to crash as much as you want, but will naturally lose time having to replay from course checkpoints, and will suffer a minor score penalty at the end. Depending on the level, it can actually be quite difficult, as speed is not always your friend.
Stunt Mode is a different story altogether, as speed is rarely your friend. Throughout the level, there are a between two and five signs that warn you of a stunt “check” approaching. These stunt checks will then score you on how big of a flip rotation you can pull off, the distance you can jump, or simply check that you are moving at an adequate speed.
Both game modes are fun in their own right, but have their own set of flaws. One of the main flaws in the game modes has to do with a seemingly simple task: selecting the game mode. As I’m describing this to you now, it sounds like this would be extremely obvious, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it took over three hours of playtime before I discovered how to switch game modes. I had actually been inadvertently playing in stunt mode the whole time, seeing a 0-star overall rating for timed mode, completely unsure of what I had done wrong.
This brings up my first major complaint in the game: the user interface. I’ve got a solid few hours under my belt in Urban Trial Freestyle 2 at this point, and I still have trouble navigating the menus. They generally rely on the touch screen, but still accept button inputs to move you around. This actually makes things confusing, because there aren’t actually any labels on the buttons – you need to first tap or “d-pad over” to the correct button, then read the description of what it does.
Providing you figured out how to switch between game modes, you play through the levels in each urban-themed world and depending your overall average star rating, you can unlock more worlds to play, as well as new motorcycles to ride. You win cash from races and can find hidden cash stashes throughout levels, which you can then use to upgrade both your bike itself, as well as the gear your rider is wearing.
Actually, while we’re on the subject, I need to jump back to the user interface once again. One of my biggest gripes with this game is that Teyon clearly has not figured out the UI yet. This isn’t a deal-breaker, as it works, it’s just completely unintuitive and is frustrating for a first-time player trying to figure out how to play the game.
I know this because I was this first-time player, and I accidentally spent all of my money on random gear too many times to count, when I was simply trying to navigate elsewhere.
There’s an old slang term in the web development community called “mystery meat navigation,” used disparagingly to describe links on a web page that go to an unknown destination, revealed only when the user hovers over the link. This term can also be used adequately to describe video game menus where you have to move around each item before you know what will happen. It’s universally recognized as poor design and I can’t for the life of me figure out why it hasn’t been banished to late-1990s web design where it belongs. Why we are still seeing mystery meat navigation in 2017, I have no idea.
Still though, once you’ve managed to crack the DaVinci code and you make some money to buy some upgrades, the gear upgrade screen is as convoluted as they come. What does my current bike look like? Are my parts upgrades going to whichever bike I select on the screen before it? Does picking a bike deselect all my custom parts?
There’s no real way to tell what you’re riding, and it can get frustrating after spending all your hard-earned money on parts, only to wonder if you’re even using them at all.
On the other hand, the gear selection works and looks great, so I’d focus on spending money there looking your best. “If you can’t be the fastest, look the fastest” has always been my personal policy when it comes to motocross anyway!
Getting focus back to the game itself, as suggested in the title, “urban” is what you can expect when it comes to level design. I spoke enough about the horrible menu design, but putting that all aside, the level design is where Teyon really killed it. They kept each level true to the overall locations on the “city map,” which includes places like Suburbs, Industrial, Highway, and Skatepark. The levels are fun and look great, utilizing a unique 2.5D style where the player rides on a 2D plane, but through elements that are placed in the foreground and background.
There are seemingly dozens of layers of backgrounds and objects on-screen at any given time, and it gives it a nice immersive feel for the player. Riding through each level is a real treat, and it’s clear how much passion was poured into the designing process. The levels are unique enough to stand on their own, and rare was a level that dragged on too long and got repetitive or boring. Each world location attempts to wet the players palette by introducing a concept, increasing the difficulty of that concept as the levels proceed, and then end with a final challenge that brings together everything the player has learned from the preceding levels. Most of the time, this succeeds in creating an addicting gameplay mechanic, and the end result is a game that keeps you coming back with that “one more level” mindset.
One more thing about the graphics: Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is also one of those rare games that benefits hugely from using the 3D feature. I know, I know – for some reason, that feature seems to be almost uncool to use these days, strangely absent from more than a few recent games, as more and more require the extra processing oomph to boost their graphical… ahem.. prowess. But for Urban Trial Freestyle 2, the 3D truly adds to the overall immersion and makes it that much more enjoyable and satisfying to rip through the levels.
Speaking of, satisfying is a terrific word to describe how a racing game should feel, ideally, and one that I would say Urban Trial Freestyle 2 absolutely is. But what makes a trials game so great, anyway?
In short? Physics. It’s all about the physics.
Physics is the heart and soul of a trials game. Feel too rigid and you risk players feeling like they aren’t really controlling the rider. The tangible attachment from their hands to the motorcycle and rider is what makes the difference between a quality trials game and just another generic Trials clone. I’m happy to say that Teyon’s foray into the trials genre was not in vain, as they have succeeded in capturing this very feeling of control where so many copycats failed.
