Critics often use words like 'floaty' or 'imprecise' to describe sidescrolling platformers that don't quite nail the feel of jumping. These are words for games that are almost great—let down by the constant, nagging annoyance of a core interaction that doesn't feel good enough. So yes, Trials of the Blood Dragon's platforming sections feel floaty. And yes, they're imprecise. But neither descriptor quite covers it. Here's one that does: abysmal.
It's as if Trials—a series of games about riding bikes through perilous obstacle courses—is a poor fit for running, gunning, and jumping. Previous Trials games featured custom track editors that players used to create absurd things, from shooters to first-person parkour platformers. The thrill was in seeing something unexpected and subversive. That more than made up for the fact they were so wonky and awkward. But Trials of the Blood Dragon is an official Ubisoft release being sold for actual money. It doesn't have the same excuse.
As the name suggests, Trials of the Blood Dragon is a continuation of 2013's Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Its two protagonists—Roxanne and Slayter—are the children of Rex Power Colt, the original's Michael Biehn-voiced lead. They, too, are cybercommandos in a neon cyberpunk world where the '80s seemingly never ended. It's silly, but deliberately so, and the between-level animated cutscenes are a highlight.
The tone of the parody still doesn't make much sense—despite the young age of its main characters, Trials of the Blood Dragon retains the original's awkward, unnatural pairing of '80s cartoon aesthetic and '80s crude, violent action. At times the dialogue slips into innuendo—as with GTA's Republican Space Rangers, 'parody' seems to be a synonym for dick jokes. But, despite the artifice of the style, it's clear the writers are having fun. It's an absurd, scattershot approach to a ridiculous decade, complete with live-action adverts, hammy title cards, and VHS-style scan lines. It's messy, but fun.
As you load into a level, you pray silently that it's one of the bike ones. The bike levels, unlike the not-bike levels, are mostly good. That's because, while on a bike, you're just playing Trials. You drive across a sidescrolling environment, using the control pad's analogue stick—or keyboard, if you're feeling brave—to lean backwards or forwards. There are ramps, jumps, falls and a variety of obstacles. Sometimes you'll fall off your bike, at which point you can instantly respawn at a checkpoint to try again. It's a proven formula: Trials Evolution is a fantastic game, and, in these levels, Trials of the Blood Dragon offers a similar experience, albeit with a different colour palette.
In some bike levels, you have a gun. This is fine. You aim with the other analogue stick and shoot guards, turrets and mutated neon growths. It's a brief, additional wrinkle on top of the basic challenge. In other bike levels, you have a grappling hook. This is also fine. Mostly it's used for when you don't have enough speed to clear a large gap. That makes it an inoffensive but unnecessary addition—not unlike Trials Fusion's trick system.
Often, woefully, you are not on your bike. Instead you're platforming, or using a jetpack, or doing a stealth section. This is not fine. I laughed, sharply and bitterly, after I made my first on-foot jump in Trials of the Blood Dragon. Everything about the platforming feels wrong. The sense of weight, the momentum, the trajectory. It's not that it's frustrating—most of the platforming sections are trivial. Rather, the basic interactions feel unpleasant. I can't think of another game in which the act of jumping is so singularly off putting. I curated PC Gamer's free games column for years, and almost every sidescrolling platformer I played felt better than this, oftentimes significantly so.
For the most part, this is the easiest Trials game RedLynx has released. There's no advanced bunnyhopping or vertical scaling—anyone who knows the Trials series should have little trouble with the biking sections. There are difficulty spikes, though. In one section, you're asked to tow a trailer carrying a bomb that explodes if things get too bumpy. This is annoying, and only gets worse when the bike is destroyed and you switch to the jetpack. Flying isn't as bad as platforming—not that that's saying much—but the enforced fail state makes for an appalling level.
Other Trials games have weird, experimental levels that hinge on the central interaction being shonky and frustrating. The difference is they're clearly marked bonuses—challenges that test your ability to wrestle with a unique set of rules that, thanks to their being inconsequential to the rest of the game, often come off as charming and funny. Here, they're mandatory and frequent, and so far less tolerable.
I find Trials of the Blood Dragon fascinating, but not in a good way. It's rare for a major publisher to release something that, for a significant part of its short length, feels so bad. Yes, the bike sections are standard fare for the series. RedLynx is good at making Trials levels, and has made a handful of them here. But their quality only serves to highlight how bad the other levels are. This is the worst Trials game. It's also the worst Blood Dragon. Neither series comes out of this partnership looking good.