Wot I Think: Trials Of The Blood Dragon

Ubisoft surprise announced, then immediately surprise released, a new game last night: Trials Of The Blood Dragon [official site]. Combining Red Lynx’s long-running motorbike stunt platformer with their half-idea standalone Far Cry: Blood Dragon is a bold choice. And having played this towering turd all day, one I can understand their wanting to keep a secret for as long as possible. I’m a little surprised they acknowledged it after release. Here’s wot I think:

The first thing you need to know is: No. This is not a Trials game. Even if you’re the biggest Trials fan in the world, steer so well clear of this. While there are, unquestionably, moments that are similar to what you’d expect from Redlynx, the majority of this festival of dreadful takes place off the bike. Because someone, somewhere, let leave of their senses.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the underwhelming Far Cry 3 spin-off, Blood Dragon, was its conflation of 1980s Saturday morning cartoons, and the decade’s violent action movies. Trying to spoof both at once, for seemingly no reason, it ended up spoofing neither – instead producing an unrecognisable hybrid of cheesy cartoons with incongruous swearing. In the end, its Peter Kay-ish “DO YOU REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES?!?!” felt hollow and often bewildering. So, well, it’s a bit odd that this new Trials spin-off makes exactly the same mistake, and so many more besides.

Here is what the Trials engine is built for: Nine years of stunty motorbike riding with a weird physics thing that makes you roll backward far too easily.

Here is what it was most certainly not built for: On foot twin-stick platforming.

What the bloody hell were they thinking?

The resultant mess of Trials Of The Blood Dragon is dismissive but entertainingly overblown Trials levels occasionally interspersed between incompatible cartoon sequences about Vietnam War 4 and cancerous growths (yeah), and some of the most dreadful platforming I’ve seen since the 90s. Ghastly, floaty jumping makes it feel like one of those freeware games you’d get piled onto magazine cover discs, complete with abysmal edge detection, skiddy unanimated landings, and timing-based jumping sections thwarted by its own incompetence rather than your own.

It’s really hard to convey quite how abysmal the platforming is. That Ubisoft and Redlynx considered it in any way suitable to release is bewildering. It feels like a placeholder for when they get around to properly programming it, along with the accompanying combat against nothing AI enemies. “But!” I can imagine someone involved in the project objecting, “It’s not meant to be top-of-the-range combat, against smart enemies – it’s just a light-hearted…” But let me cut them off there, because it’s a colossal pile of shit – it’s bad, and it’s on sale that way.

Where a Trials game should obviously shine is in the challenging tracks to race along, but there seems to have been considerable effort to ruin these as often as possible, too. The addition of a gun on the right stick (or mouse cursor, but really, no) is entirely unwelcome, meaning you’re now trying to shoot at targets while messing with the muddly physics. And while no one in the gaming world could have predicted this: the addition of a grappling hook actually makes this game worse. That defies the laws of nature itself.

What is unquestionably nicely delivered is the hyperbole of the tracks. The cartoon sequences are mostly incredibly boring, once more attempting to intersperse the clips with VHS blips of adverts and the like that have been ‘taped over’, and once again seeming to have been written and created by people who weren’t actually alive in the ‘80s – internet acronyms and energy drinks (other than Lucozade/Gatorade) weren’t a thing then, folks. The platforming sequences are, as I’ve said, atrocious. Other vehicles are invariably awful. But the bike tracks offer ridiculous grandiosity of exploding scenery, screeching dragons, neon horror and the like. It goes far too far on occasions, like having the camera rotate as you try to ride, making it deeply tedious to control, but clearly fun has been had here taking the Trials formula somewhere very silly.

However, it has the rather deleterious side-effect of revealing the main issue at the core of the Trials series: it’s not a motorbike riding game. Trials’ bikes operate under entirely unique laws of physics, bouncing and rolling in ways that are far from realistic. When you play a regular Trials game you accept these are the rules for this platform game, and learn to adapt to them, despite the frequent frustration that you often simply cannot correct your bike’s movement after the scenery made a surprise movement. In Trials, you say, “Okay, next run I’ll know about that,” and adjust accordingly to improve your score.

But while TOTBD offers letter grades at the end of a run, and the option to replay, it’s also a narrative-led game where each level is a progression along both its story and its journey. As a level finishes you see more cutscene, continue through its (albeit awful) plot. So it shifts the tone, moves the emphasis, and the game more starkly reveals itself as, well, bad at some stuff. Oh, and the further you get, the fewer and farther between come the bike sections.

That’s what blows my mind about this massive misfire – it somehow manages not to even be a Trials game. There are so many hateful platforming sections as you get deeper in, fewer bike sections, then poorly implemented jetpacks in space, clumsy alternative vehicles, and what I think might be one of the most annoying moments in any game I’ve ever played: tugging a trailer containing a massive bomb that cannot be bumped. On a bumpy track. Across which your bike is poorly balanced. It’s not a case of skill – it’s a case of guessing which random speed will successfully traverse it without the bomb bouncing out. And once completed, you’re rewarded with an even worse jetpack sequence. Oh, and at one point it feels the need to spoof… reference… copy Hotline Miami? I’ve no idea.

It’s buggy, glitchy. You can get stuck on obstacles, lines of dialogue repeat themselves on the wrong levels, cutscenes go out of sequence (although this last bit might be deliberate, but that you can’t tell speaks volumes). Dialogue like, “Fuck you Slay, you ‘tard,” captures the ingenuity and wit at place here, although nothing can out-awful making a Trials game where you spend more time on foot than on a bike.

