Urban Trial Freestyle 3DS Review
Urban Trials Freestyle was an unexpected surprise for 3DS owners, with its release being kept under wraps until very recently. Over the past few years, there have been some incredible trials games, but this is the first one to come to the 3DS and is a nice way to ease newcomers into the genre. Since their beginnings as simple, addictive flash games, the trials bike genre has always been one to draw my attention for its deceptively simple gameplay mechanics and easy pick-up-and-play style. Urban Trials Freestyle is no different and mostly follows what we are already familiar with, without treading too far off the beaten path. With a focus on completing stages quickly and precisely, it’s easy to see that the pace of the genre has drastically changed from its origins, where the aim was to simply navigate awkward terrain ridden with obstacles – and this may be for the best.
As mentioned, trials games are well-known for their pick-up-and-play style, by which I mean their forgiving nature of frequent checkpoints and self-explanatory controls. Movement-wise, you can accelerate, brake or reverse, which sounds fairly simple, but riding up a ramp or jumping an obstacle requires more than just pure speed. By moving the left stick, you can lean backwards, forwards or stay in the middle, which weighs the bike respectively and allows for wheelies (riding on just the back wheel) and movement in the air. Leaning is the key to trials games, not speed, and the sooner this is learnt, the sooner you can focus on the best way to complete a stage by trying alternate stage routes and optimising movement.
Urban Trials Freestyle consists of five areas, ranging from a train depot to the outskirts of a city, each containing four levels for a total of twenty different stages to play. There’s also five extra challenge levels to be unlocked that use original levels with unique objectives. The game does boast forty five levels but this refers to each normal stage having two game modes: Stunt Mode and Time Attack. Starting with just one available area, others are unlocked by playing through previous levels and earning a high-enough average of stars in either Stunt Mode or Time Attack. Time Attack is pretty obvious – it’s a simple race against the clock to reach the end of the stage. With no power-ups to stop or gain time, one must simply reach the end as fast as possible using any available paths. Although, this doesn’t mean holding down accelerate and doing so will actually increase your time, due to ramps sending you higher into the air when you need to be on the ground as much as possible. On the other hand, Stunt Mode is pretty much the opposite; you need to be jumping as high and as far as possible to earn a bigger score in each stage’s events.
Each stage has three or four events, which present themselves as markers that inform you of the start and type of event you must conquer. They range from simply trying to jump the highest or furthest possible, to attempting the biggest rotational flip, or trying to land as close as possible to a specific location. As the event tracks your progress with an orange bar, your previous best is displayed as a comparison – along with either your friend’s best or the world record, depending on your settings. A feature that I particularly enjoyed is the use of billboards at the start of each event that displays the world record holder’s profile, containing their name and picture (providing they have one). This gives you incentive to go back and try again, and it feels great to play back a stage and see your own profile on show for all to see. Depending on how you do, you earn a number of points that are tallied at the end of each level, the total of which also takes into consideration completion time and removes points for crashes. (Time Attack is based just on time and crashes.) Depending on the final score, stars are rewarded on a five-star rating system.
Earning more stars unlocks new areas, challenge levels and even new bikes, which is just another reason to return to previous levels in an attempt to reach five stars. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really take that long. I managed to achieve a five-star rating on every stage and even on the harder challenge levels in just a few hours. Optimising your route for Time Attack or figuring out the best way to tackle each stages events isn’t that difficult and is made even easier by the ability to quickly restart at the last checkpoint. This allows you to quickly map out a level plan and then restart completely to maximise event scores, whilst minimising completion time and number of crashes. By checking all the available routes, you’ll also come across bags of money scattered throughout that can be used to customise the look of your character and even to upgrade your bike. Whilst upgrading the bike can alter the top speed, acceleration and handling performance, I never felt it really made any difference and was made even more redundant by the fact that you can unlock already-upgraded bikes with stars. Customising your character also makes little noticeable difference, especially due to many of the outfits looking almost identical.
The game also comes with a pretty detailed track editor that allows new levels to easily be created via a simple drag-and-drop mechanic. It’s an absolute shame that this feature is near pointless due to being unable to share creations with your friends or online. As I’ve mentioned, the game is rather short, but that could have all been changed if you could jump online and play other people’s stages, which would have supplied an almost infinite amount of new content. And whilst this track editor is a 3DS exclusive, it seems that the look of the game has been much watered-down from the PS3/PS Vita version, as the 3DS simply can’t handle that level of graphics. The 3DS requires developers to be clever about the look of their games, focusing on style instead of power-housing detail, which Urban Trials Freestyle doesn’t do. This makes the already-dark game kind of blurry as well, and even though the 3D is actually quite good, a slight movement of the console can mess up your sight, which is not good for a game that requires precision and timing.
For the short time playing, I did enjoy myself, but the distinct lack of content and originality is what unfortunately condemns this game to mediocrity. Suffering from repetitive level design and simple stunt events, there’s nothing here that stands out from the rest, besides the fact that it is available on the 3DS. The track editor could have been a hugely redeeming factor, but unfortunately that too is disappointing and seemingly incomplete. The actual game has smooth and responsive controls, an appropriate soundtrack and a particular lean-back quality that I do enjoy, allowing me to quickly jump into a game that is pretty relaxed and simple to play. But that is just enough.