In Urban Trial Freestyle 2, there are only a handful of controls: throttle, brake, and lean control. One of the difficulties to overcome on the 3DS is that there is no availability of analog controls, as all of the buttons are “on/off” only, unlike the triggers that grace the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers. I’ve used a 360 controller to play other trials games on my PC, and it felt great to be able to control the throttle in varying amounts.
Of course, the 3DS with its all-analog controls essentially means the throttle and brake are either on and off at any given time. And for this game, it works just fine.
Where the issue lies is with the leaning. For whatever design reason, Teyon gave way too much leaning power to the player. From a complete standstill, you can move the circle pad backwards and flip the entire bike over. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible in real life unless you were to lean back while giving the bike a handful of throttle, and this bothers admittedly a little more than it should.
The issue is that if you are in the midst of a level and you completely misjudge a landing and are about to go toppling backwards or forwards, all you need to do is more the circle pad in the opposite direction and you will save yourself. This is where the physics takes a turn for the wildly unrealistic.
During a wheelie on any two-wheeled vehicle, the object to keeping your front wheel off the ground for a long period of time is finding the “balance point,” or the exact angle where the bike and the rider are perfectly balanced without applying braking power or throttle. However, go too far back in that lean, and you’ll fall backwards. You never reach that point in Urban Trial Freestyle 2, as you can simply slide the circle pad in the other direction and save it, even when you are inches from the ground.
In fact, it’s possible to balance yourself perfectly by leaning back a few times until you hit the perfect balance point. You can literally leave yourself upright while you walk to the fridge and pour yourself a nice Urban Trial Freestyle 2 cerveza.
Lean physics were handled much better in Redlynx’s Trials series, as once you got past “the point of no return,” you were done. This is just one small area where the game physics could have used a little more time in the proverbial oven being tweaked around. It seems like they aimed to hit a hot spot between fun and frustrating, and despite these issues of being almost impossible to crash, the game still manages to entertain.
One area where they succeed is in the ability to use a backwards lean to seat-bounce. In the sport of motocross, when going off a jump, a rider will sometimes “throw” their weight into the back of the seat of the motorcycle to heavily preload the suspension, so that they will get propelled further off the jump, and this is called “seat bouncing.” This isn’t really a trials technique of course, but when racing the clock in Timed mode, it’s actually quite a nice ability to abuse the physics engine like that.
The quick weight-shifting also affords you the ability to “scrub” jumps, at least as much as you can scrub a jump in a 2D game. “Scrubbing” refers to changing your angular trajectory while approaching the lip of a jump to use your momentum to launch you further in horizontal distance than vertical distance. As with any kind of offroad motorcycle racing, when you are in the air, you are only losing speed and time, so the goal is to keep your back wheel on the ground as much as possible. This is especially true with trials riding, and the ability to lean back while going up a jump and then immediately lean forward before take-off lets you propel yourself forward instead of upwards, shaving precious seconds off your time and helping with your landings.
Didn’t think you’d be reading about “angular trajectory” in an analysis about a 3DS eShop game, did you?
There’s a lot that goes into designing a physics engine, and as racing games are practically centered around them, the degree to which you can manipulate and otherwise “fool around” in a game engine is paramount to maximizing player enjoyment.
Of course, I’ve gone on enough about why and how it’s so difficult to crash, but there is one fool-proof way to immediately dismount from your motorcycle: hitting your head. In fact, this seems to be the only way to crash. No amount of crashing hits from 10 stories will detach your bike from your bottom, but tap your head on anything and you are done. I truly don’t like this aspect of trials games, and it’s really the only thing that matters in Urban Trial Freestyle 2.
I mean, you’re wearing a helmet!
I’ve hit my head dozens of times while riding all manner of things, and the worst injury I ever got was a mildly sore neck the next day. But I certainly didn’t ragdoll to the ground and fall into an instant coma! It’s time to do away with the unrealistic head-tap-death physics.
Despite its flaws, Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is a great pick-up that will last you a solid dozen hours if you opt to 5-star all the modes. Bonus levels are unlocked as well that are incredibly hard, and personally I didn’t get very far in them! Speaking of not getting very far, I have gotten very far into this review, and haven’t even talked score. Let’s get into it!
The 8-Bit Review
The graphics in Urban Trial Freestyle 2 are good, although to be honest each day that goes by, these 3DS graphics get worse and worse. Of course, we’re judging by 3DS standards here, and for that, I’ll give it a 7. Then I knocked off a point because the 3D that Teyon generously put into the game does some crazy things to my eyesight if I move slightly out of the optimal viewing angle.
I’m not exactly sure how programming 3D into a 3DS game works, but from what I understand, depth can be adjusted for each layer within the scene. In this case, I can only assume the differences between the depth in each level was just too darn high because my eyes go nuts when I played this game in full 3D. Definitely leave the feature on, but drop that slider to about 25-50%.
As I mentioned earlier on in the review, the menu system is really… bad. The mystery meat navigation is unforgivable and could have been handled in a hundred better ways.