Credit where it’s due, the sections with the Turbo Flip toy car are great, especially the two levels you can download from within Ubi’s Play app – someone should be working on making that into its own game. But a small aside bonus in the game is the only thing for which I can find any praise. This is a disaster, and the biggest surprise about it is that Ubisoft thought it worth releasing.

Trials of the Blood Dragon is out now for £12/$15 on Windows.

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  1. Spuzzell says:

    I’d like to post a mild defence of Blood Dragon: it was pretty good, bordering on excellent at times.

    Carry on, then.

    • alphager says:

      I agree; FC:Blood Dragon was a pretty fun experience. Not ground-breaking and certainly not an intellectual treat, but more of the FC3 good-stuff with added silly dialogue.

    • thelastpointer says:

      It was great — all the good parts of FC3 without the bad parts. Plus those graphics! *throws cyberheart at John*

      I’m still equally sad and surprised that there are very few tolerable games that are utilizing this otherwise fun and colorful aesthetic. Trials doesn’t sound too fun either.

    • pandiculator says:

      I was under the impression that the Hivemind was pretty unanimous in its praise of Blood Dragon! RPS’ word was the reason I bought it (and loved it!)

    • killias2 says:

      Loved loved loved it, myself.

    • mathead says:

      I too hereby, and in full posession of my senses, declare having been quite well entertained by Blood Dragon. It wasn’t the over-the-top spooffest I had hoped for, but it worked and I played it through even though I have other things to do with my time. Perhaps even better ones.

  2. Rizlar says:

    seeming to have been written and created by people who weren’t actually alive in the ‘80s – internet acronyms and energy drinks (other than Lucozade/Gatorade) weren’t a thing then, folks.

    Oh god.

    As someone who was too young to remember any of the 80s even I can spot that the cartoon screenshot is a modern, 50s cartoon influenced style, comprehensively leapfrogging the period it’s supposed to mimic.

    • Sarfrin says:

      Did it occur to even you that these 80s cartoons you know nothing about might themselves have been influenced by 50s cartoons? With all those VHS blips they loved so much in the 50s.

      • sweenish says:

        Influence means nothing when the shot above looks more Ren & Stimpy / Spongebob than anything out of the 80’s, let alone GI Joe.

        I actually don’t get at what you were trying to say at all.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          Exactly. Bob Clampett lookalikes didn’t crop up until the early 90s, when people influenced by him came of age and started to succeed.

          The 80s was mostly pseudo-or-sometimes-even-actual-Japanese animation, thinly disguising the fact that they were 24 minute toy commercials.

          • GallonOfAlan says:

            Exactly this. Eighties animation was almost all cheaply made, shitty toy ads. Especially wank like Ninja Turtles. Things didn’t get good again until John Kricfalusi, Liquid Television et al

  3. iainl says:

    I’m so sorry, everyone. I’ve clearly done something to make Ubisoft hate me. That’s the only reason I can think of why they would do such an abominable thing as make a Trials game that isn’t a Trials game.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      You must appease them by climbing the nearest radio mast then collecting 8 feathers 4 USB sticks and finally place them in a handbag crafted from two catfish and a slinky.

  4. anHorse says:

    So 7/10?

  5. thekelvingreen says:

    Is… is that Sergeant Slaughter?

    • TeePee says:

      I immediately thought the same. Doubly so after watching the surprisingly not-terrible Camp WWE recently.

  6. teamcharlie says:

    As someone who unabashedly loved Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, has sunk a ridiculous number of hours into an earlier dirt bike/physics simulator (never played Trials before this), and has already finished Trials of the Blood Dragon…I can tell you right now that Trials of the Blood Dragon is still terrible.

    It’s boring to play, the two leads are abysmally terrible actors (but not in an interesting way), and the writing just isn’t anywhere near funny enough to justify sinking even a few hours into this game, let alone replaying it enough times to fill up your sticker scrapbook. Steer clear.

  7. sinosleep says:

    You didn’t like Blood Dragon? What the hell is wrong with you?

  8. doriath says:

    The only problem with Far Cry Blood Dragon is that they didn’t develop it further. They should have put more work into a fleshed out Blood Dragon 2 than this … thing.

  9. John Walker says:

    Lots of people reading what they’d prefer to be cross about, rather than what was written. I described how Blood Dragon’s attempts to spoof 80s themes were very poor, which they certainly were. I said the game was “underwhelming”, which I believe it was. I did not say I didn’t like it, which in some parts I did. Here’s my review:

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    • TheTingler says:

      You didn’t say it was a type of jam either, so does that mean we should assume Blood Dragon is a type of jam? Next time a simple “despite this I actually liked Blood Dragon, but I don’t like this” please. You didn’t say that, you simply wrote negatively about Blood Dragon without any positives or a link to the review. Which is fine, but don’t act surprised that we assumed you didn’t like the game. Rule one of writing: you’re writing for word-readers, not mind-readers. Why yes, I am being condescending, thank you for noticing. :)

      • Jay Load says:

        If you want to be pednatic, which you clearly do, John never actually stated he didn’t like Blood Dragon either. So just because he criticised aspects of Jam are you then to infer he doesn’t like Jam?

        That’s the thinking of people not used to thinking.

        And, I suspect, a knee jerk reaction to John himself which I see more than a little of in your amusingly pompous wee retort. John Walker Baiting has to be the dullest, stupidest and most pointless commenting phenomenon on RPS of recent years. Honestly, if he offends you that much he must be doing something right.

    • mathead says:

      As a genuine contemporary of the 80’s, I fully agree that this wasn’t really a fleshed-out spoof of that period. More a patchwork of ideas people who aren’t contemporary have of that period. The 80’s were more than neon colours and metal riffs over synth music.