Jump Trials Review
Posted by Morgan Sleeper
Trial without style
Jump Trials, a 200 point DSiWare release from G-Style Games, is a game about running and jumping from left to right. It's a game for players who feel that perhaps platformers have become too ambitious, and that the "right" in "left to right" should refer to the far edge of a single DS-sized screen, rather than the ends of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's also a game for players who want to make that rightward journey very quickly, because each tiny level in Jump Trials comes with a 10 second time limit. It's not the most polished experience around, and it's not going to win anyone over on charm alone, but players who enjoy precision jumping for its own sake will definitely find some quick thrills here.
Each of the game's 10 worlds is made up of 10 stages, giving 100 individual runs of 10 seconds apiece. Most of the worlds focus on a particular platforming conceit, like icy floors, disappearing blocks, or conveyor belts, mixing them up with ideas introduced in earlier levels. The design in these platforming vignettes is sporadic, in terms of both quality and difficulty. Things get interesting when the game expands to levels that span more than one screen, or experiments with forced scrolling, and many of the single-screen stages are snappy and fun; yet just as often levels seem oddly uninspired. You'll breeze through certain stages and fail over and over on others, and the difficulty seems tied more to the particular focus of the world than on a linear progression; World 6's intermittent blocks are much tougher to navigate than the next world's disappearing blocks, for instance.
Jump Trials controls very simply, with only the D-pad and A button employed in-game. Movement is responsive, but the controls do take some getting used to, and the collision detection can feel a bit harsh when levels get rather "spike-heavy" later on. Navigating a few environmental obstacles like sloped surfaces and springs also feels off, leading to some challenging sections stemming from fighting with the controls instead of the level itself, which can be frustrating. But the controls are certainly serviceable, and persistent players will be able to master anything thrown at them given enough time.
There are two different game modes on offer: Trials Mode and Challenge Mode. In Trials Mode, you only need to set foot on the goal to pass the stage, but in Challenge Mode you're trying to collect three different medals before you reach the goal. These modes share the same levels, and you'll need to beat each world in its entirety in Trials Mode before you can attempt its individual levels in Challenge Mode. Unfortunately, the levels seem to have been designed squarely with Challenge Mode in mind. You'll often find yourself confronted with tiny platforms and difficult jumps in Trials Mode that seem completely superfluous to reaching the goal, and indeed they are — they're only there to help you reach the non-existent medals from Challenge Mode. There are a few instances where completing a stage in Trials Mode is as simple as walking to the right and hopping up onto the big red button, and it's only after revisiting these levels in Challenge Mode that you appreciate the various obstacles you avoided entirely the first time around.
This would be more of an issue if Challenge Mode wasn't a good deal more interesting than Trials Mode, but it absolutely is. Trials Mode can be thought of as a warm up, and in that sense it largely succeeds: less invested players can beat Trials and enjoy the accomplishment, while platformer-perfectionists will delight in staging perfect medal-runs in Challenge Mode. With just 10 seconds to work with, collecting three medals and making it to the goal in time becomes an exercise in exacting jumps, split-second timing, and dogged repetition, and this is where Jump Trials is at its best. Challenge Mode also gives the game quite a bit of replay value for players willing to chase their own records.
Jump Trials' protagonist seems to take design cues from Mr. Game & Watch, but the rest of the game sadly lacks any of the charm required to justify that reference. Visually, the world is sparse and underwhelming, consisting of a small set of tiles in heavy rotation in front of a featureless blue (or yellow, in Challenge Mode) backdrop. It's entirely functional, but a little visual variety would have gone a long way towards giving the game some much-needed personality. The closest Jump Trials comes to achieving this is with a post-World victory rainbow, but other than that, the graphical presentation feels like a placeholder for something else. The wind effect does look nice, though.
There's not a lot of room for music in the 10-second levels, so the single backing track gets repetitive very quickly. The "hurry-up" music almost ironically kicks in at the halfway point of the timer (as if you didn't need to hurry for the first five seconds!), and the near-constant back-and-forth between the two tracks feels remarkably like listening to someone choose a cell-phone ring tone. The menu music, however, is fantastic, with lovely little loops of lo-fi lounge grooves jazzing up the level select screens.
While a platformer broken into 10-second chunks seems like a prefect fit for portable play, on paper, it's worth noting that each Trials Mode world of 10 stages needs to be beaten in one sitting before you can save your progress. If you get through the 9th level on World 5 and then have to shut off your system, you'll need to start from the beginning of World 5 on your next go. The bite-sized levels are so self-contained that it seems an odd choice, and it can be frustrating given the uneven difficulty. Challenge Mode saves the day again here, letting you select individual levels to play at any time, but you'll still need to play through Trials Mode to unlock them in the first place.
Jump Trials is a simple game. It distills platforming down to its essential mechanics, and prioritizes rapid-fire tests of thumb dexterity over all else. It lacks polish, and its 10-second fits of running and jumping suffer from a palpable lack of charm — aesthetes absolutely need not apply. That said, those core mechanics are solid, and players who know what they're getting into will find some seriously challenging fun packed into these quick bursts of precision platforming.