A spinoff of the successful Trials Evolution and Trials HD by Ubisoft, Urban Trial Freestyle is a recent title published by Tate Multimedia for the 3DS, Vita, iPhone, and PS3 for $6.99 US. Like its predecessors, Urban Trial Freestyle may have the trappings of a sports game, but it has gameplay more in line with a 2D platformer. As a mobile budget title, the game makes a respectable showing, but never rises beyond such a level.
The game plays out in short 2.5D tracks, which usually last between twenty seconds to a minute, depending on the track and the player’s skill level. If you are having particular trouble with a track and have to use a dozen or so continues, you might get as much as 2-3 minutes. This length feels absolutely perfect for a mobile system where the player might just have a couple minutes to kill here and there while still making the stages long enough to make them feel like complete stages. As long as the game is connected to the internet, it will automatically upload stage scores and show the top score for the level, though there is a lack of a full leaderboard function. Unlocking new sets of stages requires obtaining a four-star rating average for the previous set, which means players lacking in skills might find themselves stuck replaying tracks often.
The main star of the 3DS version is the track editor. The feature is actually surprisingly easy to use, and is helped greatly by the touch screen functionality, though the object menu could have been organized better. The game has room for thirty saved tracks, which should be plenty for almost everyone. Despite having some online functionality, the game strangely has no option to share tracks, which limits the usefulness of a track editor to those players lacking level design know-how.
That said, Urban Trial Freestyle missteps on the most important aspects of a platformer or an urban sports game: controls and physics. Players use the analog stick on the 3DS to lean the bike forward or backward, a great idea that replicates an important aspect of trick riding, but one that is implemented poorly here. The leaning controls are just too sensitive, a problem compounded by the physics of the bike itself requiring constant leaning. Accelerating on a perfectly flat, perpendicular surface without leaning forward at all will flip the entire bike up into a wheelie and the rider onto the ground in seconds. At the best of times, the controls feel like a difficult challenge to master. At the worst of times, the player might feel like they are playing QWOP.
The game automatically considers your character knocked-out the second that the actual rider touches anything. There are obvious gameplay and realism reasons for this. However, this can get frustrating when one starts to take into account the numerous moveable objects, often with unpredictable ragdoll physics effects. Combine that with the constant need to lean the character around on his bike, and players will occasionally find themselves wondering how their character got immediately knocked off his bike by slight scrapes on the helmet. Most of the time, this is not a problem, but after rerunning a map several times to try to get a four or five star rating to unlock the next set of courses, an unforeseen KO can be quite frustrating.
The designers of Urban Trial Freestyle avoided the easy trap of making everything in an urban setting washed-out brown and gray and injected some color and variety into the level design and the clothing and bike options. Each level has enough detail in textures, the objects themselves, and the backgrounds to give the setting a complete and realistic feel. The 3D is no more astounding than any other 3DS title, but it is certainly no worse. The models for the biker and the bikes themselves are a little grainy and rough up-close, but you will only see that perspective in the shop.
Speaking of which, the Urban Trial Freestyle offers a small shop in which to purchase upgrades for bikes and new clothing for the biker. There are about half-a-dozen clothing options for each of the clothing slots, and the variety of styles is good enough to make it worthwhile. The options for each of the bike customization slots are lower and follow the basic formula of each upgrade focusing one of the major three bike stats: speed, acceleration, and handling. The customization feature lets players tweak their play a bit, but they will not spend long on customization at all.
Urban Trial Freestyle provides solid gameplay that will likely appeal to fans of the other Trials games. Especially with the track editor, there is enough content here to justify the $6.99 price tag. However, the controls and physics have some annoyances that may curtail any desire to fully explore that content. Fans of the series and people looking for an interesting twist on a side-scrolling platformer should definitely check out the game, but it will be hit-or-miss for anyone else.