The audio is a department that I found a little lacking in Urban Trial Freestyle 2. While I’m a fan of good ol’ hard rockin’ guitar music, it does get pretty repetitive after a playing for a bit. More typically, I’d plug my headphones into my phone and listen to a good playlist before slowly driving myself crazy to the soundtrack. The overall score definitely takes a hit here.
There’s also the case of the sound effects – they don’t really match up to what you’re doing on-screen. For the most part, I have my throttle wide open when I’m playing, as I’ve logged plenty of time in this game to consider myself anything other than an “Advanced” player. I love the sound of a dirt bike engine as much as the next guy, but the sound effects are clearly not set up to reflect how much work the engine is actually putting out, and I can’t really excuse that fact, even if it does sound a little nit-picky.
If you can detect that the player is riding up an incline or giving the bike throttle in mid-air when the tire isn’t even on the ground, you can adjust the pitch of the engine sound accordingly and make it more realistic. The audio is an area of the game that could have had more time spent on it.
I spoke in-depth about the physics, about how the engine does a great job of letting you play around, and overall that it cultivated a fun gameplay environment. Of course, the flaws are simply that it is very, very forgiving, to the point that a lot of challenge is lost. They could have made the lean a lot less sudden and prevented players from rapidly back-flipping or launching the bike backwards from a complete stand-still.
All considered though, I think it’s more important that a game be fun than the engine be perfect. After all, the world we live in already has a perfect physics engine, well except for the fact that it didn’t let me fly the other day when I fell off that wooden ladder trying to clean my gutters.
It’s also worth noting that Urban Trial Freestyle 2 includes a fully featured level editor and the ability to share and download other player-created maps, a feature I have not actually gotten to experience. I’m not normally a fan for player-made maps, but the editor itself looks fairly powerful and it’s a pretty great feature considering the whole game cost $7.
Like with all games in the genre, Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is super easy to pick up and play. Heck, there are only 2 buttons and a joystick to use, when you break it all down. There isn’t much in the way of guidance, however, and it could have been made more obvious exactly how to get into the game, how to upgrade your gear, etc. A lot of me figuring out how to menu through the game was by pure trial and error.
But the point still stands that trials games became popular because they are easy to pick up and extremely accessible, and I need to give credit where credit is due. Within minutes of downloading this game you will be in the action and know exactly how to play. Fine-tuning your skills though, well, that’s another story!
While the physics engine does allow you to get away with some things on a dirt bike that would never happen in the real world, like saving yourself from a crash by simply holding the direction opposite to where you’re falling towards, there is still a high degree of challenge in this game. Particularly in timed mode.
Stunt mode almost seems unnecessary and dead-simple once you start racing the clock in timed mode, and therein lies the bulk of the challenge in Urban Trial Freestyle 2. This is one of those games where you need to challenge yourself by trying to get 5-star ratings everywhere, because if you just hit the minimum ratings allowed, you’ll get through the game in no time. Once you get into Industrial and beyond, the levels start to get very tough to run through perfectly, and when you’re chasing those 5-star ratings, perfection is what you have to strive for.
I do wish it was easier to know what my goal was in each level, and furthermore, how close I was to hitting it. Too many times I finished an entire level just to confirm that I had, indeed, botched the run. A little more of a heads up on the bottom screen would also really help the accessibility score.
Binge Worthiness: 8/10
The desire to binge-play Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is really where it shines. Because of the simple gameplay design, I often ended up playing it in place of the game I was planning on playing when opening my 3DS, simply because it was already running. Of course, that would generally lead to a good half an hour of attempting to 5-star more tracks, and therein lies a ringing endorsement of this game. If a game is hard to put down, what does that say about it?
While Urban Trial Freestyle 2 may not be the most unusual game on the market, and another in a long line of trials game installments, it provides one in portable fashion, with just enough love and attention to make it unique, given the context of the Nintendo 3DS. This in itself makes it different. The only other trials game on the 3DS worth pitting it up against is the prequel!
My Personal Grade: 8/10
This is a title that succeeds where it needs to, and even with some minor issues, the game is balanced well enough between fun and challenging. With two modes to challenge the player in different ways, there’s plenty to experience, and I’d say there are 15-20 hours of solid gameplay here if you try to 5-star all the tracks.
Teyon reached out to a market void of any competition and brought a sequel to the table that captures the satisfying essence of motorcycle trials, following the footsteps of Redlynx’s Trials series. If you want a great time-waster that challenges and doesn’t frustrate, scolds and then rewards you, look no further than Urban Trial Freestyle 2. The price point is more than fair for the entertainment it’ll provide. If you like dirt bikes, trials, racing games, or some combination of the three, than this is worth picking up! It’s absolutely a hidden gem of the eShop.
Aggregated Score: 7.1
When the Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage (aka Geddy) isn’t out of commission from hurting himself riding, he can be found on the local highway, race track, or trail system, getting an adrenaline fix and letting off steam, to return home later and play some video games.
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