Sometimes you wonder why something exists. The merit of its place in the world is, at best, an oddity. The platypus, non-sweet tea, and, most recently, Trials Fusion. It’s not that it’s a bad game, but rather that we already have something just like it in Trials Evolution, and Fusion is far and away an inferior product. It takes the peak form of its concept and takes a step back in several considerable areas, though its core is still as compelling as ever.
Though you might not have played a Trials game before, you’ve surely played something like it. Your objective is to get from Point A to Point B—left to right in just two dimensions—on your vehicle of choice, though your mobility is hindered by both obstacles and physics. You use precise applications of acceleration, momentum, and leaning to get up nearly impossible inclines and sizable gaps.
With Trials, it’s motorcycles over destroyed bridges and serendipitously positioned planks. With Fusion, it’s more precisely futuristic buses and Tron-like platforms. Fusion, as stated by its opening theme song which recalls and implicitly compares Evolution‘s strangely addicting rap intro, is set in the future. Granted you’ll still be traversing the occasionally inexplicable jungle rooftop, but there is a considerable amount set in a crisp and clean future world.
It’s just that the aesthetic of it all feels rather lazy and forced. How do you make something feel like the future? What about flying cars, a metallic sheen to every surface, and imperceptibly robotic characters? It doesn’t do much other than give the game a significant lack of variety, especially when compared to the incredible breadth of nonsense Evolution threw at you.
Thankfully, the foundation of the Trials series is still intact in Fusion. While the beginning stages allow you to futz around pretty freely and experiment in what the physics of the game does and doesn’t permit, the later stages begin to force you to become nearly impossibly precise. Bunny hop from a narrow platform and then catch the edge of another ledge to flip over and drag yourself over to the finish line. It’s incredible how fun learning how not to fail can be.
It’s largely due to the bountiful checkpoint system, which enables a restart just before most major obstacles. And that’s where the genius of the Trials series kicks in. These games, despite the veneer of motorcycles and timers, are puzzle games. You find try one solution to the puzzle, realize it doesn’t work, and go on to another. And when executing the solution requires physical dexterity, it becomes pretty engrossing.
That unique combination of mental and physical acuity would be better serve the game, however, if it had any sort of learning curve. It kind of goes from dipping around the kiddie pool to saving Ashton Kutcher in The Guardian. Learning how to fail can be fun, but slamming your head against a brick wall isn’t. At that point you’re not discovering anything but instead just punishing yourself, excising an entire half from the formula for the franchise’s success.
There are, however, some sizable additions to said formula, though the results are quite mixed. For instance, there is something thrown into the courses that could be considered on some Platonic ideal a story, but it doesn’t matter a lick and is only barely coherent. Worse yet, it plays via a robotic female voiceover every time you play a stage. (You can turn it off in the settings, a revelation I made too late to save myself from madness.)
There’s also a trick system where you utilize the right analog stick to throw the rider’s body around the motorcycle with reckless abandon. It, like everything else in the game, operates purely on physics and relies zero percent on canned animations, which makes nailing certain tricks and interesting consideration in the same way Skate changed pulling off moves compared to Tony Hawk games. For instance, if you want to get your legs over the front, you have to go all the way around since otherwise the handlebars would catch your feet.
Developer RedLynx also threw in an ATV, but the word “inconsequential” seems to be an understatement. It’s basically a heavier motorcycle, but one that you would ride once, say “that was weird,” and never look back. It’s a strange development considering there are substantial portions that were included in Evolution that have been removed from Fusion. The Skill Game Circus has been replaced by single-serving achievement-like challenges like wheelie distance and whatnot.
Minigames have also been largely removed, though some still exist within the actual levels. And online multiplayer has been limited to purely local races. There’s a lot missing from Fusion, and there’s been some questionable additions thrown in their stead. From the trick system to the so-called story, there’s nothing new in Fusion to excite older fans. And then, from the stark and displeasing repetition of overcoming later challenges to the stale aesthetic, there’s not much to bring in new ones either.
If you do end up playing Trials Fusion, you’ll probably ask yourself why it exists as well. It offers less content with a higher price tag compared to Trials Evolution, and the content it does have is thoroughly infused with the ability to generated despair and frustration. Trials Fusion does, however, always serve up the same core the series is known for, requiring precision and dexterity to succeed. It’s just unfortunate that so much else of the game can’t hold up.
+ Conquering obstacles still feels amazing
+ Busting tricks is pretty fun
– A learning curve shaped an awful lot like a flat cliff face
– Future aesthetic comes across as uninspired
Final Score: 6 out of 10
Game Review: Trials Fusion
Release: April 15, 2014
Genre: Side-scrolling platformer
Available Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Players: Single-player offline, two to four offline