When Tate Interactive had first released Urban Trial Freestyle on the PlayStation 3, there’s no denying that it acted more as a placeholder for the excellent Xbox 360 exclusive, Trials Evolution. While it managed to scratch that precision stunt bike itch, it never quite lived up to the standard and polish of the RedLynx-developed title. Regardless, it still sold a truckload of copies across multiple platforms and now, half a decade later, Urban Trial Playground has landed exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. The question is does this sequel do enough to remove itself from the game that it is constantly compared to, or does it still chug behind it like a pedal and pop being dusted by a Kawasaki Ninja?
If you have already played games of a similar ilk, you will probably already have a good idea of what Urban Trial Playground provides. If not, then basically it’s a stunt bike racing game that relies on you to shift your character’s body weight to perform various flips, hops and wheelies to either hit a certain score or reach the goal under a certain time limit. The concept itself is timelessly addictive even on a basic level. After all, the genre did begin life with Excitebike on the NES way back in 1984.
In Urban Trial Playground, you bust your skills throughout suburban Californian neighbourhoods and sandy beaches – think 1985’s Paperboy but with Dave Mirra on a crosser without the killer lawnmowers. The game does a decent enough job to stay within the west coast flavour of things as you backflip off ramps out of empty pools while gaining airtime from bunny hopping across rooftops and playground slides. It’s simple enough to control, mainly focusing on the Left Stick to cater for your leaning action, while a timed sharp down to up flick of the thumb will allow you to jump off ledges to gain some extra height.
Despite a decent amount of sunny scenery on show here, the choice in setting does mean that it lacks diversity in the game’s level design. It’s also quite an oily looking game too, whether you choose to play it in Handheld or TV Mode. I found that playing it on the big screen did seem darker on the eye to me regardless of how much I played around with the television settings, and, on top of that, the character design for both the male and female rider look as generic as a Crazy Taxi passenger. It doesn’t help that their stiff movement when handling the bike looks unnatural and wooden, and the speech bank that accompanies these lifeless mannequins soon gets annoying very quickly. The game does suffer from a stuttering framerate at times, with some courses performing far worse than others.
The way that you navigate around the menus is very basic in design with everything set out as a series of lists across various different screens. Any time that you would want to improve your progress on previous levels, Urban Trial Playground tends to inconveniently knock you back to the main menu only for you to have to make your way back to where you were. Another thing that I found frustrating was how restarting an attempt from the beginning would load the whole map again from scratch, yet you can instantly respawn to the last checkpoint with a simple press of a button. Loading only takes around six or seven seconds, but it’s definitely long enough for tedium to kick in.
As for customisation, there are five bikes that you can choose from that you will probably unlock in less than an hour. There’s customisable gear to improve the bike’s stats as well as accessories to change the look of your ugly rider’s appearance, but nothing of note to really write home about. I maxed pretty much all the bikes and customisations for them in less than two hours, which made these features, on the whole, feel pretty redundant very quickly.
Handling the bikes themselves is responsive enough to get the job done, however, don’t expect many crazy courses with loops or nosebleed ramps. The way the missions are laid out is also a chore, with a list to scroll through as opposed to just having a selectable course laid out with primary and secondary objectives. Instead, each mission on the list is split separately with the main goal to hit a five-star rank and three side objectives to earn you some currency. It seems to be done this way to make out that it has a lot on offer, when really it’s just a handful of courses stretched thinly across fifty missions.
There is a local multiplayer element that can provide some entertainment between friends for half an hour or so. You have two basic modes to choose from. There’s the classic race to the finish formula, and a cat and mouse-style chase mode where one player has a three-second head start over the other. Racing is fun for a short while, although it’s easy to lose track of who’s who if you both decide to choose the same character. This is mainly due to not having a tilt on the camera angle and both bikes are running on the exact same track line. The chase mode is decent enough providing that you are both amateurs at the chosen course, as it can seem a little pointless if both players already have a strong handle on the level being played. There isn’t any live online race mode, which makes sense considering how short-lived the multiplayer actually is. However, you can test your skills against an online leaderboard which is probably the strongest feature that Urban Trial Playground has to offer.
In all honesty, I couldn’t help but feel that Urban Trial Playground is a blatant quick cash grab to release on Nintendo Switch when there isn’t any competition in the genre. Without the Ubisoft-published Trials series or even OlliOlli to compete against, it does seem like a half-baked attempt to sail a blue ocean. Sure, there’s fun to be had here, after all, these stunt bike racing games usually are. It’s just unfortunate that this latest effort is very bog standard and comes at an absurdly high price point for its content. If you want my advice, dust of that old Xbox 360 and bang on Trials Evolution. It’s a much better game by a country mile, and at least provides a level editor to mess around with.