Review: Urban Trial Freestyle (3DS eShop)

Dropping in for a good time

What is Urban Trial Freestyle? The best way we can think to describe it would be a physics-based platformer – any of you familiar with the Trials series on XBLA should know what to expect here. Think of a 2D sidescroller like Mario, but instead of running around, you’re on a bike, zipping in-and-out of ramps and onto platforms, all while balancing and performing tricks. It isn’t as straight-forward as holding down the gas and bee lining it for the finish line, this is going to require a little more finesse, and thankfully it’s pretty darn fun.

Even though the proposition of a physics-based platformer may sound a bit complex to the uninitiated, it’s actually quite accessible thanks to a simple control layout. Don’t let us mislead you, persistence and skill will be required to master the courses, but still, nearly anyone should be able to get a feel for things within minutes. Basically, press A to accelerate, then angle the bike back and forth with the circle pad to stay balanced — it should be familiar to Motoheroz fans, but with the emphasis now on physical controls. You can also brake, reverse, and restart at the last checkpoint, but none of it is necessarily required to enjoy the game.

The main mode has you barreling through areas of a city in one of two ways; stunt mode or time trial. Stunt mode finds you traversing a level with as few faults as possible while performing stunts – highest/longest jump, flips, record speeds, etc – at the indicated spots throughout the course. Switching over to time trial will allow you to tackle the same courses, this time solely concerned with getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. In both modes, you’ll be provided with a rating of up to five stars depending on how successful a run you delivered.

Earning top marks will eventually unlock challenge stages that will have the player participating in less traditional activities. For example, one challenge demands that you tilt the 3DS to manipulate the gravity as you make a run for the finish line. This certainly isn’t easy to master, and it can be tricky to comprehend, but it’s nice to see the technology utilized for unique gameplay mechanics. Another challenge will have you making it as far as possible on a limited amount of gas, where dropping into ramps to catch maximum speed is an integral part of success.

Money will be rewarded for progress and can even be found scattered throughout each course in the form of bells. You can spend this money on bike upgrades and rider attire – just don’t expect anything too extensive as there are only a handful of options per category. Also worth mentioning is that there aren’t traditional leaderboards – which is surely a missed opportunity that could have extended the life of the game – though you can set each stunt to display your friend’s records, personal bests, or even world records.

These top records will be displayed on billboards throughout the courses for the players that earn themselves a top spot at that particular stunt. To make things a bit more fun, if you use the 3DS camera to capture a profile picture, the snapshot will be displayed on the billboards for everyone to see. Unfortunately during our time with the game we didn’t run into anyone else, besides us, that was utilizing this feature. Hopefully more people will realize this is an option and try it out, because it does seem to add an extra dash of fun to the proceedings.

To round out the package is the inclusion of a course creator that gives you an impressive amount of freedom to do things your own way. The shortcoming of this feature is the inability to share your creations with friends or an online community. Nevertheless, it’s sure to add many extra hours of entertainment for those with a creative itch that needs to be scratched.

We do have some gripes with the game though, mostly relating to the physics and weight of the bikes, where they don’t feel as finely tuned as they could have been. Many times, we’d land nearly on our backs, ride upside down for a while, and then flip the bike perfectly back on track without wiping out. Even if it was intentional to allow these actions, which wouldn’t really make sense, it doesn’t feel right. Spotty collision detection also lends itself to some of these issues as there were a few instances of bike tires getting lodged in a wall, which forced a restart or reset.

As far as the visuals go, the courses are well laid out, and the environments are lush with obstacles and detail, but that could also be part of the reason why the overall visual fidelity is a tad rough around the edges. It’s fine though, the sacrifice of one for another seems balanced enough and none of our cosmetic gripes really affected any of the fun. The 3D is also implemented well, however we often found ourselves turning it down because the sweet spot was hard to keep in sight. Additionally, at times you may experience the occasional disappearance of environmental décor, some shifty shadows, and other buggy visual inconsistencies, but these are mostly unnoticeable while engaged in the action.

With twenty courses to tackle, each begging to be played in time trial and stunt mode, it really feels more like forty; even though the additional challenge courses are few, and a bit throwaway, they’re still a nice diversion from the norm. It took us just over four hours to earn five stars on all tracks, and even then we still found ourselves compelled to revisit them to best our high scores.

Conclusion

Urban Trial Freestyle is a good game with a few blemishes that keep it from greater things. It’s nowhere near as good as the Trials series on XBLA, but it’s a solid handheld alternative that offers up plenty of fun for the price. If you’re into extreme sports games, high-score setting, or even just looking for an exhilarating time killer, then we can confidently recommend that you take this one for a spin.

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